Yes, that is a Toyota badge on the bonnet.
Which left me a bit surprised, I must admit, as I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this Japanese carmaker has been more at the conservative end of the playing field in recent times. Words like thrilling and performance are not immediate thoughts, if you catch my drift.
This car, the 86, changes all that, and reminds me of the spirited old “chisel-shaped” RSI days – when twin-cam badges meant something.
Sure, Toyota’s relationship with fellow Japanese carmaker Subaru has played a part in the 86’s development, but kudos to them for getting Toyota to put passion back into a car. Just look at it – we’re talking about a low-slung coupé, front-engined and rear-wheel driven, with a tight and sexy body.
Inspired by the Toyota 2000GT of the 1960s, the 86 is a 2+2 seater with sweeping body lines, sexy frameless doors, and bold wheel arches and air scoops. Toyota calls the 86 the world’s most compact four-seater sportscar. If we can make a small criticism, it’s the low-profile 17” rubber, which didn’t quite fill the arches.
The sportiness continues inside with racy dials, a sports steering wheel (with no fancy audio control buttons), and sports seats that are body-hugging and comfy. I liked the little red digital speedometer inside the rev counter, and the racy red light that screams at you to grab the next gear when things start hotting up.
WHAT REAR SEATS?
Be warned, though, the rear seats are only slightly bigger than your average baby car seat. There’s also an oversight with the layout in the boot – the full-sized spare sticks right up into the middle of the boot floor and doesn’t have a cover.
Under the bonnet lives a naturally breathing 2-litre boxer engine (remember that part about the relationship with Subaru), which is good for 147kW and 205Nm. This may sound reasonable in power terms, but up here on the power-sapping Reef it returned a mediocre 8.4 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint (the Japanese claim 7.6) and did the quarter mile in 16 seconds.
It doesn’t help that the six-speed manual gearbox does just under 100km/h in second, requiring another throw of the gear lever to get to that benchmark speed. It also means that gear ratios have shorter legs, resulting in 100km/h in sixth hovering around the 3 000rpm mark. But consumption, at 9.9 litres to 100km, was acceptable.
As far as gearboxes go, the one in the 86 is a lesson in sweetness.
The gear stick is short and stubby. It clicks with an air of precision into the next gear, and the short throws make for quick and exciting changes.
The lumpy sound of the boxer is also quite distinctive. To keep the adrenalin flowing you have to keep the high-revver fairly in touch with its 7400rpm red line (which is also where it sounds best). It’s pretty tame low down, gets to happy hour at the mid-range, and brings out the tequila from around 5 500rpm. Switching the traction nannies off is two simple buttons away, and then it’s time for big, snakey, smokey launches – which the 86 simply loves.
From a handling perspective there’s a nice balance between cruising to work in the week and heading off to the track for a few laps, or some drifting, at weekends. The 86 is a Japanese go-kart, offering a hard but not harsh ride, meaty feedback from the steering wheel, and crisp handling, thanks to a low centre of gravity and that 1 200kg body mass. Even with the traction control nannies on there’s a bit of playfulness. Put everything off and this becomes a real driver’s car – especially with that rear limited-slip diff.
And about that name: it not only refers to an older Toyota model called the AE86 from the early 1980s, but also the boxer motor’s square bore and stroke of 86mm. The car’s exhaust tips are 86mm in diameter, and the circular 86 logo is designed to look like four wheels in a drift. And it’s pronounced “Eight Six” and not “Eighty Six”.
It’s official, Toyota has an entry-level purist sportscar in its line-up, and at R329 400 (for the high spec) I reckon it’s money well spent – especially when you consider that a standard 86 costs R298 500, while a distant rival like the MX5 costs R364 640. Sure, you’ll have to move left for most hot hatches, but the 86 is about having fun rather than going quickly in a straight line. -Mercury Motoring