FT-86: Will It Blend, I Mean, Doooorift?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

So here’s what’s going to happen… They’ll drive it as hard as they dare, swinging it through corners and stamping on the gas, chucking it into hairpins and willfully trying to unsettle the rear, and all the while traction will be total. And you know what, not one of those drivers will say anything about it, because they’ll be too scared to be the limp-wristed bloke that can’t even drift what they’ve been told is the most driftable car in decades

So says Ben Barry in a recent Car editorial. He’s driven the car, we haven’t, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s correct. Well, so what? What if all that additional dealer profit won’t even get Joe Sixpack (sixpack of Sapporo, of course) sideways? What if the new Toyota can’t deliver the tofu?

Before we consider this question seriously, a brief personal disclaimer: I think drifting is literally the most idiotic thing someone can do with their car. I literally mean “literally” in this case. Ghost-riding the whip? Compared to drifting, I believe that is street ballet, the Joffrey of the parking lot. Street racing? Go ahead, you little rebels, you! Running over a group of nuns carrying baskets of kittens to a home full of lonely orphans? Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of vehicular homicide, my good man! Exiting a fourth-gear corner of the North-Shuh-Lyfe Ring just a little hot in a P7-shod ’76 Turbo Carrera is bad-assery on the hoof; modifying a Corolla so you can put the thing sideways at walking pace with no particular place to go is synchronized swimming on asphalt, without the women and the difficulty. Oh, look, you’re drifting. How impressive. Now get out of the God-damned way so I can win this race.

Luckily for just about everyone in the civilized world, drifting is a lifestyle more honored in the breach than the observance. Possibly as many as twenty FR-Ses will be dressed up in Affliction-style fake-tattoo vinyl and listlessly stroked around Cal Speedway or some Japanese backroad somewhere. The rest of them will be driven by people for whom “drifting” means nothing more than “tail-happy behavior”.

The man from CAR says the Toyobaru isn’t tail-happy. This should surprise precisely no one. Since the disappearance of the swing axle from even the most stubborn German manufacturers’ products, no car sold in the United States has had handling characteristics which include steady-state oversteer, “snap oversteer”, “surprise oversteer”, or any other thing of the sort. If you are a consummate dumb-ass who has no idea how to operate a vehicle correctly, your million-monkey-like banging on the pedals may occasionally produce the Shakespeare of a mild yaw. If it’s snowing outside, this may even kill you, in which case I hope you don’t mind if I stop by the accident scene and steal the $189 Porsche-branded valve caps from your Panamera Ultimate Turbo 4 GTS Collector’s Edition Sonderwunsch and put them on my 1984-vintage normally-aspirated 944 so they can live with dignity in the cathedral of my garage. But when you have your face-to-face with St. Peter, Karl Marx, or whomever, don’t blame your demise on “oversteer”. Steve McQueen will laugh at you, and rightfully so.

Is it possible to make production cars go sideways, deliberately? Of course. It takes effort. You are trading momentum along one axis for movement on another. You can pull the e-brake, trail it in with your left foot, wig-wag the wheel in time with the oscillation moment of the suspension. The way most people do it, however, is to get the car in a corner, using something like 70% of the available tire grip, and stomp on the accelerator. This reliably produces “oversteer” in Corvettes, Mustangs, AMG Benzes, and lightly-laded F-150s. The only problem is that you aren’t inducing “oversteer”. Real oversteer happens when the car is at its absolute limit of traction and the rear end has a natural tendency to rotate in towards the corner. That isn’t what you are doing. You are simply spinning the back wheels, depriving them of grip, and scaring your passenger.

Naturally, the above activity is highly amusing, which is why people do it. The FR-S can do it. Chris Harris recently did a whole video showing him pulling that trick. The problem is that, due to the car’s relatively modest power, you apparently need to use 99% of the car’s traction before it works, not 70%. Chris Harris can get to that 99%. He’s a licensed, experienced racer with a free pass to shitcan someone else’s $25,000 car sans consequences. The man on the street is likely to find himself in someone’s lawn if he tries the same thing, and the consequences will be greater than a half-scolding from a PR rep terrified of having his product ripped in a major publication.

