As the most enthusiastic motoring aficionados descend into a collective delirium about whether Toyota’s revived six-cylinder sports coupe really is deserving of the Supra name, given its heavy reliance on BMW componentry, it seems the Supra’s baby brother has stepped out of the firing line for a moment.
Previously the scapegoats for all manner of internet rage, the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins are now set to live out their remaining days free from scorn. Or at least they would, were it not for echoes of dissent every time they get mentioned.
Do they deserve to be shot down though? There’s a number of ways you can dissect the idea of a low-cost, enthusiast focussed, rear-wheel drive coupe dedicated to appeasing entry-level drifters and grassroots motorsports enthusiasts.
The easy shot, is the styling and while it may not suit all tastes, it bears keeping in mind that some of the most applauded ’80s and ’90s Japanese sports cars weren’t terribly well liked upon their launch either.
No, if you were really going for the jugular you’d assault the 86’s lack of power. It’s a sports car - how dare it cater to the art of driving rather than simply ripping fat skids and smoky burnouts or posting slim quarter mile times all day long.
Don't try this at home.
Right, now we’re getting somewhere. See, even I’d like the Toyota more if it came with extra power, or perhaps more torque, or maybe some low-down turbo punch. I mean, Toyota is no stranger to the world of forced induction and the boxer engine used in the 86 is fairly famously turbocharged in Subaru-branded applications.
However, I like the way it drives just fine as is. I don’t doubt Toyota (or should that be Subaru?) could add a turbo engine, stronger driveline and bigger brakes and still make a car that drives delectably. But good cars and crisp cars are two very different things.
This harks back a little to my MX-5 discussion. I adore the MX-5 because it rewards better drivers. It doesn’t pander to the masses. It’ll never sell in the numbers a Golf GTI does and it’ll rarely appeal to the same audience.
Now, if Toyota and Subaru had mucked up terribly with the 86 and BRZ you can bet your back teeth that at mid-life facelift time the revised car would have been rolled out with a turbo or two, or the roof lopped off it, or a plush leather-lined interior, or all off the above. Instead it got a couple of extra kilowatts and the usual updated bumpers and lights.
No roof, plush interior... Yep, definitely not an 86!
You see, it works just the way it is. If you haven’t yet had the chance to drive one I implore you to do so. It’s one of those lovely, driver-connected experiences that goes out of its way to allow you to cock things up, but rewards richly when you don’t.
It doesn’t do too badly in the output stakes with 152kW and 212Nm, but isn’t overburdened with grunt either. That means you get your corners right or it’ll become slow. There’s no training wheels here and little in the way of advanced driver aids. It’ll flatter up to a point and never becomes unruly at the limit, but it’ll also gladly demonstrate where those limits are with positive reinforcement attached to getting things right.
A good car needs a few things to be considered good: Sharp steering, explorable chassis balance, an engaging gear shift, and an engine with some kind of zing. To elevate itself to the level of a great car, all of those things need not only be present, but they need to work together in blissful harmony.
Over the last 12 months or so, one car sticks indelibly in my mind as absolutely harmonious: The Porsche 911 GT3 – now bear with me on this. An 86 is around one-tenth of the price, yet it doesn’t deliver one-tenth of the visceral thrills.
A Porsche 911 and a Toyota 86 walk into a bar, and the barman says...
I could waste paragraphs working out a ‘harmony percentage’ for the 86 as related to the 911, but I won’t. The fact I’d even dare mention the two in the same sentence probably tells you enough about how good Toyota’s efforts are.
I even like that most of the interior is a bit rubbish. Toyota knows owners are likely to customise these cars so they haven't really wasted time and effort fine-tuning the dash decor panels or over engineering the amount of yield offered by soft-touch surfaces.
The standard infotainment isn’t exciting or feature laden, but it is a double DIN unit meaning you can add in a TV tuner, smartphone mirroring, or any other technology your local car stereo reseller reckons you ought to have.
You don’t need to feel bad about the bits you pull out in the pursuit of weight savings. You won’t lose sleep over anything that gets cut up to facilitate the fitment of a roll cage (okay, that’s an extreme example).
It’s a great blank canvas car. Want to try it with bigger wider wheels? You can. Want to stance it out with coilers screwed into the ground? Sure, go for it. Like the look of some Japanese drift outfitter’s garish wide body kit? Go right ahead. Or you can just fold the rear seats down and jam a set of four wheels and tyres, a jack and a tool kit in the boot for a weekend at the track.
The 86 doesn’t need to be what Toyota presents it as. It’s less of a finished product and more of a starting point. You can add any finishing touches you like.
It also functions just fine the way it is. Better than fine, even. It’s clear about what it offers – in fact, clarity is precisely what it’s for.
Naturally aspirated, moderately powerful, communicative, and approachable. Toyota’s sports car (no, not performance car) opens the door to a new era of enthusiasts and does so in a way that’s a long way from perfect, which is really, really great news because you don’t mess with imperfection.
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