Alright, it's truth time, kids. For years, Toyota has been my least favorite car maker in the history of everything. But lately, I've started to have a change of heart.
It's strange. It wasn't too long ago that, on every internet forum I'd participate in and at every chance I had in person, I didn't hesitate to stand behind the Snap On brand pulpit and vociferously preach my disdain for Japan's biggest automaker. Say what you want, in my defense I consider that a result of obtaining a driver's license in an era when almost every Toyota produced was about as exciting as watching your grandfather take a nap and every bit as appealing as spending a week between the sheets romping around with the norovirus.
Sure, I grew up seeing your odd Celica or MR2 hanging around, and if I was a good little boy and ate all of my vegetables, I might've even spotted a Supra-badged unicorn farting magical rainbows from its exhaust pipes between traffic lights. I honestly did like them all well enough, usually admiring them through my backseat pane of safety glass. I even sort of liked that Tercel-based curiosity that they tried to make look like a rounded-off AE86. But as soon as I had reached an age where I could've spent some real hands on time with a brand-new Celica or Paseo, Toyota had long realized it couldn't paint them beige. All that was left of their sportier sensibilities was the Solara, which was only exciting to someone who would unplug the phone, draw all of the curtains and dim the lights to set their VCR to tape an episode of "Antiques Roadshow."
Now, I'll admit they almost had me with the first Scion tC. But they had already insulted my intelligence when they announced the whole premise behind the Scion brand, and the xB had turned out to be an even bigger Florida parkway yacht than the Avalon that it shared a dealership with. As handsomely styled as it was, I didn't see a new Celica in the tC, just something my grandma might buy in a senile daze for an occasional church and milk run.
And so it went. Toyota, who had made great sports cars as far back as the '60s with the 2000GT, kept on peddling wool sweaters and forcing bran flakes down my throat and I made sure to keep a crowbar under my seat for the day I could finally bash a Prius's face in without wearing a set of chained bracelets around my wrists. You could argue that Lexus became the keeper of Toyota's sporting flame with cars like the IS sedan and the recently deceased LFA supercar, but a Lexus holds my attention span in the same way plain toast holds my appetite at supper time.
So what's changed my mind? After all, I'm still not above taking pot shots at whatever boring waste of iron ore they've built in the past. To put it simply, I've noticed Toyota's finally decided to let its hair down and go totally insane. And I like that what that means for a few years down the road from here.
I can pinpoint the exact moment Toyota started to go full on crazy in front of other people. It wasn't when they introduced the retro-styled FJ Cruiser, although the fact that Toyota actually recognized and participated in an industry trend might have been a signal a screw somewhere was slowly working its way loose. It was at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show when they rolled out the Resale Red FT-86 concept. The fact that they didn't paint it some shade of beige or an off-white was the first sign their sanity had finally broken. The second sign was that the FT-86 was an actual rear-wheel drive sports car with a conventional engine that mostly appeared like it could belong somewhere in a Toyota showroom, unlike 2007's FT-HS concept that had a stupid hybrid powertrain and a front bumper that looked like some sort of futuristic bathroom fixture. The third is that they somehow managed to convince Subaru, of all the manufacturers out there, to join in and help them bring it to life.
Of course, like a man threatening to set himself on fire, eat a bowl of worms and jump off of a cliff while shooting himself in the head with a scud missile, no one actually believed Toyota would do it. No one believed Subaru would be involved in something that wasn't all-wheel drive. But just two years later, they were already showing off a near-production model simply named the 86, in a nod to the old AE86 Corolla that everyone wanted to wine and dine in "Initial D." In America, we now know this car as the Scion FR-S (I personally like to think of it as a 21st century Celica), a car so unlike the overwhelmingly average Toyota we've come to know during the 2000s, no one is apparently buying it right now. Not even the elderly Baby Boomers who purchase xBs and Avalons.
You'd think lackluster sales would be the electroshock therapy needed to bring Toyota out of this bout of insanity, but oh no. At the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, they introduced yet another sports car concept and it's going to be a real thing someday, too. Also painted Resale Red, the FT-1 concept is said to be a preview of a revived Supra, that flagship sports car unicorn I mentioned earlier that's been missing from US shores since we first learned Bill Clinton had a thing for rounder women. And it isn't Subaru that's helping them develop it this time, if rumors prove to be correct. Want to take a guess who's on board this time? It's BMW.
If I'm also hearing word through the grapevine correctly, what I hope should prove to be the next Scion tC will be engineered by the same man responsible for the FR-S and — who knows? — might even be rear-drive to boot. Grandma's shopping buggy it ain't gonna be, thank the gods.
I also can't write this without mentioning the new Toyota Aygo that was unveiled earlier this month at the Geneva Auto Show, which wears a giant letter X on its face like a small hatchbacked luchador. That car looks adorably maniacal and I really wish Toyota would replace the dowdier Yaris hatchbacks with it here or at least sell it as a Scion or something.
Who knows? Maybe now that Toyota has gone crazy we'll see them bring over cars like the Mark X, which is a Camry for people who have a normal pulse. Maybe they'll start importing Auris hatchbacks. Maybe, just maybe, they'll even consider bringing over a couple of Daihatsus. Maybe they'll start painting the next Avalon exclusively in Resale Red and only offer it with a choice between a Subaru boxer-four or a BMW straight-six and a manual transmission. Whatever happens, I'm actually excited for whatever Toyota does next and, until now, I'd never thought I could say that.
Photo credit: Toyota
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