I purchased this car brand-new in 2013 after waiting nearly 12 months. It's funny in hindsight to think that people were speculating about 18 month waiting lists and paying premiums over RRP for one these – such was the hype!
I had the reviews to keep me occupied while I waited, and fortunately they were very accurate for the most part. Common themes were: fun to drive at almost any speed; needs a bit more squirt; great seating position; brilliant steering and so on.
I remember reading about 'seating position' and 'steering feel' and it's only something you can really appreciate behind the wheel of a car. You feel so integrated into the car and cockpit, that driving standard commuter cars afterwards leaves you feeling detached from the car.
I remember driving a Subaru Liberty – a good car in its own segment – after driving the 86 and I felt like I was sitting on top of the car, driving a boat. The only other cars I've driven that have immersed me in the same way are the Mazda MX-5 and Porsche Boxster.
The car is always fun to drive and feels sporty even at low speeds. I enjoyed milking the engine with the manual gearbox, as well as the internal sound of the engine, aided by the tube into the engine bay. On the rare occasion I was outside the car, the engine note was a lot less exciting and belied those milo-tin exhausts.
So what about that engine? A wise friend of mine once took me to the racetrack and said, "Until you can use all of the power that the 86 has at the moment, stop worrying about the need for more". And it's true; this car has enough power for most people, on most days.
Accessing that power is part of the fun and on that one occasion when I did take it to the track, it wasn't a concern. But you will have those moments: in my case it was merging from standstill next to a stock Subaru Forrester. In a classic Sydney-standoff, as soon as they saw that I was accelerating to merge they accelerated with me and quashed any attempt at entering ahead of them.
I never bought the car to drag-race, but getting off the line reminds you that this doesn't talk to the torque. I was never disappointed with the engine but at some point you will find yourself wondering whether an extra 20 to 30kW and a corresponding torque boost would have made this the ultimate sports car of its generation.
In GTS guise the car is actually surprisingly livable and practical. I wouldn't recommend one if you have children or need to transport the elderly. On the few occasions that my 60+ year old father went to sit in the car, he looked like he was falling backwards down a flight of stairs.
But otherwise, my passengers always commented on how comfortable the seats were, and how well-equipped it was for an affordable sports car. The suspension setup seemed to strike a good balance between sporty and practical, but occasionally it will still communicate the worst features of Sydney roads to you.
Practically speaking, the boot was big enough for weekenders and road trips, and with the rear seats folded, it actually has usable, albeit shallow, storage space.
After three years of ownership I have no-reason to doubt Toyota reliability. I looked after the car, but drove it with a healthy dose of zest and it never missed a beat. I can honestly say that after three years, I was still enjoying every moment in it and looking for excuses to take it beyond the Sydney limits where it really shines.
So why I'd sell it? I had to relocate overseas. In all honesty though, we would have broken up in the not-too-distant future because I'd already put a deposit down on a Tesla. It's a different beast for a different stage of life, but I feel like we'll be reunited again like a lot of first generation MX-5 owners. Here's hoping!
Note: stock image used for illustration purposes