Car reviews - Toyota - 86 - GT
Chassis, handling, controllability, value, interior, relative versatility, economy, ride, quality, safety… just the fact this exists!
Room for improvement
No auxiliary digital speedo readout in GT, no lane-change indicators, wide centre console can foul left knee, requires 98 RON super-premium unleaded petrol, and not much else
31 Aug 2012
THE DECLINE of the affordable driver’s coupe has been discussed, dissected, and documented to death. Well, nearly anyway.
Many rue the demise of low-slung/high-fun luminaries such as the Honda Integra Type R, Nissan Silvia/200SX, and Toyota MR2, especially as stupefyingly dull SUVs have taken their place.
Yet people have been crying out for a seriously fun coupe.
The sporty Honda CR-Z comes close, but you can definitely still feel the light-car (Jazz) DNA beneath it. The same goes for Hyundai’s Accent-based Veloster. And the brilliant Mazda MX-5 may better the Mercedes-Benz SLK at half the price, but a drop top is different again. Long may it live anyhow.
And now Toyota has given us this.
Most likely by now, you will know that the 86 GT manual (as tested here) has sent shockwaves through the market, not only because of its dynamic excellence, but also because of its $29,990 starting price.
Such a sports car bargain has not happened since the original Subaru Impreza WRX (1994) and MX-5 (1989).
It’s been a very long time since everybody’s been so excited about a car like this, and indeed, there’s an awful lot to love about the 86.
Let’s begin with the proportions. The car is tiny – properly rakish and low-slung, like coupes used to be – and the 0.27 drag co-efficiency reveals just how sleek the Celica successor really is.
Stylistically the rear and sides are spot-on from your writer’s point of view, paying lip service to plenty of classic Toyota coupes. But the face looks pinched and convoluted. We reckon the FT86 concepts had a happier nose treatment.
Open the pillarless doors – oh what a treat – and after stooping, you slink down into the cabin like you might be sliding into a jumpsuit. Yet the relatively long wheelbase helps ensure that even taller folk aren’t cramped – far from it, in fact – as they sit low ahead of a very driver-focussed environment.
Not only are the two grippy front seats perfectly comfortable (if a mite too body hugging if you’re bigger-framed), with ample adjustability and support in all the right places, but the two rear buckets are better than expected as well.
Basically, three averaged sized adults and a small child can be accommodated as long as one of the first-row passengers sits up close to the dashboard. Alternatively four shorter people might not have to compromise much at all.
Access to the rear is relatively easy thanks to the front passenger seat that tips and slides in one movement (and returns back to where it was), and there certainly is sufficient space for adults to travel painlessly, although a major front-seat slide – as well as a minor head tilt – forward is recommended if folk over 175cm want to avoid contact with the back window.
Perhaps not coincidentally, there’s a likeable old-school Japanese coupe ambience about the interior as a whole:, with a simple fascia and lots of monochromatic trim. Early Honda (1300 Coupe) and Mazda models (R100/RX2) in particular spring to mind.
As this is the GT, there’s cloth not leather, plastic-plastic rather than metallic-plastic materials, manual knobs not electronics for the heater/vent system, a base radio unit (albeit with CD/MP3/Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming), and no steering wheel controls.
Yet it still also scores cruise control, alloy wheels, daytime driving lights, seven airbags, and a multi-information display. So there is not much the enthusiast will miss, and plenty he or she will appreciate.
Ergonomically, the reach and height-adjustable wheel couldn’t be better positioned. The same applies for the pedals, gear lever, handbrake, and air vents, and the T-shaped console layout is stupendously easy to fathom.
Although you sit low, forward vision is fine, and the large exterior mirrors help with parking.
Importantly, the cabin doesn’t feel cheap either. Obviously Audi did not choose the trim inside, but the rubberised dash top is unexpected and a variety of interesting textures abound (and how great do the ‘topographical’ speaker covers look!), while absolutely everything is put together like the proverbial Swiss watch. There’s richness in the 86’s overall design.
However, there is room for improvement, too.
Heading the fix-it file is the GT’s missing digital speed readout (the $35,490 GTS has one) – the upshot of the analogue speedometer’s demotion to secondary dial (a big tacho sits dead-centre in the instrumentation), coupled with too-small markings. In speed trap infested Oz this unfortunately isn’t enough.
The second gripe concerns the lack of lane-change indicators – c’mon Toyota, the words ‘Grand Touring’ are in this car’s name. Lastly, the wide lower-console bracing fouled a couple of drivers’ knees over our time with the 86.
