Toyota is back! The Japanese automobile giant, which once fed our driving passion with cars such as the 2000GT, Supra, Celica GT-Four and MR2, but is now better known for bland product, is on to stirring stuff again.
The car in question, the Toyota 86, is a rip-roaring 2+2 that wipes any opposition on price. Two variants are on offer Downunder, the base GT and up-specced GTS, both with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Starting at just $29,990 for the manual GT, the price rises to $35,490 for the GTS manual. Automatic adds $2500 to both grades. Close rivals such as the Mazda MX-5, Peugeot RC-Z and BMW 125i can tip the scales at many dollars more.
The Toyota 86 is not short on ‘stuff’ to keep the costs down to these surprisingly low levels. The GT has daytime running lights, seven airbags, a five-mode stability control system, traction control, anti-locking brakes. So it’s right up to date in the latest thinking in primary and secondary safety devices. On the comfort side there’s cruise control, air-con, a decent sound system, 16-inch alloy wheels and multi-information display.
The 86 GTS gains 17-inch alloy wheels, auto levelling HID headlamps, a 6.1-inch display screen for satellite navigation with live traffic updates, dual zone climate control air-con, fabric front seats with leather accents and red stitching, and aluminium pedals.
As a 2+2 the Toyota 86 has no illusions about carrying rear seat passengers. However, with the backs folded flat there is space in the boot to carry four race wheels, or more conventional items such as two golf bags.
Styling of the new 86 was inspired by the 1965 Toyota 2000GT with its classic side-window shape, long bonnet and rear fender line. Indeed, chief engineer Tetsuya Tada put a 2000GT in the studio in the hope of infusing designers with the essence of the classic sports car. The singularly minded Tada san was lucky enough to have the ear of the man at the top who made sure he got his way. The man’s passion shines through.
Just like borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour, Toyota knocked on the door of Subaru and walked away with a 2.0-litre horizontally opposed boxer engine. The joint development enabled the moulding of the best technology both companies could muster.
Subaru is no bit player in this dynamic duet. The flat ‘four’ is extremely light and sits low up front of the 86. It is hooked up to the rear wheels, in all but the auto GT, via a Torsen limited-slip differential situated down the back giving the car, with a similarly rearward driving position, as near 50/50 weight distribution as possible – in this case 53/47.
Calling on the best brains from both companies, the all-new engine has the highest specific power output and revving ability in the Toyota stable. The unit delivers 147 kW (200 horsepower in performance car language) at 7000 rpm and 205 Nm of torque between 6400 and 6600 revs on 98 RON petrol. In true sporty fashion the engine doesn’t max out till it hits 7450 rpm.
A compression ratio of 12.5:1 gives the naturally aspirated motor maximum performance across the entire rev range, while maintaining remarkable fuel consumption, 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual variants and an even more surprising 7.1 litres / 100 km for the automatics. Carbon dioxide emissions are put at 164 grams per kilometre (auto) and 181 g/km (manual). The engine delivers a sporty note to the cabin via a sound creator and damper.
We had the chance to experience this during the launch of the car in the ACT. We hated the first part of the programme on a range of roads in and out of Canberra. That’s because we weren’t there. The aircraft scheduled to take us to Canberra had engineering issues (how ironic) and we stayed grounded until a replacement was found.
We arrived almost 24 hours late at a chilly, fog shrouded driving centre in time to take part in sessions that included track time, a hill climb, dirt driving and drifting. As the fog lifted the sun warmed the body; the Toyota 86 warmed the soul. All manoeuvres required direct input from the driver, the 86 answering with positive responses that were entirely in keeping with a car with such a sporting heritage.
The Toyota IS-F inspired six-speed automatic gearbox, with steering wheel-mounted paddles even blipped the engine on downshifts. Smiles all round. The Toyota 86 has form. The Sports 800, developed in 1962, became the first car with a front mounted horizontally opposed engine driving the rear wheels. The later Corolla Levin AE86’s powertrain made this an ideal car for rallying and on circuits and, latterly, for drifting. Which explains the tagging of this new model as ’86’.
What may be seen by some as a bit naff, the front fenders carry a distinctive 86 emblem featuring opposed pistons a la boxer engine with the figures ‘86’ in the middle in a style meant by the maker to represent a four-wheel drift. Yeah, right!
However, overall the new 86 sends Toyota back down the road to the glory days of exciting yet affordable sports cars which capture the imagination of anybody with a yen for driving fun. What will Toyota do to top this?
On the practical side, like all new Toyotas, the 86 takes advantage of Toyota’s capped price servicing plan, with up to four scheduled services at $170 each.