The 86 is the most enjoyable drive you will find without jumping into a Porsche. Photo Gallery
Paul Gover road tests and reviews the new 2012 Toyota 86 GT and GTS at the Australian launch.
It's going to take something very special to stop the Toyota 86 winning the 2012 Carsguide Car of the Year award.
The new coupe is the most dramatic Toyota newcomer in many generations and ticks all the right boxes from its styling to driving enjoyment and the crucial starting price.
The bottom line is finally revealed in Canberra this morning, with the 86GT opening the action at $29,990 and the heavily-loaded GTS taking the bottom line up to $35,490 with an automatic gearbox.
After pushing it over familiar fun roads around the national capital on Sunday afternoon, I can finally confirm the promise that was obvious during a very restricted preview drive at Fuji Speedway in Japan last year.
The 86 is the most enjoyable drive you will find without jumping into a Porsche, combining brilliant grip and balance with a sublime ride and steering that keeps you totally in touch with the road.
It can feel a little underpowered, and the dub-dub-dub exhaust note on start-up is a constant reminder that Subaru was a 50:50 partner in the car, but there is a huge amount to like in the 86 and very little to complain about.
Toyota already knows the car is going to be a huge hit in Australia and the foundation for a range of hot-up work, so shows it in Canberra with a variety of tweaks including a giant TRD rear wing and bigger wheels. But, in keeping with the policy of 86 project leader Tetsuya Tada, the engines are all untouched as hot-up work is being left to tuning companies.
The 86 arrives in Australia with more promises than a politician on polling day, and it all hinges on the bottom line. Toyota Australia has delivered by providing value without going crazy. There are two levels of equipment in the 86 - GT and GTS - and the obvious mechanical differences are bigger ventilated brakes and wheels not the GTS, as well as satnav, split auto zircon and better seat trim in the cabin, with a strip of LED daytime running lights to tell the world - and GT buyers - that you have the hero car.
The predictable package runs from seven airbags to alloy wheels, aircon and power steering, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes. The pricing is just the icing for the 86 fans who have created an over-full waiting list in Australia that's likely to mean a delay of at least six months for slow starters in showrooms.
“The 86 is meant to be enjoyed by as many driving enthusiasts as possible, and our pricing will extend its appeal to people who never imagined they could afford such a fun car,” says Toyota Australia's chief of sales and marketing, Matt Callachor. The next big question is how Subaru will price its version of the car, the BRZ coupe, when it arrives in July.
Everything about the 86 is focussed on the driver, and was driven right from the top of Toyota by the grandson of the company founder. Akio Toyoda is a part-time racecar driver and was in direct touch with project leader Tada throughout the car's development, including Toyota's surprising partnership with Subaru to provide the engine, drivetrain and basic suspension.
The flat-four engine helps keep the biggest weights set low and back in the body, resulting in a near-ideal 53:47 balance and the chance to tune the car from the driving seat for maximum grip and enjoyment. The engine itself is a new-design 2.0-litre that, thanks to direct fuel injection that Toyota was originally reluctant to share with Subaru, makes 147 kiloWatts and 205 Newton-metres.
After the six-speed gearboxes there is a limited-slip differential in the tail, although not on the lower-grade automatic GT. There is nothing special about the rest of the deal - no look-ahead radar or automatic braking or even a sunroof - to ensure the 86 as the most focussed sports car to hit Carsguide since the original Mazda MX-5 in 1989.
The Toyota coupe is not as adventurous as the Hyundai Veloster, or as edgy as the Subaru BRZ, but it looks good. It is slightly cute with the basic bones for plenty of pump-up action, including the exaggerated guard flares that are Tada's favourite design element.
The cabin is strictly 2+2 as you'd expect but the boot is reasonably sized for a cavity that holds a full-sized alloy spare. Inside, the look is focussed on the driver and that means clear dials, a slick six-speed manual shift, and no frills. Some of the plastic parts look slightly cheap but that's what you get when the emphasis is on the basics and the bottom line.
Toyota promises five-star ANCAP for the 86 and backs it with seven airbags including protection for the driver's knees, solid work on the front end to protect pedestrians, and big brakes with ABS and ESP stability control. But its trump card is the dynamic ability which means an 86 driver has far more ability to avoid a potential threat than someone in, say, a Camry.
Pushing hard down a familiar mountain road on the outskirts of Canberra, I'm having huge fun in the 86er. The car feels like an extension of me, not a tool that requires hard work and compromises. The car has just enough power for the job, the brakes are great, and the 86 turns and goes exactly when I want and how I want.
The engine is not particularly eager to rev to the redline at 7450, but is still tight with less than 100 kilometres under its wheels, and the tightly-stacked ratios allow it to be pushed along with frequent upshifts to keep it in the sweet spot around 4500 revs. It is the best driving car from Japan since the first MX-5 and rivals Porsche for fun, without the giant pricetags.
The steering and chassis balance are the highlights, and what makes the car so enjoyable. We got an early taste with some low-speed drifting in Japan last year but, on real roads with real challenges, the 86 clearly has the right stuff for Australia. But it's not perfect. Even for the price.
The cabin plastics are sub-standard for Toyota, and there is that constant reminder - the cranking sound on start-up and the dub-dub-dub exhaust note - that this is not a total Toyota. The heart comes from Subaru with its boxer four, even if the 'heart' and passion that drove the project is Toyota.
A winner. Simple as that.
Price: from $29,990 (GT) and $35,490 (GTS)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: No previous model
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: 5-star (predicted)
Engine: 2.0-litre flat four, 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: 6-speed man/auto; RWD
Thirst: 7.8l/100km; 164g/km CO2