When the Toyota 86 was introduced back in 2012, motoring enthusiasts welcomed the return of an exciting two door rear wheel drive sportscar from the Japanese manufacturer. The 86 was built as a spiritual successor to the Corolla AE86; with the aim of the 86 to bring back memories of the light, nimble and modestly powered Corolla. The current Toyota 86 is certainly a car that’s been built for motoring enthusiasts with the intention of bringing fun back to driving.
I’m yet to drive an original Corolla AE86 but growing up came close to buying a Mk 3 Australian delivered Supra Turbo. I remember back to 6 years ago and being really excited to see my first Toyota 86 in the flesh at a Toyota dealership and wondered if I’d ever get the opportunity to drive one. There’s something I really enjoy about small, nimble rear wheel drive cars and the mechanical layout of the 86 really made me interested in driving one.
In 2013, I did drive a then current model Toyota 86. Of particular note was how good the car handled, however I didn’t get enough time with it to form a strong impression. Fast forward to 2018 and I’m offered the opportunity to drive an 86 GTS model. The Toyota tested is a 2018 model with the 6 speed manual gearbox and optional dynamic performance pack fitted. The dynamic performance pack includes larger Brembo performance brakes, Sachs performance dampers and anthracite coloured 10 spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.
The car’s design hasn’t changed significantly since its introduction six years ago however it’s still eye-catching. Although the Moonsalte grey of this 86 is not to my personal taste, the black 17 inch alloys and red Brembo brake calipers give the car a purposeful look and hint at its performance credentials. Fake side vents and exhaust tips also don’t really do it for me, but the small black wing on the back finishes the car off nicely. From any angle it really is a good looking sports coupe, and in my opinion looks better than its main competitor, the Mazda MX-5.
Interior and features
The manually adjustable front seats are comfortable and supportive but compared to other modern cars lack some adjustment, and in the rear seats legroom is practically non- existent. Dash layout is ideal with a big tacho facing the driver, similar to the layout of a Porsche Cayman. The satellite-navigation is intuitive and easy to operate while phone pairing is simple. The red stitching on the interior and steering wheel is a nice touch. The g-force meter, lap timer and readouts for battery voltage, engine temperature and oil temperature are good additions. The 6.1 inch touchscreen featuring iPod and Bluetooth capabilities looks good and functions well. Other features of the 86 GTS include 7 airbags, auto levelling LED headlamps, limited slip differential and reversing camera.
Driving impressions and performance
In a world where almost every performance car is now turbocharged, all-wheel drive and featuring an automatic gearbox, it’s refreshing to drive a modern naturally aspirated, manual rear wheel drive car. It seems like driving a car well with a manual gearbox is becoming a lost art, and there’s a real thrill in accomplishing a perfect upshift and mastering the art of heal-and-toe downshifting. The 6 speed in the Toyota 86 GTS is smooth and precise with pedals perfectly positioned for heel-and toe-shifting.
It has some similarities to my BMW M3 E36 with a high revving engine up front and drive sent to the rear. It doesn’t have the straight line performance of the M3 however makes up for this deficit with great steering feel and composure through the bends. The electric steering system of the 86 is excellent. There’s so much feedback through the wheel with the ability to position the car exactly where you want it, enabling the driver to attack corners with great confidence. The steering system is always reassuring and working with you, and combined with the 86’s light weight (1258kg) and wonderful chassis, results in one of the best handling cars I’ve ever driven. Understeer is virtually non-existent, and it’s a car that is at its most rewarding when the rear starts to get a little bit loose. Narrow Michelin Primacy tyres (215/45/17) are used deliberately to encourage some rear end movement.
There is a track mode feature that adjusts the traction and stability control programs to make the car more responsive. You also have the option of turning both traction and stability control off. The car wasn’t tested in the wet but with traction control off it probably wouldn’t take much to wheelspin, even without an overly powerful engine. The damping of the car was good but a bit hard over larger bumps and dips in the road.
Braking performance from the Brembo package is excellent. On the front are 326mm diameter ventilated rotors, an increase of 32mm over the standard GTS, while on the rear are 316mm diameter ventilated rotors, an increase of 26mm. There are 4 piston calipers up front and 2 piston calipers on the rear. Getting the best out of the upgraded brake package requires more firmness on the brake pedal, and they are fade free on the public roads.
The 2.0L flat four delivers 152kW and 212Nm, certainly not big numbers by today’s standards. Although being light, the car only manages a 0-100km/h time of 7.25 seconds and in the current age of performance cars doesn’t set the world on fire for straight line speed. The engine note is a bit dull up and until 6,000 rpm and there also isn’t much urgency in the power delivery until this point in the rev range. It’s been brought up many times but you always get the feeling that the chassis could easily handle more power. Although this is certainly true, my opinion is that the 86 is specifically designed to be a light, nimble, superb handling sportscar with less of a focus on outright power, torque and straight line performance. Being underpowered, you can extract the most out of the little Toyota and enjoy so much more of it on the public roads. In a supercar, you can only really get the most out of it on a racetrack and can never get close to its limits on public roads.
Comparisons to the Toyota 86 Racing Series Car
Those interested in competing in the Toyota 86 Racing Series are able to purchase a Toyota 86 GT 6 speed manual produced before August 2016 as their base vehicle. Vehicles are then modified to compete in the series by Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM). Engine modifications include a Motec ECU and engine management system, custom made exhaust system and TRD engine oil cooler, boosting power from the standard 147kW to approximately 170kW’s. Brakes are a control AP Racing brake package with 330mm discs on the front with 4 piston calipers and 316mm discs on the rear with 2 piston calipers. MCA shock absorbers are installed along with Dunlop Direzza grooved tyres wrapped around 18 inch OZ Racing alloy rims. Safety features include a full roll cage, driver window net, six point harness and a Sabelt Race Seat.
As part of the Aussie Driver Search, I was fortunate enough to drive a Toyota 86 Racing Series car on a race track but didn’t take the road car on track. The race car was very composed through both low and high speed corners. Compared to the 86 GTS, the power and torque increase was more noticeable in the race car. At higher RPM, the race car felt much faster with the 2.0 litre flat four pulling well. The race car also has a much nicer and louder exhaust note and builds speed faster than the road car, particularly lower down in the rev range. The brake and suspension upgrades were also noticeable. Braking performance was excellent with the AP Racing brake package giving me the confidence to brake late and hard lap after lap. The Dunlop Direzza 225/40/18 tyres are only 10 mm wider than the Michelin’s offered on the 86 GTS but offer significant improvements in grip over the standard tyres, enabling greater front and rear end grip. The six point harness does a great job in holding you firmly in the racing seat. In the race car, NBM have made an already great handling car even better.
At $39,400, the 2018 Toyota 86 GTS with the optional dynamic performance pack is similar in price to the Mazda MX-5. I personally like the styling of the 86 better and overall find it a much more exciting car. Admittedly the 86 could do with more power, but power isn’t everything in a performance car and the Toyota rewards the driver in a lot of ways other performance cars can’t. You really get back to the basics of driving but still feel like you’re driving something modern and well equipped. This car is one of the best handling cars I’ve ever driven and if you’re a performance car enthusiast, the chassis balance and handling of the 86 GTS might just persuade you to buy one even over the shortcomings in power.