The Toyota GT86 Concept
Left: 86 and right: 86 GTS
Toyota 200gt with the 86 on the right.
You’ve all seen one by now surely. Toyota and Subaru put their heads together and came up with the BRZ/86 (sold elsewhere as the GT86) and isn’t it pretty. I’m the last writer in the country to drive one so I won’t be banging on about the minutiae of design and attributes, but rather what it’s like to drive.
I confess to being excited about the first drive. You might remember I took a brief spin through the national park a few months ago in a manual 86. It had been slightly modify with body stiffening so I couldn’t wait to slip behind the wheel of an unfettered bog standard model to see if there was any real difference. I’m happy to report that a very average driver such as I will notice no difference whatever. Quite simply it is a revelation.
The delicious body has a glittering front end the looks like the modelling clay was dried in a wind tunnel set to “cyclone”. The headlamps sparkle with LED daytime running lamps (which don’t turn on until you release the hand brake) and are topped with xenon beams on the top model. The deeply sculptured air dam forms the entire section beneath the “T” badge and looks to have been borrowed off a stealth fighter. The bulge over each wheel arch lends a certain 50’s retro ambience to masculine bonnet. It is perfect.
Side on you can appreciate the graceful line that swoops gently from the nose, up and over the muscular wheel-arch and is punctuated with a little kick-up in the window line behind the C pillar. The line then continues over another bulging wheel-arch terminating turned-up boot-lip. While around the back you notice the fully blinged up tail lights and huge chromed exhaust extensions. The rubenesque rump looks magnificent dashing off down the track, so much so that it’s something I watch over and over again.
Shakespearean poetry like this usually costs a your first born, and a limb, but the base model sans Satnav is $34.194 and the GTS model we drove is just under $40,000. For a change our pricing isn’t double our Euro-mates. The point is that at $34,194, the 86 is actually 5k cheaper than the UK. I can hardly believe my eyes. I couldn’t establish whether the model line-up is the same but right about now I would be usually saying “if the car is 25,000 Pounds it’s going to be well over $50,000 here”. What’s going on? This surely proves the car makers can make the sale price whatever they want it to be.
The outside is utterly delicious but caressing the inside of the door handle magically unlocks the doors if you have the smart key secreted about your person. Pulling the handle causes the huge door to swing majestically open to reveal a closeting cabin replete with every mod con. There are cosy seats that hug you in a loving embrace each and every time you take a corner. You also get genuine fake imitation carbon fibre on the dashboard. Red and black seems to be the theme du jour and the 86 spreads it about with reckless abandon from the seats, steering wheel and gear knob and it looks fab. It’s hard to believe that the 86 start at well under 40 grand. The GTS gets the full spec media unit which includes Satnav and the ubiquitous Bluetooth connection. The GTS gets extra red-stich detailing on the handbrake. The extra kit includes Satnav media unit, Auto Climate Control and leather trimmed Alcantara seats. Neither models get auto wipers but I fancy that will come as the 86 ages and matures and the manufacturer looks for extra added value. Toyota tell me the GTS media unit will read you your texts and emails, but I’m not entirely sure I want to be that connected. I’m in an 86 Grrrrr!
The rear seat folds down in one piece and I can see that you would need that. The boot is small with a huge full sized spare, but still passed the two-small-bags test and with the seats folded down the cargo space is fine (enough for 4 wheels for a track day). The 86 is as near to Nirvana as is possible to get. The keyless start works brilliantly and is the same system used elsewhere in Toyota and Lexus so keep an eye on the fob battery or diabolicals will ensue.
I did have a few small things that I’d change in a perfect world. Some of the trim is that metal-look plastic which I dislike, especially after a few years in the sun. Metalised plastic should be banished to the annals of history and its creator bitchslapped. Apart from that, the 86 is gorgeous inside and out. Was I carried away, no I don’t think so. Hold one moment! As you were. I’d almost forgotten to mention the 70’s inspired cheap and nasty dollar-shop digital clock that haunts the centre console like a mouldering cadaver. It is an aberration and must be eliminated. It has no place in the 86 and that is all I will say on the matter.
From the driver’s seat you get to look out over a bonnet that gently undulates like the verdant hills of the Southern Highlands. The wheels arches that looked so butch and masculine from the outside look even more fabulous through the windscreen. It harkens back to a time when details could be had merely because they looked good, instead of being purely for function. It has the feeling of a high quality expensive Italian machine, except you know that what’s under that spectacular sheet metal will fire up each and every time you press the button.
Then I started her up the nasty clock slipped into the “completely unimportant” file!
The engine is the magnificent Subaru Boxer flat four. That means the pistons lay flat instead of being vertical or on a V configuration. It doesn’t have the typical Subaru “chuff chuff chuff” sound either. Instead it sounds subdued and refined. It pulls from way down low which of course it wouldn’t do if it was a tiny sub-2.0L with a blower. It’s slightly annoying having to wait for the turbo to spool up. In a naturally aspirated engine the power and torque aren’t delivered to you in a sledge hammer-like slap in the face. In a turbo, you put your foot down and nothing happens. Then as the revs slowly build they reach a point at which there are enough exhaust gases get the turbo spinning and only then are you propelled into the stratosphere. The little boxer also likes to be kept on the boil. By making sure you mind your gears, the motor stays at a spot where the power will come the instant you feel the need, the need for speed.
