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Now that the dust and hype has settled on the Toyota 86, it's worth having another look at what could potentially be the sports car of the decade.
Most Toyota dealers will tell you it's almost impossible to buy an 86 until next year. The demand for the car has been so high that some unscrupulous businesses have bought some of the limited stock and are now reselling them at a premium. The supply-demand metrics are hugely in favour of demand and Toyota Australia is unable to guarantee more cars from Japan in the short term.
For the past few years we’ve all known the Toyota 86 was coming. The 'Toyobaru', as it was dubbed given its joint development by Toyota and Subaru, felt like it was in the works since the beginning of time. As the release date got closer and closer, some got sick of the weekly spy photos and leaks that were only adding to the hype. Many felt the Toyota 86 would never live up to expectations.
Then came the price: $29,990 for the base model manual with a limited slip differential (LSD). If there’s ever been a moment when Australia's automotive journalists have been genuinely and collectively surprised, this was it. For months preceding the 86’s launch, Toyota Australia was keeping quiet on the price. The secrecy rivalled that of Apple’s with a new product launch. Representatives would frequently state, off-the-record, that if they could get it in around the mid- to high-30s they would be happy. Of course, we all bought it and expectations were set around that price point.
It was no surprise then, when one of the most anticipated cars of the year came in at a price point far below expectations, delivered the goods in terms of drivability, power and equipment levels, that almost all of us gushed over it without a second thought.
What about now? Almost three months after the launch and with wait times of around 18 months on some models, it’s fair to say the feeling has lingered on.
We spent a week in both a base model Toyota 86 GT automatic and the ultra-popular (and almost impossible to get) Toyota 86 GTS manual. The purpose: If you hadn’t been sucked in by all the hype, would the 86 still stand out as a near-perfect affordable sports car? Or had we all been hoodwinked by one of the best pre-launch marketing campaigns of all time.
Getting back to basics, a Subaru-derived 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine powers the Toyota 86. Like its Subaru BRZ twin, the 86 pumps out 147kW of power and 205Nm of torque. It doesn’t sound like much on the surface, but given its kerb weight of 1220kg (GT manual), it results in a better power-to-weight ratio than a Mazda RX8, Lotus Elise, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Mazda MX5 and even a base model Audi TT. Not bad for a Toyobaru.
From the moment you see one on the road, it’s pretty obvious the Toyota 86 is something special. It’s much smaller than many think and it portrays a very simple exterior look. The front is sharp with all the right curves and the rear is solid and flat, boasting two oversized exhaust pipes - almost like an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Like the original Toyota sports cars of the early 90s, the 86 hasn’t been over-styled and as a result, it’s very likely to stand the test of time.
The GTS gains daytime running lights and bigger wheels that complete the modern look, while a rather old-school satellite navigation system and leather seats with red stitching grace the interior.
The first thing you’ll notice when you sit in a Toyota 86 is how low you are. This is obviously a good thing to lower the centre of gravity and provide better weight balance and driving dynamics, but it also means the engineers didn’t give in to the demands from marketing to make it more practical for middle-aged men with poor posture. This is important, because that lack of compromise is evident throughout the car’s design.
Over the past few years Japanese manufacturers have collectively been criticised for dull and boring interiors. Some continue down that path but it’s refreshing to see the 86 stand out from the crowd. For example, the steering wheel is completely clean of buttons or other silly things. It’s just you, the steering wheel and the car. If you want to change the volume or track number, you use the stereo controls. Some have labelled this a missing feature, but it’s exactly the other way around.
Then there are the dials that show speed, rpm, fuel and temperature information. Again, it’s a case of simplicity for the sake of it. The GTS gets a digital speedometer over the GT, which is almost crucial as the analogue one is too small and left of central focus.
The gear stick sits nice and low and is perfectly positioned in the middle console giving perfect symmetry - it’s a work of art. As a result, changing gears is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, even in traffic. It’s smooth, the clutch is nicely weighted to be engaging but not too heavy, and the shifts themselves are short and without hesitation. If you’re going to get serious, the pedal positions are also ideal for heal-and-toe shifts.
Engage first gear, floor it and you’ll start to wonder if Toyota is underestimating its power and torque figures. It’s not what you’d call fast, but it’s by no means slow. Toyota says the 86 can sprint from 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds for the manual (the automatic takes an extra 0.6 seconds), which is genuinely much slower than it feels.
We took both manual and automatic 86s through a series of twisty mountainous roads and more than 200km on the highway to find out if you can actually live with one on a day-to-day basis. For the enthusiast, the manual is the only way to go. The gearbox is so good you can turn it off, sit it in your garage and just change gears for fun. The automatic, though, is also good. Which is annoying because you’d almost wish it wasn’t so you’d have no excuse but to recommend the manual.
Around the twisty stuff the automatic kicks down perfectly as you brake into a corner and you’ll hardly find it in the wrong gear for a smooth out-of-corner feel. It’s incomparable to the manual simply for the feel and engagement you get from being in control, but if you’re not a manual-transmission type of person, you can certainly hold your head up high with an auto.
Steering is direct and without play. It’s almost Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution-like in its precision. There’s no sense of toying with the 86 - you simply tell it where to go and it obeys. It’s one of those cars where it comes down to the owner’s driving ability. Just like a dog trainer will tell you there’s no such thing as a bad dog, only bad owners, the Toyota 86 is so well balanced and composed that if you manage to damage one, you’ve certainly done something drastically wrong.
Of course, if you tell it to, it will misbehave. Push it hard and fast into a bend at the wrong entry point and it will understeer. Apply full acceleration out of a corner with traction control turned off and it will oversteer. Just like a BMW M3.
Press the Sport button and the car’s numerous nanny-controls become far less intrusive, which means you’ll get that little bit of controllable oversteer to please your ego. It’s the ideal track car if you want something without too much power but with near-perfect 'feel'.
So what’s wrong with it? Does it have horrendous fuel economy? No, not really. Despite our best attempts, 7.9L/100km was the worst we could do. Is the interior really poor quality? Quite the opposite, it’s much better than most cars in its price range. What about the sound? Yes, it’s true, just like the Nissan 370Z, the 86 does sound like a lawn mower on steroids, and there’s definitely a need to fine-tune the exhaust note. If a standard Subaru boxer engine can sound like a WRX with a change of headers, there’s no doubt that someone, somewhere, has already designed a superior exhaust system to extract a better aural experience.
That brings us to its modification potential. One only needs to look at the numerous forums and google the ever-growing list of mods already available for the 86. Supercharger and turbocharger kits have already gone on sale and, from all accounts, they make a hell of a difference. Being a Toyota and a Subaru, it’s likely to remain reliable until the end of time, which means warranty-voiding modifications need not (necessarily) wait until the warranty runs out.
The Toyota 86 is likely to win almost all car of the year awards this year. It’s hard to fault a car that is built by car enthusiasts, for car enthusiasts. It's simple, elegant, balanced and even good-looking. It’s rare to find a car that nails it in so many categories, but the 86 is an instant classic. Check out the gallery for more photos.
Photos by: Tristan Schoonens.