Voices

A conversation with Tetsuya Tada, chief designer of the Toyota 86

Tetsuya Tada is the man in charge of the Toyota 86, which means he’s got a job much bigger than just merely designing a car.

TOYOTA USED to be cool. There was once the Supra, the Celica, and the cheeky MR2 which followed the supercar format of mid-engined, two-seat and rear-drive but at a budget price.
 
Then came a long succession of worthy but unexciting wheeled appliances, before the 86 (and, arguably, the FJ Cruiser) showed that Toyota knew how to make cars that were desirable as well as useful. To find out more, we caught up with Tetsuya Tada, chief designer of the 86 at the third Festival of 86 in Canberra.
 
IMG_9804
Tada-san makes time to come to Australia to sign anything that’s put in front of him.
 
Our first question was broad – what did he see as the future of sportscars? His answer was immediate and set the context nicely – “in 2020, the European standards of emissions will change, and that’s getting very tight. In 2025 it will change again, become even harder.”
 
This is exactly what we hear from all the carmakers – emissions are driving everything, with safety as another major design factor. The average emissions across the new-car Australian market are in the region of 170g/km, and to give you an idea of what’s coming, Europe is targeting under 100. That’s what’s driving the move to hybrids and efficiency, government regulation not consumer demand. The ever more stringent rules are also providing a powerful incentive to cheat the tests, as we’ve seen from VW and Mitsubishi.
 
Unfortunately, sportscars by definition aren’t efficient, just look at the relative fuel consumption for any sportscar vs the same sized sedan. That’s because a sportscar engine is tuned for power, responsiveness and must withstand considerable hard work. So with that in mind, what can be done? Tada-san is thinking ahead:
 
“To solve it, we need an electric sportscar, and for Toyota, a hybrid”.

But surely an electric sportscar is heavy?

“Yes, we need a very lightweight battery!”

Tada-san is hopeful that such batteries will be developed, and given the recent and increasing focus on electric/hybrid vehicles there is hope, even perhaps certainty. We’ve recently been electric-gokarting (article later this week) which was great fun, and even the latest Prius has improved its driveability. The holy trio of current hypercars – McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 – are all hybrids. But there’s more to a sportscar than its powerplant, and we next asked whether Tada-san thought that there was a future for the manual transmission.

“The modern transmissions like the twin-clutch designs are faster, better.”

Well, I couldn’t let it go at that.

“But faster is not the same as sportier, surely?”

Tada-san didn’t need his interpreter for that one, and laughed knowingly. “You’re right, you’re right! We need to change, but not let the fun part disappear. We need new ideas.”

It’s not clear what those new ideas might be, but as manuals are pretty much limited to six, maybe seven speeds, and autos can easily do eight or infinite with a CVT, then manuals are already disadvantaged when it comes to fuel efficiency. And safety too, as the computer can’t control the gearshift, not to mention convenience features such as self-parking. But Tada-san made it clear that fun will be central to the sportscar concept, even if how we have that fun changes over time.

There’s that word again, “fun”. What, exactly does it mean? Tada-san thought about this one. “The car must be easy to control, agile. Every aspect must be fun [ not just the driving ]. The driver must be able to really have a conversation with the car, together, not just one way. If the driver is bad, the car should not obey. But if the driver makes a mistake, the car should help. In a normal car, the car should cover for the driver. In a sportscar, it should refuse or reject the driver.”

I don’t think there’s much more that can be added to that answer! Well, maybe just one observation – those words are independent of the method. At present we get our fun from manual transmissions, the noise of the car and feeling of control. In the future, could we achieve fun in different ways? Looks like we’ll need to.

IMG_9673
This 86 is so efficient it emits rainbows when drifting.

Moving on to the current model, we asked Tada-san what his first thought was as he sat in the finished car for the first time. “I was so satisfied. But I want to do more!” And his favourite thing about the car? “Everything” was the quick answer. And to improve? “Nothing!” were the words, but I believe the eyes had a twinkle. 

The 86 has by any measure been a huge success, and we wondered what his favourite thing was that the owners have done with the cars. “Modifications. So many aftermarket modifications are attractive. We expected that the cars would be bought new and not modified, then sold on to second owners later who would modify them. But brand new cars are being modified” – and he very much approves! He also mentioned the aftermarket industry is involved in the car’s development. In fact, Tada-san was chief judge of many of the awards at the Festival, as he has been in previous years.

IMG_9744
A typical 86 at the 2016 Festival – custom plates, aftermarket wheels and tyres, various other modifications and stickers. The only thing the cars had in common was that they didn’t have everything in common.

A refreshed 86 is due out this year, so we asked about some of the changes. Tada-san told us that “all aspects of the car are improved” which is good news, as the initial information we had about the refresh made it seem like a fairly minor update. So we asked what, exactly had been changed.

https://i0.wp.com/practicalmotoring.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/MY17_Toyota_86_1lr.jpg?zoom=1.5&fit=800%2C397&ssl=1
The refreshed 86, due in Australia later this year.

