Hachi Roku. These are the Japanese words for the number 86, but they take on far  more importance today with the unveiling of the first Toyota sports car for the 21st century.

The 86 is the car that must restore passion and respect for a brand  that has been through the wars in recent years, from its fabulous failure in Formula One to the safety scandals in the USA and now the loss of production and income through natural disasters in Japan and Thailand.

"Please enjoy," says the top man at Toyota, Akio Toyoda, as he drives the 86 into the spotlight at Fuji Speedway in Japan. It's a simple statement but one that comes from the heart for a man who is both a part-time racer and personally passionate about his  family company.

Toyoda helped drive the Lexus LFA supercar into production and knows Toyota must do much better than the whitegoods-on-wheels Camry and Corolla that are the company's backbone. So the 86 is a two-plus-two coupe with a normally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine making 147 kiloWatts, six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes, and rear-wheel drive.

Toyota tapped Subaru for the basic engineering, including both the engine and chassis, while it concentrated on the cash and the bodywork and the finessing so essential for a car that MUST deliver real driving enjoyment.

"This is a car where one plus one adds up to three," says the chief  engineer of the 86, Tetsuya Tada. "We had a strong passion to deliver again a sports car that is fun. A  car with no compromise. That would be loved by enthusiasts."

The news for Australia is good, although Subuaru has yet to confirm any local sales plan for its take on the 86, called the BRZ.

"The car should be on sale around the middle of next year. Our  ambition is a starting price with a three at the front," says Toyota  spokesman, Mike Breen.

DRIVING

Lively. That's the first thing I feel at the wheel of the 86. I'm only getting a couple of laps at a super-tight handling track at Fuji, but the first impression in the new Toyota is that the car has hit its targets. It feels words away from a turgid Celica, much more refined than an MR2, and far more enjoyable than a Supra. Now, about that dak-dak Subaru exhaust note ...

The 86 is smaller than I expect, at least overall. It's a compact 2+2 for sure, but there is good space in the front and the seats are well shaped. The six-speed manual has a nice snick-snick feel and there is good weighting to the steering and a strong brake pedal. Underway, the car pulls well enough. It's always tough to tell on a track, unless you're in an M5 or 911, but the gearing is good and it pulls well as I upshift from second to third at 6000 revs. It doesn't have a particularly torquey feel, and I cannot assess things like wind noise or tyre roar.

The chassis has great grip, good turn-in and - with the stability control sent on holiday - it's easy to provoke a nice sideways slide. One colleague even manages a giant third-gear spin. It's impossible to know exactly how the 86 will drive in Australia, but all the signs are good. It feels shrink-wrapped and taut, with the enjoyment that Toyota promises.

It can easily handle more power and there are tuners around the world already busy on the project. It's just a pity that Subaru was not tapped for some STI turbo mojo, as it looks like the engine room could definitely handle the extra equipment. For me, the 86 feels more like the first chapter than the end of the book. There is plenty to come and, right now, it all looks pretty good.