The 86. Hachi-roku. The car keyboard warriors love to hate. It burst into the world as the poor man’s Porsche motoring journalists had been waiting for. That’s how I like to think of it.
For less money than most hot hatches, you can have a two-door, RWD sports car that’s cheap to run and an absolute hoot to drive. I’ve had mine for five years now, and despite all the newer, sleeker models that may have led me into temptation, this love is still burning strong.
What’s it like to drive?
Read any review of a Toyota 86 and you will read the word ‘underpowered’; however, I think some people miss the point. It's a light car with an NA engine, which gives it great throttle response, instant power pulling out of tight turns or roundabouts, and fantastic fuel economy when driven sensibly. If power is your thing, there are plenty of tuners ready to take your cash.
Driving an 86 is great fun. That’s the point. You feel connected to the car, it communicates so well, and the driving position is spot on. A bus has more power than a go-kart, but I know which one puts a big smile on my face. The 86 is a go-kart that you can drive to the shops.
The other things that make the 86 a great drive, particularly on an empty back road, are the accessible limits. It encourages you to put the foot flat down and drive it to the redline before reaching for the next gear. It will understeer and it will definitely oversteer; in fact, you can feel the car smile with every wiggle, but it lets you know what it is going to do before it does it, it's so predictable. It's huge fun at sensible speeds and it lets you be a hoon without getting booked for being one.
How about the comfort and practicality?
Okay, nothing’s perfect. Compared to a Golf GTI it is left weeping in the corner. If you need to cart the kids up the Hume Highway with Dora the Explorer playing on repeat for nine hours, don't buy one. It has back seats. I've had four people in mine many times, but their legs needed to be folded like origami and their heads met the back window with every bump.
For a two-door sports coupe, you can fit a surprising amount of luggage inside. Fold the back seats down and you can even shop at IKEA. Four adults and two sets of golf clubs is possible – not desirable, but possible.
I forked out for the GTS over the GT, which gave me a touchscreen, GPS, heated seats with leather bolsters, keyless entry/start and a digital speedo. If you're buying it for anything other than a track car, get the GTS, it's worth every penny. I've done some long trips and it does the job – just plan a back road detour to break it up and you'll be happy to put up with a few rattles and bumps.
Has it got style?
It's a thing of beauty; a classic body shape that should age gracefully, unlike the owner. The interior has some nice touches, like the little hexagonal nut-styled dials and white-edged tachometer. I bought black, which looks amazing when it's clean or at night, so realistically only at night. My non-car friends think I'm Batman, my girlfriend thinks I'm slightly more attractive, and my parents think I'm an idiot.
Is it safe?
It's got lots of airbags; I haven't tried them out yet. It's got the full set of three-letter acronyms from ABS to VSC. Traction and stability control mean you can let your partner drive it in the pouring rain without worrying about their lack of opposite-lock skills. The Sports ESC mode is a little conservative, and it’s best to avoid reversing as much as possible as it really needs a camera back there. Thankfully, recent models have rectified both these issues. I'd be buying one of those – they even come with a nice little spoiler.
Believe the hype. There are faster cars, grippier cars, and plenty of cars that look better when judged on performance figures alone, but if you want to enjoy driving again, buy an 86. It makes you feel alive, connected and passionate about driving. You don't need to be a revhead, hoon or a drift master – this car just makes getting from A to B an enjoyable experience.
But if you do buy one, do yourself a favour and book in a track day. As another owner once said, "You never have to worry about buying a second-hand 86 that has been taken to the track, because anyone who has taken it to the track would never sell it".