ROAD TEST: Toyota 86 2.0 High manual & auto
Two things hit home for me when getting to grips with Toyota's new 86 coupé.
For starters, the last time I got excited about a Toyota was when I was fantasizing about Conquest RSis and Celicas back in the late eighties. Toyota's been in a long, but sensible, slumber and this rather basic rear-wheel drive two-door gives me hope that new car-nut boss Akio Toyoda is going to cut back on appliance production and launch some new 'cars'.
The other point was that we, as motor enthusiasts, have become so obsessed with straight-line speed in recent years. Fed on a diet of turbocharged fours that screech off the line like an angry cheetah, we've become a bunch of 0-100-snobs.
I've had my fair share of fun in many modern force-fed cars recently, yet I'll gladly admit that not all of them have stirred my soul.
Shania Twain once sang “you got the moves but have you got the touch?” and I suspect that if she ever sang about cars she'd be asking similar questions of many modern hot hatches.
The 86 certainly ain't got the speed. Let's get straight to that elephant in the room. The 86's normally aspirated 147kW/205Nm Subaru-designed 2-litre flat four engine could only get the 86 from 0-100km/h in 8.4 seconds at oxygen-depleted Gauteng altitude. Toyota says it'll take 7.6 seconds at the coast, but even that's a bit of a conversation-killer in GTI company.
If showing the world that your car is quick between the robots is what gets you going, then best you hit the 'back' button right now.
After a week at a time in both the manual and automatic 86 models, I can't say that I never wished for more speed - I did. But I can say that handing back the manual-gearbox version was a sad day. This Toyota really has got the “touch.”
In every way besides outright speed, it feels like each inch of this car was engineered by those who love driving, for those who love driving.
You sit really low. The small, fat steering wheel feels snug in your hands and steering sensation is meaty and extremely communicative. The short-throw gearshift feels solid and loves snap-changes. It sends its power to the back wheels so if you switch off the traction control you can hang the tail out, but it requires a bit of effort because this car is still more poised than tail happy.
Finally, Toyota has done little to damp out the off-beat gargle of that flat-four engine and it revs as far as 7400rpm. In fact, testing this redline could become a regular occurrence because the engine is a little peaky and doesn't deliver much at low revs.
I also drove the six-speed automatic model for a week and it's not a bad 'box - the gear-changes are silky-smooth and you have a pair of flappy-paddles, which can border on fun when you down-change early. Yet I still don't see the point of an automatic gearbox in this kind of car. I longed for the manual.
But does it make sense in the daily grind?
Let's start with the ride quality. Yes it's firm like a sports car should be, but no need to invest in that kidney belt as it's acceptably comfortable on everyday surfaces. I never yearned for a softer setting.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, as is the overall driving position. I'd happily live with this car on a daily basis.
That wouldn't be the case if there were more than two occupants in the mix. Toyota calls this a 'four-seater sports car' but they don't mention that the back-seat passengers have to saw their legs off first. At a push, you can do short trips three-up, if the front passenger doesn't mind brushing knees with the dashboard.
There are varying levels of kit, depending on which model you choose. The base model is a bit on the basic side - it is a purist's car, no? Yet you still get the basic comfort amenities like aircon, power windows, a six-speaker CD/MP3/USB/Aux sound system and multi-information system and the safety net of seven airbags and traction control.
Upgrade to the 'High' spec model like the one I tested and you can add things like cruise control, dual-zone climate controls, HID headlights and keyless and leather-cloth combo seat trim among other good stuff.
For this you'll pay R334 500 for the manual and R351 900 for the automatic model, but the basic 86, at R298 500, still makes the most sense to me.
If you live your life a quarter mile at a time and outright speed is your primary poison then you're probably not going to understand this car and you're better off sticking to a turbocharged hot hatch.
If, however, you have a more old-school attitude towards cars and you can appreciate a car that has “the touch” then the 86 will be up your alley.
Of all the cars I've driven, this one comes closest to proving that you don't always have to go fast to have fun. Not that I'd complain if Toyota gave me a faster version. In fact, the tuning companies are already enjoying this canvas.