DRIVEN – THE NEW TOYOTA 86

Let me start by putting the internet arguments to a rest. The new Toyota 86 is an epic little machine that will amaze you when you get behind the wheel and really go for it. It is also so simple and rewarding to drive on the limit and I’m certain it will be absolutely pounced upon by all sorts of people when it get’s released next Spring. Forget about it’s looks, power figure, weight and wheels for a minute and let’s just take a look at how good it is as a drivers car ( and for that matter a potential drift machine )…

Would you believe me if I told you the car was a disappointment at first? I’m still not sure if that sense of being “let-down” was either, a) because the car’s traction control system was cutting in and out ( making drifts virtually impossible to continue with ), b) the fact I only got less than 5 minutes with the car or c) the fact I actually had to get out of the thing at the end. I’d like to say it was a combination of all three but the anticipation of driving this car was really getting to me after all the teasing, all the leaks and all the rumors. 7Tune has covered this car non stop for years now. Like some sort of pent up sexual tension, I just needed release and the “86” was the target of my desires.

I’m also definitely not the type of person to slowly feel my way into a car, especially on a racetrack where an internal switch goes off that puts me into “Circuit Mode”. I will go for it straight out of the box, explore where it’s limits, strengths and weaknesses are, confident in my abilities to control what’s within my grasp. I mean, what was all the motor racing I did throughout the last 20 years of my life worth if I can’t stretch the “muscles” every now and again? My plans for how I was going to approach the “86” were the same as any other car and 200hp barely registers on the scare factor. A sideways Caterham at 180kph, an unruly Lamborghini Super Leggera on greasy roads or an aquaplaning R8 V10 registers on “The Radar” but those are different stories. The “Hero of the Day” award here goes to the magnificent “86”.

In hindsight, “Option A” was probably the real reason because it was, umm… my error. You see, getting into the car in my anticipation to get it on with the “86”, the first thing I looked for was the T/C button. I found it easily enough ( there are only a couple of these types of buttons to play with in the “86” ), hit it once and watched the dash light up telling me the T/C was off, or so I thought. So I set off down the pit exit, chirped it into second and powered off into the track entry. Then I turned in and kicked the clutch expecting to get my swing on but I was rewarded with about 15 degrees of angle before the power was severed and the electronics tried to sort the chassis out, believing it was about to be crashed.

It was a frustrating 3 laps. Each time I threw the “86’s” light weight around to induce a slide, I’d bring the power in with the foot flat to the floor, the back would step out for a couple of moments and then the electronics, like cops raiding a frat party, would bust in and spoil it for everyone. So damn intrusive! This was a real problem now and I was punching at the T/C button like a madman, seconds ticking away from those precious 3 laps. Only 3 laps and I’d never even set foot on the Fuji Speedway short course before so there was also that to contend with.

But we continued, were called in and then, just like that, it was all over. I hopped out of the blue “86”, looked at it for a few seconds, bemused, and then started to explain in animated detail how the cars balance and flavor was to me as the driver but when the adrenaline eventually wore off, I felt something major, something really fundamental was missing from the experience and I knew I hadn’t got nearly enough out of the car as I could have. It nagged at my conscience. The T/C had completely spoiled the test! ( But we both know it was actually my stupidity. )

Cue Toyota. After relaying this in comment to a couple of the Marketing staff that did such a wonderful job to take care of everyone there, they actually found me a space right at the end of the day for one more run and I bolted over to Fuji Short again to make sure I got it right this time. There were no more journalists clamoring for a seat. No more spectators looking on and adding pressure. Nothing to prove. Just me and ‘ol Bluey with the track to ourselves. And sinking into the awesomely supportive factory semi buckets, I strapped in, and remembering what renowned motoring journalist Peter Lyon had told me earlier, held the T/C button down for a few seconds. T/C…disengaged!

Down the pitlane and at the end I kicked the clutch pedal again but this time the back stepped out wildly, caught with an armful of opposite lock. Bringing in the power, Bluey just rose in revs, sound and anger as it went right out sideways and up to the 7200rpm cutoff. This was much better! With the foot still buried heading into that first left, right, tightening uphill left turn, I wind it the other way and give the clutch a quick jab with a touch more anticipation than before and caught the back end stepping out so effortlessly and so naturally it took me completely by surprise.

The “86” is not a snappy car in any way and it wasn’t floating around, “boatlike”, either. Rather, there was a rapid delivery of linear smoothness to the way it was coming on underneath me and the chassis sat low, felt tight, nimble and light as a feather; just reading the input and responding to what I was telling it to do. It is really very very simple to just get in the “86”, turn the key and go for it. Take my word for this because I believe I really found some of its limits even in that excruciatingly short amount of time. Driving this car on the limit couldn’t be easier. It will be so much bloody harder for you to wipe the grin from your face should you put your money where it needs to be!

I was utterly loving Bluey’s new character and on each successive lap, I pushed it harder and harder, getting lurid 20 or 30 meter slides out of it and with all the effortlessness in the world, transitioning as quickly as I dared through each corner I threw the car into. The chassis is brilliantly poised, neutrally balanced and with a weight distribution 53%-47% front to rear, you can clearly see ( and feel ) that much time had been spent finding just the right flavor for its handling.

The 2 liter boxer four sports direct injection from Toyota that appears to have made a distinct difference to the power delivery but there is that familiar boxer rumble coming from the front and it is slightly unnerving because the badges and engine sounds don’t match. Nevertheless, it makes a factory claimed 200ps (197hp) delivered @ 7200 and is backed up by 151 lb/ft and a 12.5:1 compression ratio. Hi-comp N/A engines are back in fashion, baby! Honestly, if you’re worried about the “power” of the car, don’t be; 200ps ( as a starting point ) is just enough for the car. Actually, I say it could do with about 20 to 30hp more but that’s easily achievable with some basic exhaust and engine mods from the catalog or from the raft of aftermarket modifications that are surely coming for the car during 2012 and 2013.