For practicality there’s a reasonably sized glovebox supported by a variety of storage slots, while the boot can accommodate a full-sized bicycle with only the front wheel removed thanks to a folding backrest, wide boot lid and flat floor (and that’s with the full-sized spare wheel option).
So the 86 GT performs all the Clark Kent duties ably.
But you know who this car really is, don’t you!
To summarise, beneath this coupe is a highly modified Subaru Impreza platform, but with an all-new 147kW direct-injection naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine, set down low behind the front axle, and aided by rear-wheel drive giving the car a 53:47 weight distribution.
The result for the lucky person behind the wheel is electrifying.
With a relatively low maximum torque output of 205Nm coming in at a peaky 6400rpm, the engine needs to sing for its supper, but it does so with a fervour and fizz that’s nothing short of intoxicating.
Drunk on 98 RON premium unleaded (the expensive stuff) there are precious few non-supercar league engines that beg to be booted like this boxer unit does. Do so, and the Toyota will tear off the line like a shot, the rising exhaust note adding to your adrenalin as speeds quickly rise. Soon you’re bouncing off the rev limiter just inside the red zone.
Conversely, there’s also enough low-down torque for when you just want to dawdle along. This boxer’s sheer tractability – take off in third is easy, slow corners in fourth is child’s play, and tootling around in sixth is not unheard of – is simply astounding, and has to be experienced to be believed.
Yet the real achievement here is just how cleanly this car puts its power down to the back wheels, without drama or fuss. Even on wet roads, and with minimal traction and stability control interference, the 86 tends to hunker down and just go for it.
Our car came with the standard six-speed manual ‘box, and along with the equally satisfying clutch action, few reward the driver with as much intimacy and response as this shifter.
Helped out by a beautifully tactile throw and sensible set of forward ratios, just wringing the car out in each gear is a blissful pastime in itself, and serves to remind us as to why sports cars mustn’t switch wholesale to dual-clutch transmissions.
Yet straight-line performance is just one aspect of the 86’s siren call.
Unbelievably for electric power steering, the helm’s sharpness bites like expensive Parmesan cheese, slicing into the first bend with life-affirming reaction and depth and connecting you to the road as few other similar systems have.
And since the chassis is so low-slung, the body remains incredibly flat and composed as you power through each turn, leaving the driver feeling as one with the car. It’s like you can steer the 86 from the seat of your pants.
Over our demanding ragged uphill curves, the MacPherson front end and double wishbone rear suspension combo tracked along tenaciously, filtering out most of the rough stuff without upsetting the chosen line as the Toyota powered through, no matter what the road surface threw up. No doubt the mechanical limited slip differential that’s standard on the GT manual helps.
Put simply, this is a dazzling and interactive handler, even on the relatively skinny eco tyres fitted to the standard car.
Toyota has long stated that the 86 was designed as a drifting vehicle, so the tail can very easily let go depending on driving style, traction mode, and the state of the environment.
In the wet there’s a bit of looseness even with all the controls set to normal (not Sport) switching them over means the driver had better be ready to catch the car when the tail does break away, but it can all be easily reigned in with the throttle or steering inputs, while the brakes are as effective as you’d hope they would be.
No less impressive is the GT’s ride quality. Never hard, nor fidgety, the suspension is obviously tuned on the firm side, yet it is also blessed with a suppleness that is quite unexpected. Of course the small tyres help. Bumps are mostly summarily dismissed, making the 86 comfortably useable – or is that useably comfortable? – around town.
Obviously, as with the trio of interior foibles, the Toyota’s driveability isn’t blot free.
No, it isn’t fuel consumption – we regularly dropped below 8.5L/100km, making this one of our greatest smiles-per-gallon experiences ever – but road-noise intrusion.
Yes, it exists, as one would expect in a vehicle of such tremendous tactility and control. But even this isn’t what we’d call a problem, or even an issue. It’s all part and parcel of how the 86 communicates with all of your driving senses.
The fact is, this car is even better than we’d hoped for. Guaranteed, the GT manual is one of the most fun and lovable sports cars you are ever likely to experience at any price.
So while too many years have passed since we’ve been this excited about an affordable sports coupe, for all us driving enthusiasts who have held on to hope, the wait is now over.
The moment you find your first corner, the 86 will turn tears of sadness to uninhibited joy. Thanks, Toyota.
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