I just sold my Toyota 86, and it has turned out to be the cheapest new car I have ever owned – and probably the best driver’s car I have ever had. I purchased a brand-new Toyota 86 GT in February 2015 for $31,500 on the road. Three years and 30,000km later, I have just sold it for $22,500. It has been a privilege to have such a remarkable car as my daily drive for a piddling $3000 a year.
In the last three years, the 86 has been a gateway to the best driving experiences in my life (so far!). With the 86 I have found two like- minded car enthusiasts and had incredible drive days through the winding roads of the Yarra Valley, Great Ocean Road and the Otway Ranges, experienced my first track day and even taught my son to drive.
And what a car in which to learn to drive! A beautiful old-school sports car with no driving modes, adjustable dampers or flappy paddles to confuse things. The 86 does one thing and does it well. From the moment you drop down into the hip-hugging seats and settle into the perfect driving position, you know you are in a real dedicated sports car, and not just in a conventional hatchback or sedan with go-faster bits added.
Everything just feels right, from a beautifully low, snug seating position to perfectly positioned and weighed controls and a precise mechanical feeling gear shift. The pedals are placed ideally with the brake nice and firm, allowing you to pivot your foot for easy-as-you-please heel and toe gear changes. A dying skill I was lucky enough to be able to pass on to my son. Add to this steering that has real feel and feedback and a chassis that is delightfully playful, the 86 is a great introduction to rear-wheel-drive dynamics.
Now, let’s talk about the engine. A lot has been written about how slow and underpowered the 86 is and its lack of mid-range torque. Let’s face it, a 0–100km/h time in mid 7secs is nothing to brag about. But having thrashed it for three years, l’m going to say this a cracker of an engine and one of the key ingredients to the car’s character.
The 2.0-litre flat four has an output of 200hp and revs freely to 7400rpm. I’m old enough to remember when these sorts of figures would only be found in dedicated racing engines, and yet this car is docile enough to potter around comfortably in daily traffic. With forced induction gradually taking over, it is all too easy to be spoiled with buckets of lazy mid-range torque and forget the joys of a high-revving response engine.
And therein lies the joy of the 86 – high in the rev range chasing the 7400rpm redline. Thank you Toyota for building a car that’s targeted at hardcore drivers and not just power junkies and posers. A car that is both brilliant out of the box and can be modded easily. I’m putting it out there that a turbo would ruin the feel of the 86, and I hope Toyota resists the temptation to go down that route. I would much prefer to see a future update with 100kg less weight than the addition of a lot more power.
I know that power is great. Power is addictive. Everyone wants more power. But if you want to actually experience, not just read about, what steering feel and road feel are about. To find out what throttle feel and response is. To learn how to heel and toe. To feel chassis balance and how to adjust a car’s attitude and steer a car with the throttle. Then I can think of no better car.
A real advantage of the current set-up is the ability to be able to enjoy the car on public roads without being completely reckless or losing your licence immediately. Even on a track where every car feels like it could use more power, the 86 is great fun, and its superior balance and handling can embarrass some much more expensive and powerful machinery.
Overall, I think that is the key with the 86. It’s fun. On the road and on the track. It’s the feel and the feedback that give you the pleasure, not the sense of speed. And character! So much character. There’s a reason you feel like you're in a special club when driving an 86. Even something like having to warm up the gearbox before being able to engage second gear smoothly feels endearing to this old former Alfa Romeo owner.
Negatives. Stock tyres are rubbish and downright dangerous in the wet. Standard wheels are 16-inch, so tyres are cheap. Anyone with an 86 is insane if they have not put on some better rubber. And don’t worry, this does not diminish or affect the driving feel of the car at all.
The brakes could be better. I found Subaru Forester heavy-duty pads are a cheap way to improve brake bite a little. The stability control is much too eager and heavy handed, even in the Sports setting, and feels like Toyota has just lifted it from a standard Corolla. I gather this has been improved in the new model. The ride is harsh around town, but that’s the price you pay for such good handling.
The paint seems very thin and scratches easily. No excuse for this. Cheap plastics in the cabin and general trim and finish scream budget car, but that’s okay as it just means all the development money was spent on the engineering, which is a good thing.
An unexpected positive of the 86 is plenty of space in the cabin (I’m talking about the front, of course, as the back seats are a joke). My son was left some money by his grandmother and threatened to buy a Toyota 86 when he was 17. I was not keen on the idea, as I do not think it is a sensible or safe first car for a P-plater.
Being 199cm tall, my son could not get comfortable in other sporty cars he tried, such as an RX-8 or Alfa Giulietta, and I took him to test drive an 86 thinking he would be put off when he didn’t fit. Little did I know the car was designed to fit a driver with a helmet and has bags of head and leg room. I quickly had to change tack, and decided to buy the car myself so that I could 'supervise' my son’s safe use of it.
For the money Toyota is asking, nothing comes close to this level of driving appeal. Add to this the $185 capped-priced servicing, Toyota reliability and general low running costs and this car is a bargain. Cheapest new car I have ever owned, in fact.
I would love to hear from other readers about their experiences of being lucky enough to enjoy a car, then sell it at minimal or even no loss. This is more common with an old classic, but is much harder to do with a new car.