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Car reviews - Toyota - 86 - coupe

Our Opinion

We like
The 86 redefines the affordable sports car pure and simple, at an astonishing price
Room for improvement
Rear-seat access is fiddly, no lane-change indicators, somewhat generic styling

5 Jun 2012

BELIEVE the hype. Toyota’s first affordable sportscar since the death of the Celica and MR2 Spyder six years ago is perhaps the most exciting Japanese car released since the original Mazda MX-5 in 1989.

For those present at the 86 launch in Canberra, it will also be one of the most memorable.

The day began far too early for most of us, but Toyota insisted we drive away from the event hotel at 7.30am in order to maximise time in the 86. On reflection, they knew something we didn’t.

Starting in the passenger seat, first impressions were pretty much on a par with expectations.

In the flesh the 86 is truly quite pert and indisputably pretty, but not especially striking or original. The nose treatment is generic, the tail a little bland, and the detailing a bit on the predictable side.

Opening the frameless passenger door reveals the usual coupe-entry ordeal of having to stoop quite low and then performing a contortionist move to access the rear seat due to a low roof and tight gap.

The lack of a more accessible quick-release front-seat mechanism could really annoy owners, especially those who are familiar with the latest Yaris three-door hatch, since that’s got a shoulder-height latch and a return-memory feature.

On the positive side, despite the lack of under-seat space for feet, and a lack of much knee room at all if the front occupants are on the tall side, the cushions themselves are comfortable and there’s just enough head clearance if you’re under 180cm tall. You can’t really expect anything more in a 2+2 sports coupe.

Coupe is the operative word because, despite generations of Celica liftbacks, this one is a two-door with a boot – one that’s long and wide but quite shallow (a full-size spare sits beneath the floor). There’s certainly enough for a weekly shopping run.

As a front-seat passenger, the feeling is one of being involved in the sportscar experience, thanks to the firm (but not hard) ride and obvious rorty exhaust noises (being piped through artificially at certain rev levels).

Once in the driver’s seat, we found it to be fabulously supportive and very racy in shape and style. It’s also snug, even for medium-sized folk, and places you precisely where you need to be for optimum vision and reach in a sportscar like this.

The dashboard is very typically Japanese coupe in appearance, like the Nissan GT-R but without all the buttons and digital G-force-style gauges.

There are many different textures and patterns of plastic so the ambience isn’t exactly Audi chi-chi, and it is all quite basic and sparse – especially in the entry GT – but everything gels nicely. The top of the fascia has a soft fleshy quality feel to it, and absolutely every important switch, button and control is precisely where it ought to be.

The instruments deserve special praise for not only being simple and clear, but also because the analogue speedo’s needle resting point at the ‘4-o’clock’ position, as well as the centrally sited tacho, are reminiscent of old-school Porsche dials.

Our only qualm here is that the numbers might be hard to read at a glance the GTS-only digital auxiliary speed readout ought to be mandatory.

Once on the go, two things sprang to mind immediately firstly, initial acceleration was stronger than anticipated considering the naturally aspirated 147kW power max comes in at a stratospheric 7000rpm and secondly the way the speed just piles on once the tacho exceeds 4000rpm is quite startling.

There’s no turbo whoosh forward, but the ‘boxer’ engine just sings its way to the 7400rpm buzzer, accompanied by a different kind of thrum to the one we’re used to in Subarus. While not exactly melodic, the exhaust sounds urgent and sporty, and totally in character with the 86’s performance intent.

We only drove the slick, short-throw six-speed manual version, but why would we want the automatic? Changing gears is no chore – again the Toyota exceeds previous Subarus for shift quality and pleasure, and the pedal layout allows for natural heel-and-toe clutch and braking action.

So we’re already mighty impressed with the 86. And then the hilly corners commence.

From the first turn of that fantastically small and light wheel, it is abundantly clear that Toyota set out not to emulate but even succeed the Porsche Cayman in terms of steering response and interactivity.

Pile on the power, throw it into a corner, and the 86’s handling is almost supernaturally agile, from the ultra-precise weighting of the steering to the fluid and linear reaction to each driver input.

The Toyota skates along with the sort of on-rails lightness and alacrity we’ve come to expect from a Lotus Elise, let alone an MX-5. On modest tyres, grip isn’t stellar, but it is incredible how much the driver can feel from the seat of your pants as well as from the wheel.

If you need to correct, or the tail starts to slide, every action of the wheel – as well as the throttle – is met with a reaction from the chassis, backed up by eager brakes and a ride that always feels planted but is never punishing.

The intimacy between man and this particular Toyota machine is just amazing.

After what was one of the most exhilarating and emotionally charged drives this reporter has ever undertaken, the 86 was returned to the meeting point, and the buzz and excitement among other journalists was palpable.

The Toyota is not just a great affordable sportscar, it’s a clear signal that Japan – once the fear of Europe automotively speaking, but in the doldrums for the last two decades – is back. The 86 is so good at what it has been designed to deliver that not even Porsche is safe.

And then we learn that we can have all this from $29,990.

The gasp from the media at learning this price point could be heard from outside the room. Just before the announcement the talk was that even at $40,000 the base car is a bargain.

The rest of the day was spent in a daze of track racing, dirt driving, wet and dry-surface drifting, and slalom-filled fun. The 86 is born to drive and hell-bent on pleasing the driver.

Will it change the automotive world like the MX-5 did? Ironically, it was that car and the numerous convertibles it inspired that helped kill affordable coupes like the Celica. Perhaps history will repeat in a weird inverse cycle sort of way.

Last Monday was a day that won’t ever be forgotten. We cannot wait to get behind the wheel of the 86 again.

If we had a lazy $30K lying around our order would already be in. There is nothing short of $100,000 that can touch it. The sportscar world has changed forever again.

Bravo, Toyota.

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