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New Toyota 86 test drive review

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    The Toyota 86 is lively, enjoyable, youthful and likely to be affordable as well. Photo Gallery

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Paul Gover road tests and reviews the new Toyota 86 sports car at its international launch.

Toyota 86 4

Forget all about the Celica, Supra and even the MR2. When Toyota finally decided it was time to get serious about a 21st century hero car, to put some much-needed shine on its badge, it discarded all of its wimpy imitation sports cars.

It turned to the history books for inspiration, listened to enthusiastic young owners of modified cars, tapped Subaru for engineering expertise, wrote big cheques and rejected committee-style decisions on styling, then went all-out for the finish line. And a starting price in Australia in the low $30,000s.

Livewire company chief Akio Toyoda, a part-time racer who knows his family company will not continue at the top if it cannot combat the Koreans and put some flavour into its vanilla lineup, as well as winning younger buyers to the brand, stayed close to the project and added his guidance when necessary.

The result, based on a super-brief Carsguide taste at Fuji Speedway, is a car that easily trumps anything Toyota has done since the original Lexus LS400 in 1989. The Toyota 86 is lively, enjoyable, youthful and likely to be affordable as well.

Alright, it sounds like a Subaru RX, some of the cabin equipment is a bit cheap, and it could definitely cope with a lot more than the standard 147 kiloWatts of power, but the 86er is a car you want to drive. And it drifts like a beauty.


When Toyota says it's aiming for a starting price in the low $30,000 range you have to take the 86 very, very seriously. That single price line decision could even be enough to push Subaru Australia away from bringing the 86er's clone cousin, the BRZ, downunder.

A sharp price in the thirties is going to rattle a whole bunch of hot hatches, from the Volkswagen Polo in the twenties to the Golf GTIs and Renault Megane RS in the forties, right up to the Subaru WRX and even the Nissan 370Z in the high sixties. The 86 might not have turbo punch, but it will be tough to beat in any bang-for-bucks assessment.

No-one knows yet what the 86 will carry as standard equipment, but power steer and aircon, a reasonable sound system, alloy wheels and a leather steering wheel will all make the grade.


The 86 is old school, with the engine in the nose, gearbox in the middle and drive from the rear wheels. But Subaru has done a great job in packaging the chassis for great front-to-rear balance and kept all the heavy mechanical bits low in the chassis.

"We were able to create a car where one plus one equals three," says chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada. "Rather than produce a car with universal appeal, we stick to our purusit of a real sports car. We made no compromise in performance."

So the 2.0-litre boxer engine - part of a new family of flat fours at Subaru - hits the benchmark output of 100 horsepower for every litre thanks to 147 kiloWatts, with 205 Newton-metres of torque. There are six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes, fully-independent suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and quick rack-and-pinion steering.

The real work went into fine tuning the chassis, and it is possible to completely disconnect any electronic driving assistance. There is ESP stability control, but only for Monday-to-Friday commuting and not weekend fun runs.

"The development is strongly committed to the motorsport tradition. We wanted a car with no compromise. That would be loved by enthusiasts," Tada says.


Toyota did all the bodywork and the cabin, and tapped the 1960s 2000 GT for the basic shape and overall feel. The process for approval went outside the Toyota system, with Akio Toyoda available for extra muscle at decision time.

"If we followed the traditional approach it would be a boring car, but universally accepted. There was no executive committed. We gathered the sports car users from inside the company," says Tada.

The result is a car that is distinctive but not overdone or outrageous, with obvious visual ties to the 2000 GT but a modern take on details like the twin exhausts, face at the front, and flared guards.

Inside, the look is clean and simple and the location of the tachometer - which sits Porsche 911-style in the centre of the instruments - says it all. There is good room for two adults in the front, all the controls are Toyota easy to find and use, and Tada says weekend warriors will find enough space in the tail for a spare set of wheels for drifting and a toolbox.


Just because the 86 is a sports car does not mean scrimping on safety, and Toyota promises a five-star ANCAP rating. The car obviously comes with standard ESP and ABS brakes, but there is no news yet on the airbag package or the fine detail. That will have to wait until just before the on-sale date in April next year.


