The year is 2012. The original red, yellow and purple Wiggles retired, a minor earthquake 'rocked' Victoria, and we had our first female Prime Minister in office. It was also when the Toyota 86 was launched, and unlike Australian politics, the 86 has remained predictable and consistent.
It is essentially a seven-year-old time capsule on wheels, and when it arrived, it was a fun, pure, rear-wheel-drive sports car. Not much has changed.
We take a closer look at the entry-level 86 in the range, the 2019 Toyota 86 GT. With a starting price of $31,440, you can add $2900 for the Dynamic Performance Pack, which features Brembo brakes, SACHS suspension, and black 17-inch alloy wheels, which this car has.
Sending power to those rear wheels is a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine matched with a six-speed manual transmission. Purists, rejoice. However, the car is probably a bit too pure, as it doesn’t come with AEB or the Toyota Safety Sense package as standard, which is a bit of a letdown.
Before we get into how it drives, let’s just take a moment to look at it from the outside. The GT doesn’t get the spoiler as on the GTS, and some might disagree that it looks quite understated without it. The Ignition Red flat paint is the only colour that doesn’t cost an extra $500, and is very striking, matching the red Brembo brakes.
The iconic 86 insignia are placed on the front side body panels and the side of the headlights, with even more in the cabin, in case you get it confused with its twin, the Subaru BRZ.
The side vents are fake but aren’t overdone. The 86 isn’t trying to look tough with big creases on the bonnet, as well; however, it has two bulges on the roof, which have been designed to give more head room when helmets need to be worn for a motorsport day. Clever.
The doors are long, so extra care needs to be taken in tight car spaces. Oh, and if you ever wondered if your fist can fit in the tailpipes, you can stop wondering. They can.
Getting in and out of the 86 is easier than you might think, because you don’t have to fall in or clamber out. The view out of the windscreen is fantastic, as you can see parts of the bonnet and the front haunches. But once you lower your eyes to the interior, things start to appear dated.
The air-conditioner dials are manual, there’s a CD player, no one-touch indicator, and an orange digital clock that appears on the dash that resembles your parents' ’90s bedside table clock. The steering wheel is bare with no buttons or controls; a rare sight on cars today.
The 6.1-inch touchscreen seems tiny compared to screens of newly launched 2019 cars, but it does show a perfectly fine reversing camera, although no guidelines or parking sensors can be found.
There is one USB and an auxiliary up front, but if you have a large phone, it won’t fit in the storage slot, and there’s nowhere else to sit it while it charges.
There is, however, lots of storage where an armrest would’ve gone (which you will find yourself not missing, by the way), and a removable cupholder is a great idea when it’s not needed at the track.
A lot of plastics can be found throughout the interior, apart from where it matters most – the door elbow rest.
Because of the wide door windows, visibility is pretty good for head checks, but the rear-window-mounted brake light can get in the way of rearward vision.
The 86 can seat four people, but really, you don’t buy an 86 to regularly cart around your family. We did test the back seat comfort, however. You need to be a contortionist to get in and out, your knees are hard up against the back of the front seat, and your head could hit the rear window.
Sit here on a hot summer day, and you will get a nice tan on the back of your neck. Even though you might get a cramp in your neck and legs, your bum will be happy with the well-padded seats.
Toyota has designed the 86 with motorsport in mind, as the 223L boot is capable of fitting four tyres once you fold the rear seats down. You can only open the boot via a button on the key or putting the key into the boot key barrel. Fun times! Also included are a temporary spare wheel, tool kit, and jack.
Now that we've got all the boring stuff out of the way, let’s talk driving, because after all, people who buy an 86 don’t buy it for its cabin versatility, or lack of, that is.
Powering the rear wheels is a Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre boxer petrol engine with 152kW of power and 212Nm of torque. It’s not a turbo, and contrary to what others say, it doesn’t need one. This car is not about how fast you get to 100km/h (7.6 seconds if you really must know), it’s about how much fun you have getting there. With no Sport driving mode, you’ve got to be sporty yourself to get the most out of what the car has to offer.
It likes to rev, and with the six-speed manual you can control how high the tachometer needle goes. You will just want to drive it flat out everywhere, every time.
It is easy to get the rear tyres to chirp when taking off from standstill, and with the brake and throttle pedal close together, heel-and-toeing is a breeze.
Because you’re sitting quite low to the road, it seems like you’re driving a lot faster than you are, and you feel more connected to the road. Oh, and it might just be a coincidence, but the manual handbrake is at a handy reaching distance to the steering wheel.
Toyota recommends a minimum of 98RON to fill its 50L tank. Its claimed fuel economy is 8.4L/100km (1.3L more than the auto), and we achieved a close 8.6L/100km.
The six-speed manual transmission isn't the smoothest out there, but it is short-shifting nonetheless. It sounds mechanical with each gear change, while feeling a little notchy. It does take some time to find your way comfortably around each gear and to get that seamless change.
The steering is very precise, and it will have both your hands glued to the wheel as it is so direct around corners. You point where you want it to go, and it will dart there. The 86 feels planted when bombing into corners, and it enables you to push it that little bit more.
Is it worth shelling out the extra $2900 for the Dynamic Performance Pack? It depends. If you’re one that likes to visit the racetrack occasionally and don’t want to throw your entire piggy bank at it modifying it, it’s worth it. But if you would treat the 86 as a daily driver with no intention of tracking it, it’s best to leave that box unticked.
The 86 was last tested by ANCAP when it was launched in 2012, and received a five-star safety rating with its seven airbags. However, with the lack of AEB and other safety tech, along with ANCAP's more stringent testing criteria, we would safely believe that rating would be less if it were tested again.
Servicing intervals are every nine months or 15,000km at $195 each, totalling $975 over the five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Sure, the Toyota 86 is ‘getting on’ a bit now, is missing some vital safety tech, and is considered slow to some people, but I believe they’re missing the point of what the 86 GT really is: a practical, raw, simplistic, pure, rear-wheel-drive enthusiast's sports car that will make you happy every time you drive it to work or race it on the track.
And all that happiness can be bought for under $35,000. What a bargain.