“Ironically,”, Barry notes, “it actually takes a whole heap of skill and years of experience to unlock the potential of a car that we’ve been told is perfect for rear-drive novices.” I’m not sure I see the irony in it. Novices, by definition, are given novice-level equipment. This is a slow car with big tires on it, just like a modern MX-5. If you start with this car and graduate to a new Z06, no matter whether we are talking about trackday use, street use, or actual drifting competition, you will have a better result than you would have going from the Chevrolet to the Toyota.

No matter what happens to drivers of the FT-86, it will happen at a lower speed than it would in a Corvette or Mustang GT. That is why it is a novice car. The handling limits of the vehicle will appear at a lower speed, the accelerator will get you into less trouble, and the brakes will work approximately as well as they would on a high-performance vehicle. No, it won’t be easy to drift, but so what? No factory-spec car is easy to drift correctly, and you might as well start in something that hits the wall at eighty miles per hour, not a hundred and twenty.

Most importantly, the little coupe is properly balanced and it has “proper” rear-wheel drive. If you learn to drive it well, you will eventually be qualified to drive something similar that operates at a higher speed, like an E92 M3. You won’t learn those correct reflexes and responses in a Civic Si or Volkswagen GTI. Those only “qualify” you to drive more powerful FWD cars, like… um… a Lucerne Super or something like that. Congratulations. You’re Lucerne Super Qualified. Now move over, you are holding my Town Car up on this off-ramp

My enthusiasm for the FT-86 hasn’t been diminished a whit by any of the pricing issues, the specification concerns, or the vehicle’s supposed non-drift-ability. As long as it’s cheap to operate and honest to drive, I will recommend it every chance I get. Even if I don’t get to go to the fancy press intro, even if I don’t get free shoes or commemorative USB drives, even if I have to find a TTAC reader who is willing to let me drive the thing before we can provide a proper review. We’ve waited a long time for a car like this. My companion in crime, the infamous Vodka McBigbra, invented the word “premorse” for situations like that. Pre-remorse. Premorse. I’m not going to premorse about the FRSZ86whatever, and neither should you. Let’s drive.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

More by Jack Baruth

Comments
Join the conversation
3 of 79 comments
  • ComfortablyNumb ComfortablyNumb on Apr 13, 2012

    "The only problem is that you aren’t inducing “oversteer”...You are simply spinning the back wheels, depriving them of grip" Technically, you are. Oversteer simply means your rear slip angle exceeds your front slip angle, regardless of how you achieve that. Spinning the back wheels reduces lateral grip and so your rear slip angle increases. What you should say is that these oversteer conditions are completely the driver's fault, not the car's. "Snap oversteer" and "suprise oversteer" are bullshit terms that describe what happens when you don't know how to drive.

    • Raph Raph on Jun 02, 2012

      "What you should say is that these oversteer conditions are completely the driver’s fault, not the car’s. “Snap oversteer” and “suprise oversteer” are bullshit terms that describe what happens when you don’t know how to drive" So late to this article because well, I dont care about the toyobarus all that much. Anyways Numb, I have a fox-body rear suspension that disagrees with you. It had suspesnion elements designed to bind. and "snap oversteer" is a good description of its at the limit behavior.

  • SevilleSlantback SevilleSlantback on Apr 13, 2012

    Man, the kid in the picture looks like an absolute twerp. It's funny to see how we Americans always want to be like and look like the Japanese from fifteen years ago, but the Japanese in their popular culture portray their anime stars as looking like white American kids from the same point in time!!!

  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂
  • VoGhost Matt, I'm curious why you write that inventory levels are low at 74 days. Typically, 60 days is the benchmark for normal inventory.
Next