This is the good bit, because all the talk fades to black when you drop into the colourful 3D world of the 86. The car is even better than I hope, even if the driving only amounts to a handful of laps on a twisty little track at Fuji Speedway. It's more than enough to feel the enthusiasm that has gone into the car and that it - in return - can deliver.

The cabin is cosy, well laid out, and puts the driver first. The gearbox is a snick-snick six-speeder, the steering is light but sensitive and the view is good - although probably not for tight reverse parking.

As I drive out of the pitlane I'm reminded of the importance of this first run, and then that the 86 has a Subaru. The flat-four engine note cannot be disguised and reminds me of a mum's run RX. But that's only for a second, before the engine spins eagerly beyond 6000 revs and it's time for the first set of corners.

This is where the 86 gives me the first big smile, as the grip and balance is fantastic. Unlike many modern cars, the 86 does not have giant tyres and the car is lively and responsive. It's more like a big go-kart than any hot hatch, far more usable than a 370Z, and just plain fun. My time passes quickly as I drive and ride, revelling in a car that is so un-Toyota and so un-Camry. There is definitely some Subaru passion involved.

I can complain a little about the quality in the cabin, with some hard plastics and cheap controls, and also about the lack of torque from the 2-litre engine. And 147 kiloWatts is not a lot today. But the engine is easy to tweak, and will be tuned from 7 today to 10 and beyond by the turbo maniacs in Japan and around the world, and an affordable pricetag will balance any other slight shortcomings.

In years to come I will look back at my first drive in the 86 as a landmark day, not for Toyota but for a new generation of sports car fans who are finally getting a 21st century car that is all about the joy of driving. It's impossible not to love the 86 and what it means to motoring.


The 86 is real fun. It's not like every other Toyota, or any other Toyota sporty car, and that means it should be a winner.



Price: from $32,000 (Estimate only)
On sale: mid 2012
Body: Two-door hatchback, four seats
Engine: 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder
Output: 147kW/7000 revs, 205Nm/6600 revs
Transmission: six-speed manual or automatic, rear-wheel drive
Dimensions: length 4240mm, width 1775mm, height 1300mm, wheelbase 2570mm, tracks 1520/1540mm front/rear
Suspension: front struts, rear double wishbone
Tyres: 215x40R18 front, 225x40R18 rear.


Renault Megane RS250- compare this car
: 3 out of 5 stars
Price: from $41,990




Nissan 370Z- compare this car
: 3 out of 5 stars
Price: from $68,640




Subaru WRX- compare this car
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Price: from $39,990






Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 20 comments


    X-man Posted on 20 August 2012 12:40am
  • “Core” denotes functionality

    Miff Posted on 16 August 2012 11:48pm
  • What’s hapopening about they tyres?

    Agent 86 Posted on 13 August 2012 10:49am

    UKI of CANBERRA Posted on 11 August 2012 4:41pm
  • subaru engine?! whats going on?!

    pete knowles of melbourne Posted on 13 July 2012 8:23pm
  • I’d be amazingly suprised if this cost anything less than 40k. I mean, that’s what the mx-5 is there abouts - to me these are very similar cars, so I’d expect them to cost about the same.

    alex Posted on 10 May 2012 7:10pm
  • If it’s as fun to drive and as balanced as they say I’ll buy one.  You don’t need huge power or unbalanced super turbo punt to have fun.
    Its like the first MX-5, so much fun to drive despite not being the most powerful or having a turbo and how many of those did they sell?  Rather a lot wasn’t it?

    Ollygt of Brisbane Posted on 09 May 2012 8:53pm
  • Kymbo of SA - I agree that 147kw out of a 4 cyclinder 2.0L engine is a great feat, but Honda has done this for a while from their Civic and Integra Type R/S cars. In saying that, the Hondas are FWD.

    Jason P of Sydney Posted on 04 April 2012 6:51pm
  • As I do work in the Sales Division of a Toyota Dealership, I can confirm that the Release date is for the 8th of June. 8/6. This is in line with the model 86. There will be 2 Spec levels and available in Auto and Manual. Pricing is still to be confirmed. These cars are not going to hit our shores in big numbers. With limited supply demand is driven higher.

    Rodney Hull of Gold Coast Posted on 22 February 2012 12:37pm
  • Spoke to the local Toyota dealer yesterday and there’s good news but also some really bad news.  Good news is they’re expecting the car in May, really bad news is that now no-one will buy it because according to the dealer there will only be one model on offer and it will cost $40,000and no, there is no turbo.

