Hype or hope, giant killer or weed killer? Question everything that the master of marketing, Toyota, dishes up and the 86 is either the second coming of the Lotus Elan or the best two-door bargain to hit the nation since the 1984 Celica. It's easy to see where the cynicism stems.
The $29,990 entry-level price is at odds with the styling, the marketing and the alluring style of the Toyota 86. It's as cheap as a Corolla, almost a third of the price of a front-wheel drive Audi TT and claims the economy of a Camry.
The clanger - the unmentionable Subaru flat-four engine - has no turbocharger and fans realise that they'll have to actually drive the thing around corners to get the best from its 147kW. It's not for drivers who's contribution to performance driving consists only of extending their right foot.
The 86 can be hard work to push quickly but very few cars - and none at its $29,990 entry price - will produce so many smiles. The next shipment is due in March.
The GTS is $35,490. The extra $5500 buys better seats, wheels, brakes, cabin trim and features such as the LED daylight running lights and sat-nav. Buy this one unless you're planning a weekend racer.
Everyone that sees it, loves it. Yet to be fair, it's not as cutting edge as sort-of rivals such as the Scirocco or Veloster, but more softened like the BMW 1-Series coupe and the Nissan 370Z. Truth is, the 86 has no direct rivals based on price, seating and drivetrain.
The 2-litre aspirated Subaru engine - which prints its name alongside Toyota on the engine's intake plenum - is the latest mill also seen in the Impreza, but Toyota adds direct petrol injection and new variable-valve timing. The exhaust and ECU are all new, too, and though the engine's at the front and drive is to the rear, there's no way this can become an AWD because that engine is set well back in the bay. GTS gets bigger brakes than the GT.
Ticks all the boxes and seven airbags is a surprise in a car that really is good for only two people.
The acid test. Perth's RAC Driving Centre is designed to teach newbies and failed motorists how to get it right. It also has a tight ribbon of perfectly horizontal bitumen used by clubs on weekends.
It's not big but many sports cars get to 160-plus on the straight and the first corner sorts the boys from the men and requires changing more than an attitude. The GTS will howl to almost 160km/h from rest on this strip and the first big shock is that the first left-hander could have been done a lot quicker.
The same with the second, a tighter left, then the sweeping right which is so long it almost comes back on itself and is difficult to pick its apex. Consistently, the most notable character of the 86 is its balance through the bends and specifically the ideal ability of it to be driven on the throttle, squeezing to induce a touch of oversteer and backing off to bring it back.
The electric-assist steering has a hint of vagueness at a few degrees off centre before the system works out what you want, but generally it has very good feel. Under the curves is a simple suspension set up that works very well. There's sufficient compliance for onroad comfort but firmness to keep the car flat through the bends.
The low seating position - practising yoga enthusiasts will rejoice but less limbered bodies will suffer - and the horizontally-opposed engine both keep the centre of gravity low. The brakes are bigger than the 86 GT and while capable, the track's tightness caused some softness in the pedal and the rich aroma of grilled pads.
Nothing to get scared about because the brakes never reached the point of surrendering. I liked the seats - in fact, the alcantara (nylon suede) centre insets do a great job at keeping the body in situ - and the visibility, the location of the pedals and gearshifter and even the simplicity of the gauges.
And, over time, I even enjoyed the engine. But it took time. Initially it felt doughy off the mark, like there wasn't sufficient torque to make the clutch bite at the right time. But it's a learning process and clean starts need a minimum of 2000rpm - more if you don't have traffic all around you.
The spin-up is smooth (but aurally unmistakably Subaru) but about 3500rpm there's a flattening of torque then it has a second bite at about 5500rpm and maintains the heat past the 7000rpm mark. The engine will live around 6000-7000rpm without fuss and this band becomes the most workable to wring the maximum from the engine while suiting the drive to the wheels.
The gearbox - from the Lexus IS250 - is just right. It feels perfectly notchy, like an MX-5, and snicks easily. Which is just as well. The end of the day reckoning was that a turbo would be nice but probably too much - it would add more weight to the nose and put that weight higher and then affect traction.
And it would cost a lot more to buy and invite heaps of speeding tickets. Nah. Toyota and Subaru have got it right. This is just a beautifully balanced machine. The price is the icing.
Just do it.
Toyota 86 GTS manual
Price: from $35,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 60% (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: five star (predicted)
Engine: 2-litre 16-valve direct and port injection flat-four, 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; RWD
Body: 4.2m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.3m (h)
Thirst: 7.8/100km,181g/km CO2
Mini Cooper S coupe - compare this car
Price: from $42,990
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl petrol, turbocharged, 135kW/260Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, front drive
Body: 2-door coupeTHIRST: 6.3l/100km, 95RON, CO2 146g/km
Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe - compare this car
Price: from $47,200
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 118kW/188Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body: 2-door coupe-convertible
Thirst: 8.1L/100km, 95RON, CO2 192g/km
Hyundai Veloster + - compare this car
Price: from $27,990
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 103kW/166Nm
Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch automated manual, front-wheel drive
Body: 3-door hatch
Thirst: 6.4l/100km, 91RON, CO2 151g/km