2012 Toyota 86 – The Definitive Review
The game has changed, a new trend has been set, remember this epoch
By Shahzad Sheikh
We’ve been writing a lot about the new Toyota 86 (GT86, Scion FR-S etc) over the last few months, partly because one of us actually bought one of the very first of these in the country – read his story here. Partly because we just can’t get enough of it.
We were the first people to show this all-new rear-wheel drive coupe to you guys back at our car meet in May – a full month ahead of its official launch.
Since then I’ve lost control in one on a skid pan, been a passenger with a Drift champion, pounded lap after lap of Yas Marina circuit myself (read the launch story here), driven a base model manual with 16-inch wheels on my favourite road and then a few days later, done the same with a top spec auto sitting n 17-inch wheels (chasing a brand new Mercedes SL500 and a Rinspeed Porsche!). I’ve photographed it, spent hours behind the wheel and even let the wife drive it (for the record she drove the manual and found it comfortable, easy and fun).
So why have we dedicated so much time, energy and web-space to this car? Have we been swept up by the hype (maybe initially), were we paid tons of money by Toyota (I wish!), or could it be that we were very quick to realise the importance and significance of this car, not just to Toyota or the Japanese car industry, but the entire sports car segment as a whole.
Being a ‘drift car’ is only one small incidental
And yes I do mean sports car – so first things first, let’s get past the whole ‘drift’ thing. Yes it’s billed, marketed, promoted and pushed heavily as a ‘drift car’, and yes it is incredibly well balanced to perfectly adapt to that purpose. But this is not solely a drift car. If you’re looking for a sideways merchant with tail end rubber that only occasional manages fleeting engagement with the tarmac, you’re better off looking at something more muscly.
Nor is the 86 instantly going to endow its driver with the gift of being able to drift – that’s a rare and special talent, that takes a lot of practice. Yes I’ve seen the car drift, and it was brilliant, but that was in the hands of UAE Drift King, Ahmed AlAmari. With hardly enough natural torque to break traction, he launched into and maintained drifts merely using momentum, weight balance and full throttle, but not the handbrake. Like I said. Skill.
But Toyota’s designers benchmarked the Porsche Boxster whilst developing this car, and that’s a precisely balanced and beautifully handling car (though mid-engined as opposed to the front-engined Toyota). So the 86 is a sports car. First and foremost.
Yes, for the last time, it DOES have enough power
Before we get into dynamics of the thing though, there’s another issue to address first, and that’s the question of power. The 86 comes with a flat-four Subaru (if you didn’t already know this car was co-developed with Subaru – their version being the BRZ) 2.0-litre boxer engine. Flat-four means there are four-cylinders horizontally opposed as depicted by the 86’s unique badge on the front fender.
The motor delivers 197bhp at high 7000rpm and 151lb ft of torque at 3500rpm. This gives it a top speed of around 220kph and sees the manual car accelerate to 100kph in 7.6 seconds and the auto in 8.2 – both transmissions are six-speed. Now to put that into context, my old 1988 BMW 325i (E30) managed 0-100kph in 7.5seconds and only produced 170bhp from its straight-six engine. And I could beat just about anything from the light when I owned it in the mid-1990s.
The first thing that most people question when it comes to the 86 is whether it’s got enough power. Well if you’re purely going to use it for drifting, probably not. And admittedly the chassis is so good that it could easily handle considerably more power.
But does it NEED it? Categorically, no, I don’t think so. On the track, where it could be argued that the power shortcoming would be the most obvious, it actually helped me, because it meant I couldn’t overdrive the car, nor lose it by booting it out of the corners. Keeping up the momentum, concentrating on flowing through the corners using minimum inputs means you can be going a hot pace without scaring yourself or the passenger.
It does of course means that you’re forced to focus and concentrate harder on what you’re doing, but surely that’s a good thing? You won’t win any races, but you’ll have more fun trying. I’m not a huge fan of track driving, but I could’ve carried on that night in the Toyota until it had run out of fuel.
At the same time, around town, you’ll never feel that the car is slow. Don’t forget also that this is a physically compact car, with a very low centre of gravity, so you feel more connected with everything that’s going on around you – and consequently it FEELS quick even when it isn’t going particularly fast.
On a run outside of the city limits the same applies in terms of keeping the momentum up, and working the gears to keep the revs high up in the band. What Toyota has done is give you sufficient power to really exploit the car’s abilities, but not enough to get yourself into trouble.
Is it worth putting up with a base-spec manual instead of a top spec auto?
If you must have an automatic, then this is admittedly not a bad one at all (it’s a modified version of the same box that sits in a Lexus IS-F, which whilst being a traditional torque-convertor auto, has been programmed to mimic a dual-clutch system).
The paddleshifts are quick and response, there’s a satisfying thunk on the changes (in Sports) mode, and it will hold onto the gears without automatically shifting up. But to really get the best out of the 86, it’s the manual you should opt for every time (even if it currently only comes in base-model trim, although if you hound and pester them, you can order a higher spec manual).
The change is a bit notchy and the pedals could be placed a little closer for easier heel-and-toeing, certainly for my feet, but the clutch is light and easy, the shifter is precise, you’re unlikely to ever miss a change, and it’s an absolute joy to use. Once you’ve driven this, you won’t want an auto version. Even it means sacrificing a bit of spec like climate control and a stop-start button.
Bet it’s an uncomfortable little thing though…
Another thing you miss out on by opting for a base-spec manual is the wheels, you end up with smaller 16-inch alloy wheels instead of the 17s. Actually, I found the 17s just a tad more fidgety than the very pliant 16s. And driving my wife around all day at some speed without her complaining or feeling nauseous was testament to the quite remarkable ride of the 86. In fact even with the 17s it will put to shame some over-tyred cars from the likes of manufacturers hailing from Stuttgart.
