Toyota's 86 sports coupe is a sheer delight
I can't believe it is a Toyota, although with Subaru's boxer four engine and other bits and pieces.
It is the best Toyota I have driven and one of the best cars I’ve steered in a long time.
The 86 brings together all the ideal components of a true sports car, including rear-wheel drive, a short and compact body, a low centre of gravity, good steering, handling and roadholding, sporty looks and a lively engine as well as a bargain price from about $32,500 drive away for the GT.
With Mazda reviving the two-door roadster segment and selling nearly 1 million MX-5s, Toyota has resurrected the traditional and affordable two-door fixed roof sports car with its partner Subaru – which will launch its BRZ version soon.
In doing so, the 86 brings back memories of the abandoned Celica, Supra and MR2 nameplates to produce a one-size-fits-all car that is taking the market by storm.
The name, which doesn’t appear on the body of the car but is included in a logo on the front guards, symbolises the engine’s square 86mm bore and stroke while evoking thoughts of the car’s spiritual predecessor, the Corolla Levin AE86.
The sports car was a sell-out success in its first month with 414 snapped up, thwarted by supply, second below Hyundai’s front-drive Veloster (450).
Unprecedented demand for the stylish coupe has led to a long wait for most buyers, typically between six and 12 months.
Pacific Toyota is quickly selling out of its first allocation and one dealer in Brisbane sold its 48-car share in just two days.
Competition is lean and dearer. The only other rear-drive sporties under $80,000 are Mazda’s MX-5, the BMW 1 Series coupe and the Nissan 370Z.
So at this stage until the BRZ arrives the 86 has the market sown up.
Our test car was the GTS six-speed manual which is $39,302 on the road.
Both the GT and GTS grades have seven SRS airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, vehicle stability control with sports mode and a lever-type parking brake.
Standard equipment includes airconditioning, tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment, cruise control, CD tuner with Bluetooth, voice recognition and AUX and USB inputs, multi-information display, walk-in passenger’s seat, united folding rear seat-back and power windows.
The 86 GTS has a leather premium three-spoke steering wheel, gear lever, knob and parking brake lever, leather front seats with Alcantara fabric inserts and smart entry/smart start. It also has UV-cut glass, power-folding mirrors and rear fog lamp, limited-slip differential, 17-inch alloy wheels with a full-sized alloy spare wheel, auto-levelling HID headlamps with integrated daytime running lamps, windscreen top shade, front fog lamps, front-seat heaters and dual-zone auto climate-control airconditioning. There are aluminium pedals, door scuff plates, a large central white-backed rev counter, a smaller speedometer as well as a digital read-out and a 6.1-inch LCD touch screen with satellite navigation with 3D map display.
The flat-four engine is set low and back in the body, resulting in a near-ideal 53:47 balance.
The engine is a newly designed Subaru 2.0-litre boxer four with direct fuel injection by Toyota that creates 147kW and 205Nm. There is a limited-slip differential in the tail.
There is nothing special about the rest of the car. It’s pure and simple without a myriad of electronic gizmos.
The Toyota coupe is not as adventurous as the Hyundai Veloster, or as edgy as the Subaru BRZ, but it looks good, quite pert and pretty, but not especially striking or original.
The cabin is strictly 2+2 as you’d expect but the boot is reasonably sized and holds a full-sized alloy spare.
Inside, everything is focused towards the driver with clear dials, a slick six-speed manual shift and no frills.
Some of the plastic bits look slightly cheap but that’s what you get when the emphasis is on the basics and the bottom line.DRIVING
Opening the frameless doors reveals the usual coupe-entry ordeal of having to stoop quite low and then performing a gymnast’s move to access the rear seat due to a low roof and tight gap.
Fire the engine up and there’s that familiar dub-dub-dub Subaru melody.
As an added bonus the rorty exhaust sounds are piped artificially through the cabin via a rubber tube.
It sounds delightful.
There’s a firm but not harsh ride and the snug-fitting driver’s seat is supportive, with a racy style and shape.
Everything falls well to hand, the various switches, buttons and controls and, of course, the short and stubby gear lever. The dashboard is typically Japanese coupe with a large central rev counter on a white backing in the GTS.
A digital speed readout in the rev counter is great for keeping within the limits because the speedometer is smaller, busier and hard to read.
There is a mix of different textures and patterns of plastic so the ambience isn’t exactly upmarket, however the top of the fascia has a soft, quality feel.
Once on the move initial acceleration was stronger than anticipated considering the naturally aspirated 147kW power max comes in at a high 7000rpm. The speed just piles on once the tacho gets beyond 4000rpm and it’s quite startling.
While there’s no turbo punch, the boxer engine just surges to the 7400rpm buzzer, accompanied by a more urgent and sporty type of thrum so reminiscent of sporty Subarus such as earlier model WRXs.
The slick, short-throw six-speed manual version is fabulous with great shift quality and pleasure. The pedals are perfectly placed.
The steering wheel is almost vertical and small and light.
The car goes exactly where it is pointed.
Throw it into a corner and the 86’s handling is extremely agile with well-weighted steering and almost perfect feedback.
The Toyota zips along with the sort of on-rails reassurance and alacrity of an MX-5.
There’s plenty of grip and the stability control allows a certain amount of rear drive slip before stepping in.
The 86 was in its element along the Gillies mountain range road between Gordonvale and Yungaburra.
Despite the greasy conditions after some light rain the grip was phenomenal and the car could be flung through every corner with confidence.
It also relished the tight undulating tarmac on the Walkamin-Dimbulah Rd and had to be held back coming down the Palmerston Highway from Millaa Millaa to Innisfail.
The 86 is not just a great affordable sports car, it shows that Toyota can make an exciting driver’s car which is sure to spark a revival of the affordable two-door rear-drive sports car sector.
I can’t see Mazda sitting back and let Toyota and Subaru take all the glory ... bring on a new-gen RX-7.
The 86 is a true driver’s car and was everything I expected and more.
It sparks the return of pure and simple sports car motoring without being overdone with electronic gadgetry, technology and unnecessary luxuries.
In a world obsessed with emissions and fuel economy, the 86 puts the fun back into motoring.
It’s a car which delights, in the way it steers, rides, handles and brakes.
It doesn’t over perform, the engine’s output is just right to ensure the balance of the car is almost perfect.
Sure the boy racers will want more and there will be faster versions, but like the MX-5, grunt is not everything.
The 86 enhances your senses and the way it responds to your inputs, even if they are a little clumsy.
The gear box snicks between gears, the cars goes where it’s steered, there’s enough power for safe overtaking and for accelerating out of corners.
It looks the part, goes the part and is the part.
Car of the year? You can bet on it.>> TEST CAR COURTESY OF PACIFIC TOYOTA, CAIRNS
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Best of the best: Toyota’s 86 sports car is affordable and a true driver’s car.