Toyota 86 – First driving impressions

The 86 logo is actually the tyres of the car drifting sideways

What the original iPhone was to tech junkies, the 86 is to motoring fanatics. Back in 2009 Toyota-Subaru announced a joint sports car project. We’ve been waiting 3 years for the production ready version and the wait has been worth every single second.

What is basically the first sports car from Toyota since the MR2, Toyota is hoping to inject excitement and life into the brand. The 86 is a car that’s priced at hot hatch prices, but dishes up classic sports car handling. Beer should be cold, desert should have some form of chocolate in it, and sports cars should be front engine and driven by the rear wheels. The 86 is exactly that, not cold, but rather a two door front engine rear wheel drive sports car. The Standard 6-speed manual unit I got to test-drive retails for R298 500.  It’s the cheapest model on offer and is limited in specification but not in fun.

Standard spec – no additional frills here

Thanks to the team at Halfway Toyota Fourways, they gave me the opportunity to take the 86 out for a night. I had the Standard 6-speed manual with no options. Powering the 86 is a jointly developed unit by Subaru, the world’s first naturally aspirated horizontally opposed 4-cylinder boxer engine with D4S technology. The unit delivers 147kw & 205NM of torque with a 0-100km/h time of 7.6seconds in the manual. Okes from the vale will tell you that’s a few seconds behind his cuzin’s GTI, but their mullets have got in the way of the core of the 86.

Not a fan of those standard rims, but they do help you go sideways

The 86 sits low with frameless doors. Open up and the flat faced dash, smallest steering wheel ever put into a production Toyota and bucket seats catch your attention. Get in and it’s bum on the ground, feet out to the pedals and a limited view out the rear. It’s typical sports car stuff, but feels just right. Nothing fancy in the base model (the High Spec ads quite a few nice tech and specs), but everything you’d need such as air-con, good sound and central locking.

Foot deep in on then clutch and start her up, no growl but a familiar boxer ticking over at slightly above idle as it warms up. First surprise was the engine note, which is quiet at slow speeds but then dials up the boxer gruffness dramatically as you stretch through into 7,400RPM. I found out later it’s due to a damper that amplifies the sound into the interior of the 86. The engine doesn’t bring that familiar turbo shove as you might expect from a hot hatch, but rather gradual build in speed through the rev range. It is by no means slow, but rather requires a bit more effort to get going. The real fun starts when the 86 has to change direction. The chassis of the 86 brings the car alive like a dormant dragon, spitting fire through the corners.

Fun VS Fun Sideways

Steer the 86 into a corner, turn in on the perfectly weighted steering, get on the power and the tail comes out, with the entire car pivoting under your butt. We’re not talking turbo front wheels into a bend, power on, stability control trying to keep the nose from washing wide, but rather feeding the entire car into the bend, feeling her get loose under you as the front and rear wheels communicate perfectly through every bit of the car. You have to keep feeding the power because the grip will eventually reign the party in (even with all the traction and stability control aids off), but the great part is that you don’t need buckets of speed to enjoy the chassis.

You can dial out the traction and stability control from all in to all out, but dialed into the middle, you can have heaps of fun through the corners without losing it into a ditch. It rewards at so many levels you cannot imagine you’re in a car that costs under R300K. The 6-speed gearbox is a perfect match, gearshifts are short and gears drop into place surprisingly quickly…even changing gears is rewarding! If you do go for the 86, make sure it’s the manual!

Diffuser, but no wing. Get the wing.

There however is a little dilemma about the 86. It’s not particularly practical, with a fairly small boot, limited space in the “rear seats”, long coupe doors and fairly firm seats that make getting in and out a bit more difficult than you’d think. That’s pretty much every coupe though, so it’s no fault of the 86, but you have to be dedicated to the cause over the long term. The irony is that the 86 is SO much fun to drive, you struggle to drive like a normal human at any point, and yearn for the chance to take it onto a track, now whether that’s a bad thing or not you’d have to decide.

All this said, at under R300K, for a sports car drive that rivals cars 10 times the price, it’s unparalleled in value. Interestingly, the majority of the buyers of the first shipment have been under the age of 35, and have bought the car as a second vehicle. That speaks volumes to the value and fun factor the 86 brings, as well as the fact that Toyota has definitely hit the mark on an exciting car. Thankfully Toyota has also made a full compliment of TRD options available to spec up the 86 and create a unique looking vehicle for yourself. It’s absolutely no wonder the first shipment sold out so quickly.

Look out for a full review in the coming months

A huge thanks to the team at Halfway Toyota for the opportunity to test the 86


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