The new Toyota 86 is a game-changer for both driving enthusiasts and the Japanese brand.
Yes, the Toyota 86 is as good as you dared to dream it would be.
It's a sublime driver's car that handles beautifully, responds to your every input and is damn quick too.
The incredible $29,990 price point ensures the 86 will change the way an entire generation thinks about Toyota.
Think I’m over-doing it? Go drive one see if you still have any doubts. It is that good.
Toyota was so confident about the capabilities of the Toyota 86, which was jointly developed with the Subaru BRZ, that it let journalists test the cars with a series of track activities, including an expression session on a dirt flat track, in Canberra this week.
The car’s chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, bunged on a helmet and took to the track to test his baby, but soon slowed to a stop.
He then took off the headrest, which was pushing his helmet forward, and turned it around.
“Race position,” he explained. Yes, the back of the headrest has been shaped in such a way that it accommodates a driver wearing a helmet.
Toyota even points out that for the price of some of its rivals, such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Mazda MX-5, someone can buy an 86, fit it out with a roll cage, buy those race wheels and tyres and have money left for fuel.
It prompts you to ask, who is this company and what did they do with Toyota?
The Toyota we know hasn’t sold a car in Australia that has really been much fun to drive since the Celica GT-Four of the late 1990s.
The Toyota 86 looks the business in the metal and most people will assume it is far more expensive than it is. It’s doesn’t have quite the same visual impact as Nissan 370Z coupe, but still has presence.
It looks a little bit like a Hot Wheels car with the 16-inch wheels of the GT spec, but the 17s look at home on the GTS.
Slide inside and the cabin is a mix of sportiness and Toyota-style practicality.
The GT might be the entry-level model and while it is not a posh as the GTS, it doesn’t look like a bargain basement special either.
The GTS has some nice touches like imitation carbonfibre trim, leather/Alcantara seats, a big high-resolution centre screen and a stop/start button.
It has four seats, which could be crucial for those of us hoping to have the purchase approved by the household’s financial controller. That said, the rear two are really only good for shorter people (Toyota says 170cm), unless you are just heading out for a short trip.
Importantly for some, you can put baby seats in the back (with ISOFIX points) so your child can be raised the right way.
The boot is pretty shallow, mainly because of the intrusion of the spare wheel (a full-size one no less) but there is still reasonable room for shopping and a few overnight bags.
Getting comfortable is easy as the seats are very supportive. The steering wheel can be adjusted up and down and in and out.
It’s a nice little steering wheel, small and easy to grip.
To start off with, the engine can feel a little bit under-done in comparison to what you might expect from the design and layout of the car.
It doesn’t just dole out masses of horsepower like a turbo WRX or the 370Z, you have to work for it.
That doesn’t mean it’s gutless, but you have to be in the right gear and be prepared to rev it to really get going.
On the track, it means you have to be smart about the way you attack a corner. You can’t just hook in, stomp on the accelerator and hang the tail all the way out, because it doesn’t necessarily have the horsepower to maintain the drift.
You must be disciplined, feed the power on more carefully for a more progressive slide.
The 147kW and 205Nm might not sound astounding, but this amount of performance is perfectly matched to the chassis.
Tuners will add WRX engines and create tyre-searing monsters, but the standard car represents the perfect balance.
“I just love it because you can have a great time and not lose your licence,” is the view of Toyota rally ace Neal Bates, who put an order for a personal car as soon as he heard the price.
Unlike the a turbo boxer in the WRX, the Toyota 86’s engine has a linear power delivery and you get a reward for winding it all the way out to the 7450rpm limiter.
This writer (an STI owner) loves the sound of a good boxer, but the flat four in the 86 is not the best sounding engine around.
There is a hint of the nuggety boxer note, and it does sound sporty when you rev the ring off it, but cars like the Focus XR5 give you much more ear candy in regular driving than this does.
A huge benefit of using a boxer is that the cylinders are all as close to the ground as possible, so the car has a super low centre of gravity. You notice this, and the car’s low 1222kg kerb weight, at the first bend.
I’m struggling to recall a better handling car (other than a proper race or rally machine).
A nice smooth dirt track is the perfect place to explore a car’s handling and the 86 was nothing short of amazing, on road tyres.
Setting the car up for a turn was so simple. Just brake, flick it and use a bit of throttle to get the back to come out and then just steer through the corner using the accelerator.
Go faster and the slightest hint of understeer can be instantly fixed with a bit more throttle (there are five stages of traction and stability control and they can be turned off completely).
Thankfully, this car is also very forgiving on dirt and on tarmac. Some sportscars have such tremendous grip that they take you to the point of adhesion without letting you know. Then they let go and you are sailing into the bushes looking out the side window, inspecting what you are about to hit.
The 86 also has good grip, but communicates that you are getting to the point where it is going to let go.
There is very little body roll, so changing direction is quick and easy and the steering is fast and also gives the driver good feedback.
As a consequence of a sporty suspension set-up, the ride of the 86 can be harsh.
We spent some time in the higher-spec GTS and found that some people might struggle to use this as a day to day car. It’s not quite a Lotus Elise, but is certainly firm on the 17-inch wheels. Enthusiasts won’t be worried, but some people more interested in the look of the car might be put-off.
The brakes are easy to modulate and work well to pull the car up in a hurry.
Sustained track driving will require a brake upgrade (TRD is happy to help with genuine components) which is to be expected for any street car that doesn’t come standard with top-shelf Brembos or similar.
We spent most of our time in the manual and found it to be a sweet and sharp gearbox, the kind that makes you change more than you need to because it feels crisp with nice short throws.
A short run in the automatic indicated it works well enough, but this is such a pure car that it would seem a shame to spoil the experience by missing out on the manual.
You can enjoy an 86 on the road, soaking up its responsiveness and beautiful balance without going crazy and breaking any road rules.
Even so, it is a car that is screaming out to be taken to the track and driven in the spirit in which it was developed.
It might not be the absolute fastest car on the track, but there’s a very good chance it will be the most fun and most rewarding.