Editorial: Lexus Should Build Its Own GT 86 Sports Coupe

Lexus FR-S

From the moment it was introduced at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, the Toyota GT 86/Scion FR-S has kept one question on my mind — should Lexus build its own version of the sports coupe?

It’s been an idea I’ve considered carefully, even setting up a reader poll to gauge your interest as Lexus enthusiasts at one point — however, I recently spent some quality time with the Scion FR-S to get my final answer on the subject.

Lexus FR-S Rear Quarter

Despite the different badge on the front, this car feels like the spiritual successor to the LFA — even with the drastic difference in price, both are purpose-built sports coupes that signal the bold new confidence at Toyota.

If anything, the FR-S is more fun than the LFA — driving around in a $26k Scion is effortless, not at all like worrying about a $375k supercar, which can feel like a pressure cooker in heavy traffic. Being in the drivers seat of the LFA is a transcendental experience, but you could never call it easy.

It’s the casual charm of the FR-S that convinced me that Lexus needs a similar car in the lineup — much talk has been made about the brand’s transformation into performance and its desire to appeal to a younger audience, but existing models like the IS & GS can only push the envelope so far without alienating existing customers. Of course, the other knock is that both models have four doors.

Lexus FR-S Rear

Let’s get one thing out of the way — the Lexus edition would have to look completely different. With the Toyota, Scion and Subaru variants near-identical in appearance, the Lexus can not share even the most superficial design cues.

While styling is hardly inconsequential, it’s one of the smaller hurdles– there are two much larger issues:

  • Transforming the GT 86 into a Lexus will add weight — improved electronics, upgraded interior materials, and additional sound dampening bring a considerable burden, and would affect the driving dynamics.
  • This leads to the second strike against a Lexus FR-S — any minor change in the character of the coupe, and it will be panned by the media and roasted by enthusiasts.

A Lexus FR-S could only succeed by being as good (if not better) than its inspiration, and that’s a tall order considering the accolades the coupe has received.

Lexus FR-S Side Profile

How to counteract all the additional weight and separate a Lexus FR-S from the rest of the GT 86 pack? Power.

Not to oversimplify, but adding forced-induction or replacing the engine altogether would do much to balance out a Lexus-level interior, and would bring the added bonus of correcting the only common complaint — a lack of horsepower from the 2.0-liter boxer engine.

(As a point of interest, someone has already managed to fit the Lexus 3.5L 2GR-FSE V6 in a GT 86. Not my first choice, but serves as a good demonstration of the possibilities.)

All these upgrades wouldn’t come for free, and this is where the idea starts to lose a little steam. A Lexus FR-S would cost significantly more, and with that increased price comes a smaller market opportunity and an older owner demographic. More to the point, would anyone even buy it?

Lexus FR-S Rear 2

In the end, Toyota & Subaru have created a coupe that has been compared constantly to the Porsche Cayman while costing less than half the price. If Lexus was to benchmark their FR-S variant against the Porsche in all aspects (power, handling, interior), that kind of performance credibility would be a perfect counterpoint to the LFA and its limited-edition six-figure supercar capability.

Pursuing the idea would require daring and an acceptance of controversy, because creating another GT 86 variant would not be without its detractors regardless of how the coupe looked. And yet, I believe it’s worth it — the parallels to the LFA are everywhere, and that lineage should be made formal with a Lexus FR-S.

What do you think?

(As a closing note, I chose to ignore the rumored RC coupe for two reasons — first off, it’s believed to be a mid-size coupe between the IS & GS. Secondly, discussing a rumor seriously leads to making large assumptions.)