Tada-san’s first answer was that “the rigidity is better”, explaining that this was achieved through a new method to construct the body panels, however the weight remains the same. 

The suspension tune has also been modified, as you’d expect given a more rigid body. One interesting change is the use of a slightly lower final drive, from 4.1 to 4.3. A final drive is the reduction ratio in the differential, and this change means that all six gears will be lower. That should marginally improve the 0-100 time (for whatever that’s worth, it’ll give the measurbators something to post about) as the car needs a change to third just before 100km/h anyway. The downside of this change is that freeway cruising will be slightly noisier as the revs will be higher…but you don’t buy an 86 to cruise in top gear so that’s not really a concern.

A 4.3 ratio isn’t as low as some are going in the aftermarket (4.55 or even 4.8), but it is good news and should make some of the not-sure-if-second-or-third corners just a bit easier, especially combined with the slight extra power – another 4kW and 9Nm. It’s not clear where the gains have been found but Tada-san confirmed there was a new intake and exhaust design.

Tada-san also says that the torque curve is now “better”, so with the new gearing and engine tweaks we’re hoping the refreshed 86 will be more of a change than we first thought.

Another change is the electronics. Tada-san says “the stability control [VSC in Toyota-speak] is improved, the controller has a new rhythm.” At present the 86 has three basic modes of stability control – normal, Sport and Off. There’s also an engine traction control button but that’s completely useless. In the refresh, Sport Mode is gone, replaced by a Track Mode, and Tada-san says it will be smoother and improved. The current Sport mode is effective, but compared to other sportscars is somewhat abrupt in its operation…nothing, nothing then on. Still, on a fast race track like Phillip Island I’ve found no difference in laptimes with VSC Sport engaged or VSC entirely off as by the time VSC Sport kicks in you’re sufficiently sideways to be slow anyway, at least on a fast track.

One problem with the 86 for lovers of motorkhanas and autocrosses is the electric power steering becoming overwhelmed so it was good to hear there is an upgrade on the new model.

2017-Toyota-86-Facelift-11-850x637
Steering wheel on the refreshed 86. Yes, those are steering wheel controls!

The Torsen limited slip differential stays. Tada-san said he is “considering” torque vectoring, but let’s hope he leaves things as-is because more electronics does not equal more fun. The reason a Torsen was chosen over a clutch limited-slipper was for occupant comfort.

But that “new” 86 is just a minor refresh, as we detailed here. Is Toyota working on a new car? “Yes, already working on a new-generation 86”. What that will be we don’t know. But it doesn’t look like forced-induction (turbo or supercharging) is on the cards. Tada-san says “the package cannot accept a turbo”, explaining there would be “too much power”. Those words do not compute for some people, but the 86 is not for those people and it’s a case of if we need to explain, you wouldn’t understand.

Of course, there are myriad aftermarket forced-induction options and owners are very happy even if some of them are replacing transmission components rather earlier that first thought. There’s more to power upgrades than that first dyno run, and back in the day Porsche ran an advert showing just how extensive the changes were to one of its cars…way more than just bolting on the blower and calling it good. 

The general impression we have is that Tada-san likes the idea of a pure, light sportscar focused on the handling, not the power, and reliability through simplicity is important…hence no turbo. You can argue, but you’re not in control of the development programme.

As for future 86s, Tada-san says he dreams of a “family of 86s” including the just-revealed Shooting Brake, and potentially a convertible or sedan.

IMG_9587

There was also a hint of a wider performance arm. Toyota already have TRD (Toyota Racing Development) but that has never achieved the status of BMW’s M, Audi’s RS, Mercedes AMG or even Mitsubishi’s Ralliart. Hyundai has the same ideas with their forthcoming N brand, but as we pointed out such ideas are wonderful but brands like M take years to build.

Regardless, Toyota are clearly looking to build on the 86’s success, but have not yet decided exactly how that should be done. As for the S-FR; that’s “more of a cousin” than part of the direct family, and the forthcoming Supra will be “more focused on speed”. 

supra-FT1
The FT-1 concept, which teases the next-generation Supra. Could this be more a technological showcase and supercar rather than the 86 which measures its success by intangible fun rather than hard numbers? Seems possible, even likely.

So what’s the wrap? It’s clear that Tada-san shares the sportscar enthusiast mindset, and has the backing of Toyota to bring dreams to reality. That’s good news for lovers of sporting vehicles the world over, and we look forwards to seeing what Toyota brings us next.

Related links

IMG_9598


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
4 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Iwata
Iwata
4 years ago

Mitsubishi did NOT lie or cheat on emissions, they fiddled the MPG figures on a Japan only model

What veedud did was criminal, just a LITTLE difference dont you think?

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Iwata

Different methods, same result – false claims. So the statement stands.

Andrew Riles
Andrew Riles
4 years ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a ‘Super Leggera’ version of the 86 before we see one with a turbo….

PracticalMotoring
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Riles

You might be right. I think a hybrid variant will definitely be in the not-too-distant future if the little rumours I’ve heard are true. – Isaac

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper