The 86 Effect: Driving Toyota’s all-new sports car on track
It’s official: it’s now more fun in Toyota. Not only is the all-new 86 sports car a joy to drive and pointedly affordable, it’s loosened up the corporate attitude as well. With the arrival of the 86, marketing executives who would normally be as secretive and paranoid as Claire Danes trying to catch a terrorist, have learned to let loose a little.
And why not? This is the company’s return to the sports car field, after having retired the last Celica in 199x. It always seemed a sacrilege that the world’s biggest car company had no sports car in its lineup. This is even more puzzling given Toyota’s illustrious lineup of past driving machines: the 2000GT, Celica, MR2 and Supra. CEO Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder, agreed that the time had come to return to the well, and ordered up the creation of the 86.
Toyota teamed up with its 16.5-percent subsidiary, Subaru, giving Fuji Heavy Industries the enviable task of creating a thoroughly modern entry-level sports car that would rank among the world’s finest. Thus the signature Subaru boxer engine, specified for its low engine block and heads, lending a low center of gravity. The engine is mounted 460mm from the ground, giving the car a center of gravity lower than rivals like the Mazda MX-5. Although we would have expected all-wheel drive to at least be an option, the 86 (and its Subaru BRZ twin) are rear-wheel drive only. The choice is entirely justified, as adding a front differential would have sacrificed the low center of gravity and also diluted the handling.
The 86 certainly looks the part of a Toyota sports car. The silhouette is classic 2000GT-Celica. Beady little headlamps topped with a string of LED running lights underscore the hood. The hood itself melts into the sculpted fenders, and a crease running along the front and sides of the car play shades of color as differently-angled surfaces catch the light. At the rear are a pair of round LED taillamps, flanking a stubby trunk. A blacked-out section under the rear bumper houses twin tailpipes, and the triangular rear fog lamp. It’s simple, purposeful, and inherently muscular.
On a piece of tarmac on the Subic International Airport, we found ourselves behind the wheel of the 86, on a stormy day with the wind howling and the rain pouring intermittently. The seats are heavily bolstered, making the 86 a pleasant fit—once you get in. The arthritic and weak of back will find entering into the 86 a bit of a challenge, no thanks to the aforementioned high seat bolsters and low roof.
The cockpit features a vertical, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel that’s thick and nice to grip. Thankfully, there are no switches on the spokes. The message: this is for driving, not fiddling around with the radio. Red stitching on the steering wheel, door trim, and on the fabric seats give a bit of character, and the matte metal and available carbon fiber trim neatly offset the black interior. Our only gripe with the 86 is the green audio head unit, previously seen in a thousand Innovas—its mismatching lighting scheme is positively begging for immediate replacement.
The transponder key in our pocket, we push the red starter button just forward of the short gearshift. The four-cylinder boxer barks to life with a hint of a rasp. This is a dohc, variable-intake design with four valves per cylinder and direction gasoline injection. Despite the lack of forced induction, the engine outputs 197hp and 205Nm. Drive goes through a six-speed transmission, either manual or paddle-shift automatic. The manual gearbox is reportedly pinched from the Lexus IS-F, minus a couple of gears.
Spooling up the engine, we release the light, linear clutch and the car takes off. Familiarization takes all of ten seconds, after which we are revving the engine past 6000 rpm, and engaging the next gear. A red light within the tachometer reminds that it’s time to shift up. The steering is light and precise, if somewhat devoid of feedback. Cornering is beyond confident—it is obedient and playful, allowing the tail to kick out and easy to catch with a quick countersteer. The traction control and stability control, which we left on given the rain-slicked tarmac, was very permissive, cutting the power only when the car really starts to slide. There’s a sport mode for the electronics, allowing the back to slide more while still keeping you from an untimely meeting with your insurance agent. After a brief drive with the 86—and a quick couple of laps is all we needed to understand this car—we surmised what makes the car so special:
Lightweight. The 86 weighs in at 1275kg, slightly more for the automatic. Less weight means the engine can be smaller and be still adequate, and allowing smaller brakes as well. A more powerful engine can overcome a heavy chassis, sure, but the feel of a lightweight car is certainly different from a heavy car with more power. The 86 feels like
Balanced. The weight distribution is nearly perfect, at 53% front, 47% rear. The car pivots at a point that feels like it’s just below and to the right of your right butt cheek. It’s easy to point in any direction, and abruptly twisting the steering wheel the opposite way hardly fazes the chassis. The drift team members practicing for the launch the following week were sliding the four dead-stock 86 cars with impunity.
With a wild engine. Bravo to Toyota and Subaru for specifying a small, normally-aspirated power plant. The 2.0 is perfectly suited to the car’s character. It’s responsive and quick to rev, with a high redline. Even drift racer David Feliciano stated that he doubts that more power is necessary—all he would add is a freer-flowing exhaust to free up some horses, and make it sound better.
Well-equipped where it counts. The relatively few electronic toys in the interior are an indication not of scrimping on the equipment, but rather spending where it counts. The 86 has a Torsen limited-slip differential that enhances grip and handling. David Feliciano says that the differential is eerily like the ones they would need for drifting, plus the handbrake itself is lengthened to engage with more torque. Small engineering touches like this show that Toyota-Subaru did their homework.
Affordable. It starts at P1,550,000 for the manual and P1,650,000 for the automatic. An Aero model with aero parts will follow in August for about P1,800,000. Does it make a suitable car for any Juan de la Cruz? Perhaps not. But is it affordable to any mid-level manager with a car plan and willingness to spend it properly? Certainly.
It’s a Toyota. Given that it’s a product of Subaru engineering and Toyota quality methods, it’s likely that the 86 will outlast your laptop, your luggage, and your liver. Maintenance given the car’s mechanical simplicity looks to be promisingly low-cost, perhaps less than a V6 Camry. One hiccup is the legendary Toyota availability: unfortunately, only eighty units are the allocation for the entire Philippine market. Better get in line quick.
So this is the new Toyota, more fun the old Toyota. It will take some getting used to, but it’s a refreshing change.
Specifications: Two-door, 2+2 sports coupe.
4240mm length x 1775mm width x 1285mm height, with a 2570mm wheelbase.
Curb weight: 1275kg manual, 1298kg automatic
Engine: 2.0-liter direct-injection boxer four, 197bhp at 7000rpm, 205 Nm at 6400rpm
Suspension: MacPherson struts front, double wishbone rear with front and rear stabilizer bars
Standard equipment: HID headlamps, LED clearance lamps, front fog lights, dual exhaust pipes, fabric seats, foldable rear seats, leather steering wheel, aluminum pedals, information display, power windows, door lock, transponder key with start/stop button, ABS, stability control, seven airbags (dual front, side, curtain and driver knee).