And then there’s the interior room. Okay let’s completely dismiss the 2+2 pretence. The rear seats could be used, but for very small kids, otherwise they’re best employed as a very handy parcel shelf. At the front however, my lanky six-foot frame fits right into this car. The seating position is spot-on, adjustability just right, all the controls are intuitive, and the tiny steering wheel is mercifully bereft of any buttons or switches – it does one thing, it steers, and it does that very well indeed.
Look at the roof and you’ll notice the double-bubble style contouring, this is not just style or aerodynamics, but a functional aspect that means that tall drivers like me, could wear a helmet in this car with plenty of headroom available – another reason why I found this car hugely satisfying on track.
The A/C proved immensely powerful even in our scorching environment and even the stereo, which has been maligned by some, and admittedly isn’t the best, certainly isn’t a massive cause for complaint either, with decent sound once you set the tone right though lacking base. It is worth an upgrade perhaps, because one thing this car lacks on the standard exhaust is a truly inspiring engine note. It certainly sounds lively and distinct, but it could do with a woffle and bark – so either upgrade the exhaust or the stereo. Going back to the ICE though and there’s easy connectivity with your phone and Bluetooth audio streaming.
So here’s the funny thing, it might be a little loud and not so well insulated, but other than that, thanks to the great ride, it actually performs very well as a decent long-distance tourer.
Taking it back to the driver
But don’t think it’s not relishing finding the twisty roads as much as you will be after the first time you encounter them. Make sure the traction system is set in VSC Sport though, the traction and stability systems are subtle but will cause the car to understeer initially in most corners (although in slippery conditions it could keep you alive).
The steering is sharp, responsive, crisp and delightfully transparent in relaying what’s going on at the front. The car is sat very low, but the suspension that one minute is smoothing out the road surface for you, suddenly seems to firm up and contain body-roll very well indeed. Apart from a slight sense of going light once the rear tightens its grip on the road it’s keen and eager and very faithful. The high front wheel fenders also make it easier to place this car.
It’s not that this car will run out of grip, of course it will, and of course it’s kind of meant to if you turn the traction full off since it’s designed to as a would-be drifting, and just look at those slim tyres. But the messages that are being telegraphed back to your backside tell you what’s going on, to what degree and what will happen next. That makes this an easy and confidence-inspiring car to drive near its limit, one that is not overwhelmed by its engine. And it’s addictive fun.
Standing strikingly apart
And it’s a sexy little thing too. Toyota had teased the hell out of this car before its launch and we’d gotten so tired of seeing concepts and revised concepts that I really didn’t even take the time to stand back and just soak in the car at its launch. But the more time I’ve spent with it, the more I’ve appreciated the restrained, simple and pretty looks of this car. There are hints of Maserati and obviously the Lexus LFA, but there’s an elegance in its stance and a delicacy of poise that is endearingly captivating, and yet decidedly purposeful.
The interior too, whilst nowhere near as radical as that first seen in the concept, is a well laid out and logical place, with a relatively classic look and feel for the dashboard, which is actually no bad thing in my book. It simply means that it will age well, rather than if it had been too futuristic. There’s also no gimmicks here, the message of this cockpit is simple: ‘drive me’.
So good, we’ve already declared it a future classic
If you’re looking for a verdict, well after raving about it for so long what would expect other than us summing up the car as brilliant. And that’s even before we get into the price. The other day I showed the car to someone and asked them how much they thought it cost. AED200,000 came the reply.
Well it starts at less than half that. AED95k for one of the best driving machines on the market – something that’s been over-engineered and over-developed the way European cars used to be, with little or no superficial pretentions. The value is deep-rooted in this car, and let’s not forget it will be bullet-proof and utterly reliable, because it’s a Toyota. Is this potentially conclusive proof that you CAN have your cake and eat it?
However it does even more than all that, it changes the game. Why do we say that? Well because more and more modern cars, and we’re even going to include ‘sports cars’ and high end ones at that, have gotten further and further away from being actual drivers cars, and more and more absorbed in the power and performance numbers game.
Consumers like POWER! And it’s not hard for manufacturers to give them that. But at a certain tipping point the value of power in a car’s chassis starts to inversely negate its abilities. So in order to allow a car to cope with several hundred horsepower without, at best, ripping its axle off, or at worst, killing its owner (bad for business you see), it has to packed full of electronic drivers aids to keep the less-than-able drivers safe from themselves.
But the more aids you put in there, the more remote the car feels and ultimately you end up with something like a Nissan GT-R which is admittedly the fastest point-to-point car in the world, as long as you let IT do all the driving and accept that you’re merely a helmsmen.
What Toyota has done with the 86, is restrict the power to a sensible level, which has allowed them to reduce the electronic interference, lower the production costs to make it affordable, and most importantly, reconnect the person behind the wheel with the actual experience of driving. And its exquisitely evolved simplicity will also ensure it will be an easy car to run and maintain for years.
Did Toyota get that gamble of bucking the trend right? We believe it did, and the spectacular global sales success and the insatiable appetite for this car is testament to that thinking. Even more of a tribute is that rival manufacturers are already planning their own cars to take on the 86. They’ll have a tall task, but ultimately it’s good for the consumer as it means that we could see the comeback of cheap, simple, affordable and practical sport cars very soon.
And all of this allows us to conclude not only that we love this car, but that you are looking at a future classic. There ain’t any praise higher than that.
2012 Toyota 86
Price: AED95,000 ($25,800) to AED125,000 ($34,000).
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Boxer, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 3500rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 7.6 (manual) & 8.2 (auto), 226kph (manual) & 210 (auto), 7.8L/100km (manual) & 7.1L/100km (auto)
Transmission: six-speed manual or auto, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1273kg (manual) & 1296kg (auto)