Can it thrill? We drive Toyota's 86Comment on this story
This is the car that is going to save Toyota from death by boredom. Or so they say.
If you haven't already heard about the new 86, or GT 86 as it's known in other parts of the world, you will soon.
It's a shot of Tabasco to the rest of Toyota's range that could be described as, well, pap without the gravy.
It's got all the right ingredients too.
Rear-wheel drive, a short wheelbase, a clickety short-throw manual gearbox, built in agility and good looks. All the stuff that will instil happiness in people who really enjoy driving.
Then there's stuff that will make people that enjoy driving really fast happy too. A limited slip differential, an aerodynamic roof, built in roll cage mounts, a fancy two-stage fuel injection system, and a quick ratio steering rack. In other words, things that will make Mrs Robinson, who drives to church on Sundays, run in the other direction.
But here's the part that you might not read about in all the nitro-fuelled publications that are smitten with all the 86's go faster bits: Mrs Robinson shouldn't be scared of this car. It's not as ferocious as all of its boy racer gear suggests. At least it doesn't have to be.
This little sports car is just as happy doing donuts as it is doing the daily milk run.
Mrs Robinson can drive it to church and she'll never need to know that Torsen diff is able to lock up an inside wheel if it were to lose traction in a tight bend. She can drive it slow enough so that specially designed roof never offers any type of aero advantage, and she can work it up through the gears without ever getting close to the rev limiter.
She can even get it with an automatic transmission if she wants.
What I'm trying to say is, yes, the 86 is tuned in a way that would make the Stig smile behind his helmet but that doesn't mean it's only suitable for little Stig wannabees. It's a comfortable little daily driver that can double as a track tool if need be.
SCREAMING FOR MORE GO
That said, the Stig might be disappointed a little by power outputs (147kW and 205Nm). Not that the 86 is painfully slow or anything, but with such a precise chassis underneath it, it's screaming out for more go. Good drivers will be able to extract enough from it to keep the adrenaline needle in the red zone, but there's certainly room for more guts here.
This car could easily become the car that fills a gap that Honda's S2000 once occupied if some more kilowatts could be squeezed from it. At the moment it's filling the gap where Hyundai's Tiburon used to be - albeit an infinitely sweet handling Tiburon with rear-wheel drive and much better build quality if that's imaginable. Actually, there's never really been a car like this, ever. Maybe Mazda's MX-5 is close, in driving pureness, but that's got a convertible roof and the 86 doesn't. It's also more expensive.
The launch route near Nelspruit where I drove the 86 was a short one, without as many flowing bends and hairpin curves as I may have liked, but I was still able to taste the 86's flavour.
The boxer four reverberates through cabin at all times.
The manual gear lever shakes, rattles and rolls in your hand, almost translating the engine's revs through it. The steering is perfectly direct and weighted, and the suspension, while still soft enough to cope with African roads, is set up in a way that encourages aggressive driving.
I look forward to spending more time with it in the future.
This is old-school motoring in as raw a form as possible in this day and age, and I approve fully.
I will approve even more fully when it comes out with more power in coming time. Toyota won't confirm it, but I can almost guarantee it will happen.