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by Jay Traugott
Everyman driving enthusiasts have been deprived for far too long of an affordable sports coupe with a back-to-basics approach. But Subaru and Toyota have come to the rescue.
These haven't been easy times for a lot of car guys. Being able to afford a new sports car that's great to drive, well-built and something special often seems like a thing of the past, a Baby Boomer sort of thing that went away with the era of classic muscle cars. But there's been some hope recently that's making everyday enthusiasts like you and me smile and making other automakers pay attention. For a few years now there've been plenty of expensive, computer-controlled high-end sports cars that are truly fantastic.
However, these are often insanely expensive and arguably often deviate from what a pure sports car is all about. Many consider the Porsche 911 to be the definitive sports car of our time (as it has been for decades), and that's just fine. But you've got to admit, it's packed with technology only its German creators fully understand. The pure mechanical driving experience of the 911, like many other cars of its genre, is quickly going away and being replaced by computers doing most of the work. Think PDK vs. a manual gearbox. The 911 will also cost you and your unborn child each a kidney with its $82,000 base price, something that's far out of reach for the common man.
But thanks to Subaru and Toyota, sports car lovers without deep pockets have renewed hope alternately called the BRZ, GT86 and Scion FR-S. Back in 2009, Toyota revealed its first GT86 concept at the Tokyo Motor Show, stating it was a back-to-basics lightweight sports coupe with rear-wheel drive, a four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission - all for around $25k. Few believed it would happen and competitors mainly laughed it off. Then it was announced that Subaru, whose parent company Fuji Heavy Industries is partly owned by Toyota, had signed on to not only engineer the car but to also design and build an all-new four-cylinder boxer engine exclusively for the project.
After a couple more concepts and a seemingly endless amount of spy shots, the production cars finally arrived earlier this year, and the world is a better place for it. In a segment previously reserved almost exclusively for the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Subaru and Toyota have not only given us truly wonderful and affordable sports cars but literally overnight inspired other carmakers to begin development of their own. Nissan, already at work on its next-gen Z car, is reportedly going back to the drawing boards in an effort to beat the ideal formula of lightweight driving purity championed by the "Toyabaru" sports coupe.
Chevrolet is also looking at the possibility of doing a small RWD sports car to take its cues from the Code 130R concept displayed last January at the Detroit show. Now, some may point out that Chevrolet and Ford already have these cars, commonly known as the Camaro and Mustang. And we'd have trouble arguing with that notion, descended as they are from that original muscle-car era. But then again, neither the Camaro nor Mustang is exactly small and lightweight, even in base V6 form. The V8 versions are the true stars, and they're downright heavy.
No, the BRZ and GT86/FR-S are all about simplicity, affordability and the art and joy of driving through some wicked mountainside twisty roads, not off-the-line acceleration times and quarter-mile trap speeds. The good people behind the MX-5 have been devoted to this philosophy for over 20 years now and the next-gen model is less than two years away. It will reportedly have a curb weight in line with that of the original model at around 2,000 pounds. The BRZ/GT86 weighs just over 2,700 lbs. and that includes a small back seat and decent trunk space, making them real prospects for daily drivers. Their hardtop body-style also improves rigidity, and regrettably for the Miata, are less likely to be mistaken for "chick cars".
While no car is perfect - otherwise we'd all be driving that one and this writer would be out of work - the "Toyabaru Triplets" come damn close to the ideal driver's car for the everyman. Whether one has the means to afford that 911 or not isn't the point; experiencing great driving in a car that was designed for precisely that purpose is, and Toyota and Subaru have delivered beyond expectations. They've provided the best driving experience money can buy for less than $30k for guys - and girls - like us.