For many, many years, I have not only disliked Toyota, but somewhat despised them. For over a decade, their designs have been boring, plain, middle of the road. They haven’t dared do anything extraordinary, on the edge, or revolutionary. Their engines were consistently underpowered and under utilised. I had nearly resigned myself to the idea that the sporting heritage of Toyota’s past was a long gone, distant memory, something never to be seen again. But then I heard a rumour, a whisper of something new. The wind suddenly shifted, and there was the scent of something different in the air, the quiet suggestion that maybe, just maybe, there was a successor to the infamous Toyota Supra. Could it be? Could Toyota finally break recent tradition and provide us with something new and exciting? The 86 screams, “YES!!!”
In 2009, Japanese rally gurus, Subaru, partnered up with Toyota to create something new and exciting, a relatively “cheap” performance coupe, a front engined, rear wheel drive car with a low centre of gravity and a nearly perfect weight distribution; and so the FT-86 concept was born, and translated into the 86 I drove today. Powered by a newly designed 2 litre, 4 cylinder boxer motor, utilising Subaru’s expertise on this engine, and Toyota’s finesse for variable valve timing, tuning, and reliability, the 86 features 147Kw’s of power at 7000 RPM, and 205Nm’s of torque at 6400 RPM. This high revving engine shows 9000 on the rev counter, and it is a widely publicised fact that the 4 pot is capable of at least another 40Kw’s without even adding a turbo.
The aim of this car was to create something new, yet old. To create a new, low slung design that offered very few bells and whistles that would engage the driver in every sense of the word. A car designed for a true petrolhead, a tuner, a racer, a drifter, a connoisseur, a purist. And at first glance, the Japanese boffins have succeeded! The car looks the part, edgy, exciting, smooth, and sporty. It’s pleasing to look at, and the fine details such as the stylised “86” emblems on the side of the car, behind the wheel arches, are the cherry on top. The metallic pearl white paintjob gleams with rich beauty, and is definitely top of the list on the colour chart. The headlights look focused, intent on doing the job at hand, and the massive twin tailpipes follow suit. This car has looks to kill, and attitude to boot!
The interior has just as much attitude, the baseline model offering red and black suede bucket seats, leather steering wheel with red stitching and stylised “86” moniker embossed in the centre. The cabin is fitted almost entirely in black, with brushed aluminium highlights around the air vents and gear shift, and polished aluminium pedals. A silver “86” logo on the floor to the right of the driver’s seat is just another reminder that you aren’t in any Toyota, you’re in a new breed of Japanese performance vehicle. The 2+2 seating configuration is a bit of a lie to be honest with you, as the back seats have literally no legroom whatsoever and unless you’re three feet tall, you couldn’t even lie down in the back if you tried! But then again, this is a sports coupe, why would you take more than one passenger along, ever?
Open up the bonnet and take a look inside; a clean, neatly organised engine bay awaits you. This is the first time Toyota’s “D4S” direct petrol-injection system has been fitted to a horizontally opposed motor, and the result is impressive. The low, wide, flat 4 motor lowers the centre of gravity, with the engine sitting lower than Nissan’s GT-R engine and just 1.5 centimetres higher than the Lexus LFA V10. The engine is unobstructed with plastic covers, and keeps with the idea of a purists’ car, exposing the intricacies of the Subaru, Toyota collaboration. The boot space is small and can carry two small backpacks at most, but a surprisingly impressive feature is that the 86 is fitted with a full size spare, on a 16 inch alloy rim to match the standard 4 shoes it arrives in. Overall, workmanship is top notch, and the build quality is phenomenal.
But enough about the details and the specifics, this Toyota was made for driving, and that’s exactly what I was about to do. Climb into the pilot’s seat and insert the key, twist it clockwise and a familiar Subaru sound jumps to life in front of me, although only in front of me. The large exhausts seem muted, but maybe that’s just for idling purposes. The controls are right where you need them in the 86, and probably the most noticeable feature is that you are seated very, very low to the ground, however not uncomfortably so. Visibility is good all around, with very small blind spots, and a great perspective of the road ahead of you. Press the clutch in to engage first gear, and you’ll notice it is firm and short, with only about 7 centimetres worth of movement to it, very sport orientated. Engage first gear with the 6 speed manual gearshift, and set off slowly. The pull off is smooth, and there’s a good feel for the torque of the boxer motor. The suspension seems firm and well set, and the car sits comfortably.