As I entered The Shire I reflected on what the day might hold. I’m very familiar with the Grand Pacific Drive and its subtle nuances. I love its switchback turns with long straights and gentle climbs in-between. I love the wide open scrub followed by deep, dark, damp rainforest where the dappled lights falls through a thick canopy landing playfully on the narrow track. You want to wind the window down and breathe in deeply. That is if you have the time.
It sounded glorious too. Although the magnificent symphony isn’t just in my head, it is only inside the cabin. In other words the beautiful noise is only inside the cabin courtesy of a membrane and some clever engineering. As for the accommodation, calling the 86 a 4 seater is a stretch as the back seating is for 2 short people only.
As you slip the auto into “D” (sports setting of course) any misgivings you had melt away. The steering is electric, which is something I used to complain bitterly about. There appears to have been a rethink in the way steering set up. Now the road feel, albeit manufactured, allows a driver to use his spidey sense to “feel” exactly where there wheels are at all times. Previous electrically steered cars felt akin to driving a jelly through a bowl of custard. The suspension, though firm, allows a driver to feel the road through the seat of his pants just likes sports cars of old. Toyotas have had been a bit disconnected from the driving experience
The 86 draws you in from the first smooth, silky gear change tempting you to press her further and harder. The sports mode makes sure you have enough revs on the dial to quickly maneuverer in city traffic. It’s also terrific fun on a windy mountain pass as you slice your way through the rainforest. When you approach a corner you’ll feel the engine give a little “blip” as the IS-F inspired gearbox shifts down a cog or two ready for a sprint on the other side of the bend. It sounds magnificent, even if only inside the cabin. You can dial the fun up a further notch by using the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. There is one each side. One will change up and the other will change down but they are glued to the wheel not the steering column, so you must remember to change down before you turn the wheels because the paddles won’t be where you left it should you need to change mod corner.
The transmission is a 6 speed version of the Lexus IS-F 8 speed and its changes are just as fast. You notice it when you’re using the paddles because by the time you release the paddle the gearbox has completed the task. It’s almost psychic.
The brakes felt a bit soft after the hard-core Golf GTi whose anchors are primevally savage. At first I thought Toyota had used the brakes from a 1980’s family hack but I came to realise that this is what progressive brakes feel like, and I liked it. It allowed the driver to gently decide how soon he wanted to stop without trying to dig the nose of the car into the bitumen. The steering too felt a little less responsive than the GTi but again it too only a few turns to get used to. By the end of the first day we were the best of mates, in fact even closer. We even considered going on a date to see how we got on in a more serious setting but that would have ruined our “don’t kiss don’t tell” relationship. Our trips through along the Grand Pacific Drive gave us a chance to throw the 86 through some switchbacks which change direction one way then the other.
The agile but demure nature in town is fabulous, but once on the open road the 86 transforms from a hot-looking nippy city runabout to a eager Grand Touring sports coupe with Aston-Marin-esque aspirations. I was worried the seats might make my bottom go to sleep after an hour of driving. I had an old BMW that did just that. An hour behind the wheel of that old girl would see the blood supply cut off to your lower extremities causing thrombotic discomfort the like of which not seen since the tanks of WWII. The nice people at Toyota thought it might be move convivial for all limbs to still be on speaking terms once you have returned to your digs.
Toyota insist you’re able to carry 4 wheels to a track day without having to nail 1 to the roof. My question would be this: Why would you bother? A single day would shred a full set ($1,500) of tyres and you risk soiling yourself in the process. No, the road is the best place for the 86, a very long, windy, lonely road. She is very well behaved even when being asked to round a bend at a speed beyond that of which a normal human is incapable. From time to time she will shimmy, then tap you gently on the shoulder to say “please Sir I’m about to wiggle my tail. I thought you might like a little warning”, and then she does. It’s just a little wiggle leaving you plenty of time to make minor adjustments to your telemetry. The outright speed off the mark won’t peel your face off, but some of the corners just might. It corners like it’s on rail The rear wheel drive is sublime. The wheels, via a limited slip diff, push you through the corner and out the other side while the divine chassis and superb suspension keep all the wheels on the ground just where they are meant to be. The magnificent gearbox will have selected the right gear for you if you’ve forgotten to do it yourself. It is simply joyous.
Where’s the understeer? Where’s the oversteer? Where’s the struggle?
Toyota have done it! Just as the Mazda MX5 did, the 86 has become an instant classic. Toyota have been trying to lower the average age of it’s demographic for some years.
I wiped a tear from my cheek as stood looking longingly back over my shoulder. As I turned to walk down the drive to the diesel Foucs Titanium waiting for me, I concentrated on the fact that very soon I would be behind the wheel of a manual 86. The world shifted back onto its correct axis, the sun came out and the birds once again began to sing.
The 86 isn’t just a good car, it’s a great car.