There are very few cars that when they are announced the words “instant classic” are the first thing to come to mind. The Toyota 86 with its sleek looks and rear-wheel drive platform with a Limited Slip Differential, priced at only $29,990 (AUD) was one of these cars. Now that it’s out, though – does it live up to the hype?
Cheekly nicknamed by the public as a “Toyobaru”, the 86 is powered by a Subaru-derived 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine. The engine pumps out 147kW of power and 205Nm of torque, but before you laugh at that – remember that its kerb weight is only 1220kg which results in a better power-to-weight ratio than a Mazda RX8, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and even a Lotus Elise. Not too shabby for a little Toyobaru.
The 86 is something special, and the moment you lay your eyes on one in person it really is clear. The car is tiny, much smaller than most people think but it still has a very classic sports car look that is mashed with all the right curves. The front looks sharp and sporty, while the rear is solid and flat with two oversized exhaust tips that make the car look perhaps a bit more powerful than it actually is. Like Toyota’s original sports cars of the 80s and early 90s, the 86 hasn’t been over-styled and instead been kept quite simple which has resulted in a design that is very likely to stand the test of time.
The model I had, the GTS gains daytime running lights and bigger wheels that complete the modern look, while adding a bit of a retro looking satellite navigation unit, leather seats and red stitching to complete the interior.
When you first step into the Toyota 86, the first thing you will notice is how low you are, even I did and I come from driving a Honda Integra daily. It’s a brilliant thing though, you almost feel like you’re in an enclosed go-kart and straight away you know you’re in a car that was built for a driver by a driver. The fact that you sit so low isn’t just to make you feel like you’re Michael Schumacher, but it provides a lower centre of gravity, better weight balance and driving dynamics. This low profile does make it a bit difficult to get into, though, and if you’re tall or maybe getting a bit older you will probably find it a bit impractical.
Much criticism to Japanese cars has come from their dull and boring interiors, especially compared to their European counterparts. The 86 strays from that path. The best example is the steering wheel which is completely clear of any buttons or other stupid things. You look down and you see just a steering wheel – it’s just you, the steering wheel and the car.
The dash is something really impressive too, with the tacho being big and in the centre. The GTS model also has a digital speedometer over the GT model which is a big improvement as the analogue one on the left is a bit too small.
The gear stick sits perfectly – it’s nice and low and right in the middle of the console giving perfect symmetry. It makes changing the gears one of the best parts of the cars, even if you’re stuck in heavy traffic. Shifts are smooth, the clutch is nicely weighted to be engaging but it isn’t too heavy to make it a task, and the shifts themselves are beautiful and short and slide in each gear without hesitation – just like a sports car should. If you like to pretend you’re a race car driver like I do, the pedals are even perfectly positioned for an ideal heel-toe shift – something the engineers at Toyota made sure was there.
Because of the low centre of gravity, it really is quite deceptive how fast you go. Drop the clutch into first gear and smash your foot to the floor and you begin to wonder if Toyota is being modest with its power and torque figures. The car definitely isn’t a very fast car, but it certainly isn’t slow either. Toyota claims the 86 sprints from 0-100 in 7.6 seconds for the manual, but it genuinely feels a lot faster than that.
I took the car on both some windy mountain roads, through a town and on the highway to see how the car feels as a daily driver. For me, I couldn’t imagine not having the manual, it’s just so much fun – I almost felt like putting my foot on the clutch and changing gears when I was stuck in traffic because I enjoyed it that much. Around the twisties, the gears kick down perfectly as you break into the corner and shifts smoothly back into gear giving an awesome out-of-corner feeling.
The steering makes the 86 such a rewarding car to drive, it’s so direct and without play. It’s one of those cars where everything is up to the drivers ability, its such a well balanced and composed car that if you manage to damage it, you’ve most definitely done something horribly wrong.
If you tell it to, though, it can and will misbehave. If you push it too hard into a bend at the wrong entry line, it will understeer. If you put your foot to the throttle coming out of a corner with traction control off, it will oversteer – although, this is one of the fun points about the car, the ease in which you can let the tail out and then control it perfectly.
If you do feel like having a real drift, press the sport button and the 86’s mummy lets go of its hand, making the controls become far less intrusive and letting you have that perfect amount of controllable oversteer. The 86 would make the ideal track car if you weren’t too concerned about power, but rather wanted something that is mega fun and has that perfect ‘feel’.
All i’ve done is gone on about how brilliant it is, surely there has to be something wrong with it, right? It must have terrible fuel economy? Nope, it’s actually quite good with 8.0L/100km being the worst I could do. How about its sound? Yes, this is where the 86 fails to shine, and to be quite frank, sounds like a lawn mower on steroids. There is a definite need to fine tune the exhaust note, but there are plenty of aftermarket solutions to fix that if it bothered you that much.
On that note, the aftermarket potential is already insane. Check out parts stores and forums and you will see the massive amount of exhausts, turbochargers, superchargers, suspension and body kits you can buy. Being a Toyobaru, its also likely to last until the end of time which means you can feel free to modify your 86 without fear.
So, does it live up to the hype? Is it an instant classic? Should you buy it? Yes to all three. The Toyota 86 is a brilliant car to drive, it handles superbly, the interior is comfortable (if you’re in the front seats) and feels great and it’s not too harsh on the eyes either. The best part is the price tag, starting at only $29,990, the 86 is a bargain.
This is a car designed by drivers, for drivers and because of that, this car is definitely one of the best cars of the 21st century.