    Andrew of Mildura Posted on 11 February 2012 10:07am
  • Owned since new I still drive the zzt231R Celica ZR 6sp which has virtually identical specs to the 86 but with a more favorable power to weight ratio and pumps out 106bhp/litre. Weighing in at only 1120kg and with a 0-100kmh sprint of about 7sec, I really do wonder how quick the 86 will be! I’m inclined to agree with phuong in so much as it should be bombproof, Toyota engineering more so than Subaru. I look forward to its release & about bloody time too!

    gillie of Melbourne Posted on 06 December 2011 10:33pm
  • I would love for the Toyota to come out at $30,000AUD, but knowing how we always, ALWAYS get ripped off with car prices, I’m expecting at least $35,000 for the base model, and $40,000 for the one you’d actually buy. Frankly I’d prefer the Subaru, it looks better, especially the interior, I like the all black interior of the Subaru, the red stitching in the Toyota is a bit childish for me.

    David of Castle Hill Posted on 06 December 2011 10:33am
  • It’s a japanese car from two of the most respected and bullet proof companies that ever built cars that last, since it’s not turborised and supercharged, expect the engine and mechanical to be resilient. Consider that I expect less from a Renault to last the distance so I don’t think we need to worry about the Toybaru.

    phuong of act Posted on 05 December 2011 3:59pm
  • Subaru version has been priced at $24,000 in the US. Considering MX-5 starts at $23k in the US, you can tell what the BRZ will be out here… $45+

    Adam of Tas Posted on 05 December 2011 9:37am
  • I really want one considering the price. I’m sure it’s a fun car but the peak in power and torque are at pretty high revs. The amount of torque is a little concerning. But maybe it’ll be like the MX-5. But with one of these cars you never really know until you give one a test drive. How much does it weigh, 1T-1.2T?

    MikiG Posted on 03 December 2011 10:06am
  • Looks and sounds good! Too good actually, especially for the price ... something isn’t right. I mean, it’s too cheap and something has got to give. What of the quality of that boxer engine and how long will it last before it needs serious work? What of the quality of the materials? If the base model starts at a ridiculous 32-35K then the model with all the fruit is surely to be 45K plus on-roads and I don’t think there’s enough power and torque there for that kinda moula! We’ll see!

    gillie :) of Melbourne Posted on 02 December 2011 9:35pm
  • Multiple WRC winning Celica, Multiple Bathurst class and JGTC winning MR2 and Multiple JGTC winning Supra are “wimpy” are they? Stay off the drugs mate.

    Ruined the review Posted on 02 December 2011 6:00pm
  • WOW this Paul Gover just lost all credibility as ANY kind of automotive journalist. Supra wimpy? HAHAHA. Tell that to all the 1000HP plus Supra’s driving around the streets, or GAS Motorsports 2000HP plus 2JZ… Wow, just wow. Well actually, Paul you will fit right in with the Motor/Wheels set, maybe try and get a job there? No doubt this comment will not be published.

    Justin of Perth Posted on 02 December 2011 4:30pm
  • Toyota will release a Hybrid version before they release a turbo version…

    Adam of Tas. Posted on 30 November 2011 1:36pm
  • Glover, have you ever driven a Supra before? If you had, you would know that is not a “wimpy imitation sports car”. It’s closer to being a super car than a sports car. The 86 is a retake on the AE86 Corolla Tureno and Toyota have obviously done an excellent job of achieving this. As you said 147kw is not huge by today’s standards however only ten years ago the Nissan S15 200sx (silvia) was released which was similar in cost and weight with a 2.0lt turbo engine which outputted the same 147kw. Considering the engine is NA and outputting the same power, I would consider this a huge achievement by Toyota and Subaru. Hopefully the Subaru engineers have learned something from the Toyota ones about reliability and the engines are not plagued with the issues which face many Subaru owners. One can almost predict that Toyota will release a turbo version in the not too distant future. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against the forthcoming Subaru BRZ which looks like it may be the first good looking Subaru on the market. Figures because it was designed by Toyota.

    Kymbo of SA Posted on 29 November 2011 4:24pm
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