Toyota, Honda to add some much-needed fun

For much of the year, this month’s Tokyo Motor Show, which opens to the public on October 23, has been shaping up to be a dreary affair. Most foreign automakers—Hyundai being the latest—have pulled out, citing the recession, while Japanese carmakers have cut back on spending. That means there will fewer of the weird and wonderful concept cars that, while not always making it into production, nevertheless offer interesting hints on future designs (examples from the last show can be found here).

Yet things might not be all that bad. In the last week or so, Japan’s carmakers have been releasing preview shots of some of the cars that they plan to display at the show. Among them, two models from Toyota and Honda stand out. Neither are especially outlandish. Still, both will show customers that Japan’s biggest two carmakers, which have eliminated sporty models from their lineups in recent years, can still make enjoyable, fun-to-drive vehicles. What’s more, they will in showrooms before too long.

Honda will show the latest version of the CR-Z (pictured above in white) which was first shown as in Tokyo two years ago. The 2009 model is very close to the production version that will go on sale next year and should attract a new class of hybrid drivers. To improve the driving performance over Honda’s current gas-electrics, the CR-Z has a 1.5 liter engine, larger than the 1.3 liter unit used in the Insight and Civic hybrids, and instead of a CVT has a six-speed manual transmission. And while unlikely to be especially quick, the CR-Z could appeal to Honda enthusiasts that have mourned the phasing out of the S2000 roadster and the cancellation of a new NSX sports car, but don’t get excited by the Insight or Civic.

Toyota’s FT-86 (pictured above in red) could have a similar impact and help fill the gap left by the cancellation of MR2 and Celica sports models in 2007 and 2005, respectively. A lightweight, rear-wheel drive sports coupe, the FT-86 is being developed with Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries and will feature a two liter boxer engine. Like the CR-Z, it will feature a six-speed manual transmission.

Pricing for both models hasn’t been announced, but the FT-86, which should go on sale in 2011, is expected to go for not too much over $20,000. For the CR-Z, the price will likely be not too far north of the Insight, which starts for just under $20,000.

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