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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
- Refreshed 86 revealed, due in Australia in 2016
- What’s it like to drive the Toyota 86 racecar?
- Toyota 86 Shooting Brake concept revealed
- Toyota 86 long-term test