As you pull out onto the road, the accelerator beckons, and with a slight jerk, the 86 pulls forward firmly, accelerating smoothly through the rev change. The sound is pleasant, gruff and grunty, but not overbearing. The shift into second gear is smooth, and the gate is easy to find. The revs drop, but the power is still there to be utilised efficiently to get up to speed. At the robot ahead, the power is out, but that’s just an excuse to come to a halt as I get ready to enter the highway. Turning to the left and accelerating hard, the tyres spin minimally, and the car surges out of the starting block with a growl. The torque is smooth and steady, with no particular dead spots to speak of. Revving the engine to 7000rpm, I change into second and continue my assault on the tarmac. The 147Kw’s is efficiently put to use, and the 100km/hr mark is crossed in nothing more than a few seconds, and still the steady acceleration continues.
On the open highway and up to above legal speeds, the car sits steadily on the road, squat and athletic, crouched low to the ground with almost perfect balance. The power steering gives perfect feedback as to where the car sits, but controls the surface feel well, only giving you feedback of the important changes to the terrain. The steering handles with intense agility, allowing the 86 to move in and out of traffic with ease. Having to downshift to accelerate through a gap, the power is instantaneous and the pedal responsive; the steering not being affected in the slightest by the sudden thrust of power to the back wheels. Moving along swiftly and accelerating gently, the 86 feels comfortable at every juncture, not once feeling out of place with high speeds or a heavy foot. The sound is loud and raw from up front, but surprisingly, the exhausts still sound silent behind me!
Having to slow to take the off-ramp, the braking is smooth and gentle, maybe even a little soft, but I am assured by the salesman that after about 400Km’s, the brakes will function 100%. It dawns on me suddenly that I am the 1st customer to drive this, the 1st willing petrolhead to push this particular 86 beyond more than a snail’s pace, and I can’t help but smile. As I reach the robot to turn around and head back to the dealership, I can smell burning as the brakes and engine are pushed for the first time ever.
I engage sport mode via a button on the centre console, and as the lights turn green, the grunt is a lot more noticeable, the engine louder, torquier, and more athletic. The ESP firms up the steering and suspension a little more and around the bend there is noticeably less roll in the 86’s body. The accelerator is more responsive, and the Toyota gets up to speed quicker and easier. The highway route back is slightly better than the way out, I’m more comfortable with the car, and the bends are tighter and emptier, allowing me to push the 86 hard. The weight distribution of 53% at the front to 47% at the back makes this car a dream to handle, and not once does the ESP flicker, even under hard acceleration around a bend.
At every moment of the drive you feel completely in control, and although you’re isolated from the road, you feel at one with the car, working with it in every move it makes, being supported by the bucket seat behind you. The sound of the engine opening up with your right foot is simple, yet exciting, and it begs to sing out loud, asking you, pleading with you to keep your right foot down and the revs up high. But as the highway trip is comes to an end, you have to back off the accelerator slightly, and it’s almost a sad moment when the revs begin to drop and the sound fades away. Once off the highway, a few robots away from the dealership, the 86 races from robot to robot with ease and agility, displaying the prowess of a black panther lunging out at its prey.
As the ride comes to an end, I step out of the 86 with the engine still running, and rev it a bit just to hear that sound; but still, nothing from the big dual exhausts at the back, the only noise you hear comes from under the bonnet. Thoroughly satisfied with the drive, I turn off the engine and stand in admiration of the might of the 86. The only fault I could find in this is the exhaust system, stunning to look at, but virtually no practical use as the sound is non existent. According to the salesman, once the 2 stage catalytic converters are removed, power is upped by 40Kw’s, and I can imagine it would sound a whole lot louder too. But, for a little extra, I’d install racing pipes and de-cat the 86. Do that and the boxer will sing like it’s never sung before!
Overall, the 86 is a well rounded car. The performance is phenomenal, and the drive quality is brilliant. You can commute daily in comfort and style, but at the drop of a hat weave through traffic with perfect control at pace, leaving you smiling at the end of the journey. The car looks stunning; sportiness being the order of the day, and throughout every second of the drive, the 86 will not leave you dissatisfied. The power isn’t enough to punch a hole in your gut, but it’s enough to excite you and put a smile on your face; and if you feel the need to, you can always work a few extra horses from the engine. The term “engaging” is given a new meaning with the feeling you get when piloting 86, and you can’t do anything but hope Toyota carry this feeling through into every new model they release.
Toyota set out to revive their sporting heritage; they set out to reset the clock on an increasingly more technological motoring world. Toyota collaborated with Subaru to bring us something new and enthralling, something that would give us pleasure at every second of the experience; and they succeeded. I never thought I would see the day when Toyota would redeem themselves in the sports car world. But Toyota, you proved me wrong, you put your all into an entirely new concept. You took me on a journey to show me what the essence of driving really is. You gave your blood, sweat and tears to the 86, and of all the things you could possibly have done, you thrilled me!!
Wording by Roger Biermann
Photo courtesy of QuickPic.co.za