Upon its launch nearly a year ago, the Toyota 86 received some of the greatest media coverage of any car over the past decade, and for Toyota, the past 2 decades. We managed to set up a drive of one back then through a dealership, and you may remember how we raved about its brilliance; so now that all the hype around it had somewhat died down, we thought we’d re-visit the 86 to see if its “specialness” still remained…
This time, we had more than just a 30 minute dance with the Toyota roadster, we had a whole week, 7 glamorous days of head turning, wheel spinning, corner drifting action with the High spec variant, and as all great sports cars should be, it was a manual. Not only was it manual, but it was red, it was low, it was loud, and it had 2 massive exhausts at the back; off to a good start then!
The 86 turned heads wherever I took it, traffic slowed on the highway to watch me pass, then accelerated quickly to try and follow me, the odd camera or twenty even came out of the pocket to take a photo. In fact I felt like a celebrity stepping out onto the red carpet…until I walked away and the cameras remained focused on the car… So, yes, a year on after its release, and it still demands attention, and those who don’t listen are quickly converted at the throaty sound of the Subaru boxer engine in the front.
The 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder boxer engine, built by Subaru and fitted with Toyota’s D4-S petrol injection system, pushes out figures of 147kW and 205Nm, all in the way a sports car should do, without a turbo. It sounds typically Subaru, gruff and raspy, but with commanding presence, a military drill sergeant in a world of rookie recruits; wannabes with their whispy, quiet turbocharged engines. Front-engined and rear-wheel driven, the power is relayed to the back end via a 6-speed short-throw manual gearbox, a pleasure to operate with quickly engaging slots, sucking the lever into place in the blink of an eye.
In fact, it all seems to be a real sports car, pure, fun…as it should be, but there are a few quirks. 4 seats for instance, well 2+2 really, but at a push I managed to shove in 3 fully grown men into the car, without too much back breaking effort, until they had to climb out of course. And then there’s the back tyres, which are more like bicycle tyres than “high-performance roadster” tyres. There’s a reason for this though, and perhaps it’s the reason the 86 exists, for this is after all the spiritual successor to the AE-86, this roadster was born to drift! Even the “86” logo is designed to look like the wheels or a car drifting sideways, and sideways is something this does well!
Turn off the traction control and the 86 becomes a machine, built with purpose, and good quality side windows through which to see the road ahead of you. It loses grip just when you want it to, and slides progressively, predictably, and 100% controllably, all while doing little more than 30km/h! It’s a magician of sideways operations, and makes for great fun, but perhaps what makes it even more fun is when you take it around high speed bends, correctly cambered on a downward slope, engage 4th gear and feel the back toeing the line between sanity and sheer joy. The 1st time I did this, the back came out progressively, hanging around the bend before promptly re-aligning itself as I counter steered the nose, exiting the bend at a dizzying speed. This bend in particular is known for making even the best quattro models brake, and yet I slid through it like a surgeon with a scalpel through skin. I have never been happier losing my tail in a high speed bend than I was in the Toyota 86 in VSC Sport mode! The ultimate controlled slide in any situation, with all the fun and all of the control you could ever dream of!
This became a routine for me, I searched for every available drifting line I could find, and at every opportunity, the 86 responded just as it had the previous time, with aplomb. It brainwashed me, to the point where I felt invincible, even daring to take on an Audi TT RS at the robots. I lost, miserably so, and my ego was shattered. The 86 isn’t abnormally quick, at 7.6s for the 0-100km/h sprint, any similarly powered hot hatch will outsprint you, and without a turbo, at altitude it is somewhat choked. It feels like a supercar, it has the presence of one too, but it won’t ever outrun those in the same power bracket. Painfully, this is the greatest vice of the 86, because so few will be sold to drifters and driving purists that you’ll have clientele slapping on wide tyres and big rims, trying to turn it into a dragster, defiling the purpose of this great machine.
Luckily, it performs well as an everyday car too; on our test run we achieved 8.4l/100km as a fuel consumption figure with some very spirited driving thrown in, as any owner will always do. It’s quite comfortable around town too, well insulated, with a firm ride, but not bone-breaking. The High spec even has leather seats, dual zone climate control, cruise control, xenon headlights and keyless entry & start (which is a good thing because the key is dog ugly). It performs its duties and then some, but it does also have a few flaws. A) The radio interface looks as if it’s been taken from an Apartheid Hilux bakkie, and the green lighting on it completely contradicts the sporty orange lighting throughout the rest of the cabin. B) The key is horribly cheap and nasty, best kept away from the eyes.
The 86 is phenomenal at what it does, composed to the limits, and even beyond. It looks good, sounds better, and commands attention, but lacks the grunt to match the public perception. The high spec extras are very welcome over the entry level model we drove last year, but it carries a price premium of R40 000 over the entry level model. If thrill-per-minute driving is what you’re after though, and a pure, genuine driving experience sounds like your idea of Nirvana, then the Toyota 86 is your cup of tea!
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147kW @ 7000RPM
205Nm @ 6400RPM
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Author: Roger Biermann