by Brad Leach - 15/11/12
Imagine the scene. The Boardroom at Toyota HQ in Nagoya, Japan late one night. President Akio Toyoda says: “We going to do a rear-drive mass-produced sports car in collaboration with Subaru.”
At that point, the Finance guy giggles and says: “Yeah, good one…another sake for Akio-San!”
But without saying another word, with one sweep of his arm, ‘The Pres.’ aggressively wipes all of the papers off the table and puts in place two model cars – the Porsche Cayman and Nissan GT-R.
Next, there is silence; the only sound you hear is the distant chirping of crickets in the night air…
Might not have happened exactly like that…but the point is the Toyota 86 is a headline grabber as much for the radical change it brought to the once conservative Toyota Corporation as for the product itself. Its success rests squarely on the shoulders of Akio Toyoda’s determination to bring fun back to driving.
Much hyped pre-launch, now the automotive world has realized the 86 isn’t a new Celica. Much more than that, the 86 is - as promised - a pure rear-wheel-drive sports car priced so just about anyone can afford one.
We drove various Toyota 86 models during one day at the media launch, but this time the Car Showroom team went two weeks back-to-back in the entry-level 86 GT manual ($29,990) and range-topping GTS automatic ($37,990).
As we know, the Toyota 86 is the twin of the Subaru BRZ. Both are handsome ‘2+2’ sports coupes.
In Toyota 86 specification, the range-topping GTS model adds leather trim, 17-inch alloy wheels, a better audio system, 6.1-inch LCD touch-screen with satellite navigation, limited-slip differential, HID headlights with DRLs, alloy pedals and carbon-look instruments.
Under the bonnet is Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer engine with Toyota’s D-4S direct fuel injection system. Maximum power is 146kW at 7,000rpm and peak torque of 205Nm arrives between 6400rpm and 6600rpm – this engine is a tad ‘peaky’ and loves to rev…just as you’d expect from a sports car.
Drive is to the rear wheels (again just as all sports cars should be) via Toyota-Aisin six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.
Fuel consumption is rated at 7.1l/100kms (auto).
Climb behind the wheel and immediately you just know the Toyota 86 is a fair-dinkum sports car. For starters you sit low and the height-reach adjustable three-spoke steering wheel is Toyota’s smallest at 365mm diameter and the grip feels just right.
The form-fitting seats aren’t over-endowed with adjustability, but are snug for cornering and quickly configure a top-notch driving position. Same for the instrumentation – simple, straight-forward gauges with the rev-counter prominent…just as a sports car should be.
Behind, the rear seat will hold a gym or tennis bag, but that’s pretty much it. However fold that seat flat and you can store two full-size golf bags.
But it’s the interior details which show the full intensity of Toyota’s design. The console is low so you don’t scrape your elbow changing gear, the pedals are designed for efficient heel/toe downshifts, the luggage space is sized to store a spare set of wheels for track days and even the door handles have been positioned to facilitate easy installation of a roll-cage.
Aero efficiency in the Toyota 86’s exterior design focused as much on high-speed stability as low cD (although for the record it’s 0.27). Toyota adopted the ‘Aerodynamic Sandwich’ philosophy of channeling fast-moving air over the roof and along the sides so no bolt-on spoilers or wings are needed.
Really photos don’t do justice to the Toyota 86 as, in the metal, the sporty coupe looks low and wide.
At the front, the 86 adopts Toyota’s current wide-mouth look and the great-looking T-mesh is unique.
Flared wheel arches add to the sporty look which - in fading light and after a few sakes – has a passing resemblance to Toyota’s 2000GT coupe from the 1960s.
In fact Toyota admitted selection of the Subaru boxer engine was in some way dictated by exterior appearance. Toyota simply doesn’t have an engine with the required performance which is sufficiently compact.
A few months back at the media launch, Toyota made a point of highlighting the 86’s front/rear weight distribution is 53/47 and the centre of gravity is lower than the Porsche Cayman and Nissan GT-R. Shows how 86 has changed Toyota – previously engineers worried about where to put the ashtray rather than where to put the centre of gravity.
But Toyota isn’t lacking for resources and once Akio Toyoda had his teams focused on rear-wheel-drive sports car driving dynamics, the result was always going to be great rear-wheel-drive sports car driving dynamics. For example, the engineering required for a mass-produced car to fit L-shaped lower control arms for the front suspension (in order to mount the engine as low as possible) is the sort of complexity really only Toyota (and possibly Volkswagen) would contemplate.
So we enthused about the Toyota 86 after driving in the Canberra ‘back-yard’ of motorsport gurus Neal and Rick Bates – the Sutton Motorsports Complex. But how would Toyota’s sports car champion behave in the real world of day-to-day commuter-car and in our ‘backyard’ – the Car Showroom test route over the hills north-east of Melbourne?
Well the result, after two weeks in the GT and GTS was nothing short of spectacular. And that ‘no-compromise’ mantra remains true – the Toyota 86 really is a sports coupe for both performance enthusiasts and every-day drivers.
During the week, the 2.0-litre ‘Boxer; engine purred along with no abruptness (manual or auto) in the peak-hour crawl. Nicely weighted power steering, good all-round visibility and a handy 10.8-metre turning circle allowed the 86 to easily pass muster at our tight CBD car park.
Of course it was the hills, descents, twists and curves of our high-speed mountain roads test loop that were the natural domain of the Toyota 86 and it was there we faced our only conundrum – how to split the six-speed automatic GTS model and the six-speed manual GT?
And we couldn’t. On road, the paddle-shifting auto is just as good as the traditional manual.
As well as the bigger wheels, the Toyota 86 also scores larger brakes (294mm fronts and 290mm rears) and a limited-slip differential but again we couldn’t split either model. Both had the precision turn-in, excellent steering feedback, balance and response which are the hallmarks of the Toyota 86.
And both had superb grip and were surprisingly refined (a clever blend of sports car stiffness and every-day suppleness).
A Chihuahua would be squeezed in the back seat of a Toyota 86 so we wonder why they bothered.
We’ve now spent considerable time behind the wheel of Toyota 86s covering a variety of driving conditions. And yep, we’re sticking to our guns – this thing is brilliant.
We’ll concede in recent times Toyota hasn’t been a name on the mind of performance car buyers, but the determination of Akio Toyoda, and the diligence of this employees, has in one fell swoop, changed the game forever. So automotive historians mark your calendars carefully as 2012 will forever be remembered as the year Toyota re-engaged with sports cars buyers with the first 86.
If we had the coin, we’d take the GTS manual ($35,490). However – and for no reason other than its unbelievable value-for-money – the star of the Toyota 86 range is the entry-grade GT manual ($29,990).
Hyundai’s entry-level Veloster turbo with 103kW/167Nm isn’t going to outmuscle the Toyota 86, but the Korean three-door’s $23,990 sticker warrants curiosity. On the other hand, Veloster Turbo’s 150kW/265Nm demands attention and a test-drive – now! It’s $31,990 for the Hyundai Veloster Turbo.
A facelift is upcoming for the Mazda MX-5. The iconic Japanese two-seater still has one of the world’s best rear-drive chassis, but the Toyota 86 significantly undercuts the MX-5’s $44,265 starting price.
Not strictly a coupe but definitely in this set is Renault’s Megane R.S. 265. With a starting price of $42,640 the highly-equipped, race-bred French hot-hatch is a bit more expensive but is unquestionably the sportiest front-driver we’ve driven this year.
In a similar way the Ford Focus ST launches next month and, while also a hot-hatch like the Renault Megane, will no doubt be contemplated by Toyota 86 buyers.
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