Possibly in a bid to silence those power-hungry critics, the Japanese carmaker hosted the launch of its upgraded 86 on the frozen surfaces of Lapland in northern Finland last week. The changes to the car are restricted to the styling and chassis; the 2-litre boxer engine remains its normally-aspirated 147kW/205Nm self.
But here, on icy surfaces more suited to polar bears and snowmobiles, the playful nature of Toyota’s rear-wheel drive car was brought to life without requiring mega muscle. In fact, on slippery roads such as these, power is not your friend.
It’s all about hanging the tail out and rocking heroic powerslides in the style of Ken Block - stuff the Toyota 86 does very well, and with very little prompting. With its drive wheels at the back and finely weighted steering, the sideways shuffle comes very naturally to this sports coupé.
Toyota’s upped the fun factor with a new Track mode that allows drivers to push the limits with minimal intervention of the Vehicle Stability Control, a feature that came into its own on the frozen Finnish test track, in weather cold enough to render a brass monkey sterile. This mode allowed a fair share of hooliganistic drifting but still offered an electronic safety net when limits were pushed.
If you should happen to find a frozen lake in South Africa, or a skid pan, there’s tons of counter-steering fun to be had in the 86. More importantly, Toyota’s done some suspension tweaking that should make it better to drive in the real world of grippy tarmac. Detailed adjustments to the suspension together with improved torsional rigidity are aimed at improving roadholding and ride quality.
On Finland’s frozen roads I could feel a noticeable improvement in the 86’s ride quality. For a car geared to the sportier side of life, it covers distance with an impressive lack of teeth-shaking firmness making it a very civilised, everyday kind of car.
The upgrades come with subtle changes to the 86’s wrapping. New LED headlights with integrated daytime running lights, a lower nose and a revised front bumper comprise the facelift, while the rear gets a new full-width wing-type spoiler. The rear bumper and LED lights are also retouched for what Toyota calls a ‘lower-stronger’ look.
The cabin gets a minor revamp with a smarter-looking and smaller diameter steering wheel, and revised multi-information display. The triple-dial instrument panel includes a new 10.6cm on-board computer display that includes a G-force monitor, power and torque curves, and lap timer. As before a 15.5cm touchscreen display takes centre stage in the console for operating the audio and navigation, although the nav won’t be available in South Africa.
Black is the new black in terms of interior decorating, and the darkened cabin finishes create a sporty vibe while reducing reflection of outside light. New carbon-fibre detailing and classier-looking cowhide complete the upgrade to the passenger quarters.
The Toyota 86 arrives in SA in April at prices yet to be announced. Manual and automatic versions will be available.