You'd think if Toyota and its new semi-captive partner Subaru were to get together to build a sports car, they might take a nice reliable Toyota engine (like Lotus does) and put it into a sophisticated Subaru chassis to make an affordable all-weather four-wheel drive sports car.
Nope - they pretty much did just the opposite, putting a Subaru flat-four engine enhanced by Toyota's direct fuel injection system into a purpose-built rear-wheel drive chassis.
Variants of the car are being sold in Canada as a Subaru BRZ or a Scion FR-S; Toyota has a version for USA and various RoW (Rest of World) markets called GT86.
They invited Scion, Toyota's youth-oriented brand, to bring some cars and toss some journos into them.
For those who don't know how a slalom works, a bunch of orange plastic pylons turn a parking lot (in this case, Bramalea's GO Train Station South Lot) into a mini-road course, the cars negotiate the circuit one at a time.
Timing is by electronic beam, so there are no arguments.
Precision is critical. Hitting pylons costs you a second per cone, and the competition is typically so tight this will be enough to drop you out of contention.
(In Driver Training programs, we call pylons “lawyers' children”, to focus students' attention on the importance of NOT hitting them.)
Like most of my motorsport endeavours, I have one year of slalom experience forty times; it seems I get about as fast as I am going to get after a few laps, and it never gets any better, so no need to flog the thing to death.
Now, three laps of a pylon course, taking in the neighbourhood of 45 seconds each, is hardly enough to take the measure of a car.
But I can tell you that the FR-S feels decently quick, it turns in well, the gearbox is sweet, clutch engagement is very good, the seats are comfy yet supportive, the HVAC controls are maybe a shade too economical looking, and the traction control system seems perhaps just a shade too effective for this sort of thing, cutting power just when you think you might need it most.
That said, one of the best laps of the day in a FR-S - 42.0 flat - was apparently done (not by me...) with the traction control system active, suggesting something I have long suspected, that there may be a different driving technique needed for a car using these chassis control systems.
I hope to get a longer-than-two-minute test drive in an FR-S or BRZ soon.
Another interesting aspect of solo racing - several of the cars here had their licence plates blanked out with tape. (I actually had to download a Free Trial version of Photoshop to blur this plate further; I could make out the number underneath the original green tape. I'm sure the owner of this car would have been thrilled if he had tried to mask his plate, only for me to turn him into an Internet star...)
I understand this is due to paranoia about insurance companies finding out that these drivers might actually be having fun in their cars, might be learning how to become better drivers by improving their car control, and might have made their cars safer by installing roll bars.
Well-based paranoia too, because - well, having fun, better drivers, safer cars: insurance companies couldn't have any of that, now could they?
I personally know one chap with a perfect driving record who had his insurance cancelled just because he had a roll cage in his car.
Must be a hooligan - no other possible explanation...