I know Subaru’s and know them quite well actually, having owned a 2006 STi Forester SG9 for many years and having driven some of the finest STi’s available in Japan and I am very pleased to say that the gearbox in the “86” is a total gem to work with, having carried that sweet shifting, snickety, feel-good confidence that you’d expect from throwing through any good Subaru 6 speed manual. Toyota are even going to let you have the option to customize its ratios! The only let down really on that side of things was the clutch which, like the Forester ( and many other Subarus I’ve tested ) was way too light and lacked any real feel for when and how strongly it was going to bite. It needs more weight. Out back, the rear end of the car is spectacularly good and so easy to control with either the throttle, steering, brakes or combination of the three. Weights have been all but confirmed with the version I drove tipping the scales at 1240kg’s which is pretty decent. The ultra stripped out, bare bones version will be even less at 1180kg’s.

I just couldn’t get over how rapidly and fluidly it could be made to change direction, buttery smooth in its rubber smack-down to the tarmac, switching up on command like a prize fighter. It just got better and better with each corner. I’m not lying when I say this; there is an element to the way this car handles and delivers its power that was so reminiscent of the AE86 of old. Something special from the AE86 has been preserved, saved, carried over and then imparted with careful consideration into the new “86” chassis. You’ll appreciate how responsive the car is to your input before anything else springs to mind.

Still, there were some people who got out of the “86” and said, “…yeah, it’s orright…” or “…needs moar Powa…” but I don’t think they really got it at all and who can blame them with only 3 laps behind the wheel? Power is meaningless in a chassis made from rubbish and this one is made from pure driving ether, so surely we should be looking at, what I consider to be, the huge potential of the car as a complete and tunable “package” instead of as an overly hyped sum of its pieces in which a power figure is but one part? This car ( and with it the BRZ ) is going to be a game changer for the tuning industry in Japan which is, for lack of a better analogy, at the bottom of the 8th innings with bases loaded and 2 strike-outs on the board. Trust me when I tell you Japan’s tuning industry is in trouble and that it desperately needs a fresh injection of new “blood” to get specific markets moving again.

And how good is it to entertain the thought that Nissan will pull out the plans for the S16 they carelessly tossed in the dumpster a couple of years back? They really have to make that car now because they will well and truly been left behind by Toyota and Subaru if they don’t. Or perhaps not entirely. You see, according to very high ranking sources within Nissan and Nismo, both companies are carefully watching to see how successful the BRZ and 86 are going to be. In actual fact, I quote one as saying, “…we hope they sell well because that will validate the return of a car like the Silvia.” When I asked if Nissan were still developing the S16 in any way, the response was cryptic; “I’m sure if you ask them, they will say they have no comment on the matter.” Read into that what you will.

You have to keep in mind that this is the base model you are looking at and things are still under development on the car but it’s a pretty damn good place to start. Speaking of which, I have it on authority that TRD and TOM’S have been developing their own versions with 86’s for months now and may just be making a possible demo car or two for the AutoSalon in January. We’ll keep you posted on those developments as they come to hand. Sure, Toyota is still perfecting the recipe but you can guarantee this is what the final car will look like and I really like it. It has all the hallmarks of a winning combination ( perhaps the only downside being the restrictions to tuners apparently due to Toyotas direct injection system ) and stands to really recapture a lot of tuners out there in Driverland that have been yearning for a new chassis to pour development money into.

I’ll leave the final word to the paying customer as these individuals will vote with their feet and their wallets but before that let me tell you what Akio Toyoda san told me himself a couple of nights ago. I had the privilege of spending about 20 minutes with the President of Toyota at the Lexus Spindle party discussing the 86 and during that time we talked about the car on a number of levels. I gave him all my feedback as a driver and he mentioned that a lot of his own input had gone into the project and that he wanted to open a new chapter of Toyota to the world of performance car enthusiasts. He acknowledged the need for Toyota to change, has set his mind to the task and that the car you see in this post is only the beginning. I was thrilled to hear these things and throughly encouraged by his convictions and the strength of his resolution. I’m convinced the project will be a great success because the product is so damn good and the man who leads the charge is not only a great guy to have at the helm but also because he is an enthusiast just like you and I; moreover, the man knows how to steer a car at speed.

The AE86 of old was never about power and neither is the new 86; rather, it’s all about the finesse of the chassis and overall balance of the parts in play to offer such an enjoyable driving experience and I have to say that Toyota and Subaru have hit a bullseye that is sure to put a grin on the faces of anyone who gets behind the wheel.

The only question is… which one is it going to be for you? Toyota or Subaru? You decide…

Either way, everyone wins.

7TUNE. The Ultimate JDM Experience Since 2005

Words – Adam Zillin

Photos – Adam Zillin, Nick Itoh and Nicolas Bois

16 thoughts on “DRIVEN – THE NEW TOYOTA 86”

  1. I won’t even be able to afford this car when it comes over to the UK, yet I’m still aglow with excitement for the direction of Toyota, and indeed, the future of Japanese sports cars because of this.

    I guess I’ll have to potter about in my Starlet GT while GT86s gleam in the showrooms 🙁

  2. Hahaha wow you should post your experience on Memebase regarding that TC button. Amazing car! I hope the price is right but I keep hearing rumors from the local Toyota Agent that it might cost 35k US Dollars for the base model where we live. YIKES!

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  4. GREAT article Adam.. I felt your enthusiasm as if I was there myself haha this just makes me feel that much more compelled to test drive one of these when they hit our shores!

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