The world can seem to be unnecessarily cruel. The world was promised the 86 since 2009; and the car has appeared in every major motor show in the world since then. It was launched at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show – and I was there too – but was not given a chance to drive it (even those who did only got a few minutes with it). Now, it is here. The test drive was at the Sepang Circuit. Time behind the wheel? Let’s see – 3 laps at the South circuit; that’s probably around 60 seconds for the fast lap and an in- and out-lap. Roughly 4 minutes I reckon… its ‘first impressions’ taken to the very edge of what it means.
Forget pictures of the car on the internet doing dramatic tail-outs, you need to see the 86 live to appreciate it. It’s a bit old school, efficient and just enough to look intense with no pretence to look flashy. It’s almost downright dull in black, even. And while it looks rather ample, the size is actually compact, perhaps accentuated by the low roof line. Some of the pictures I took while the car zooms past reveal just how big the drivers are made to look. I particularly like the flanks; the rear arch is flared delicately if not for the hard lines that define it while the top part of the front fender is cut-out to accommodate the unique 86 logo.
There are not a lot of stock road cars that sits you this low, the better to lower the centre of gravity. It feels different and to that extent, special. It is quite unfortunate that all three cars for driving duties are with the auto gearboxes. The sole stick shifter sits proud, unprotected from the sun as the static car for our camera lenses. Such a waste…
As my right hand reach out to close the door I again notice how close I am to the tarmac (the hip point is 400mm), not unlike in a track prepared sports car. While adjusting the seat, I realise that the steering does not adjust to reach so I slide the semi bucket seat forward. Surprisingly, the result is how I want it to be; my knees are bent enough but my hands are at the right distance to the steering. The three-spoke steering in front of me is free from the usual buttons and toggles for the audio equipment, the only thing that spoils this simplicity is the cruise control stalk that clumsily juts out from the lower right part of the rack in typical Toyota style.
The instrumentation panel clearly points to the car’s natural character: the rev meter is the main character while the speedometer and fuel/temperature gauges flank it. Zero RPM rests the needle at the 7 o’clock position and 0kmh is at 5 o’clock position, just as how it is in high performance machines. Of course, there’s no silly electronic parking brake here, it’s the ‘traditional’ lever wrapped in leather (at least I think it’s leather) with red stitching like the rest of the interior.
What can I tell you after a 4 minute test drive on a race track? Not much, and less so with confidence. But the trouble with such a long foreplay from Toyota, we all tend to form our own expectations. In terms of driving feel the 86 does not disappoint, albeit the engine does. It feels like another 30bhp at the bare minimum would truly let the machine shine; especially when we only had the auto variant to play with and with strict instructions to keep the electronics switched on. From the get-go the direct feel of the naturally aspirated engine is apparent but the accelerative sensation is not exactly what I’d expect. The rpm needle is not the quickest too; an owner would do good to change to a lighter flywheel. It seemed to take quite a bit to reach the 7450rpm redline and once you’re there the limiter is very aggressive. A shift light is included so it helps (reportedly you can configure it by 100rpm increments, although I didn’t have time to test this) and the engine takes time to lose its energy. There’s a warning beep if you ask for a downshift using the flappy pedal when there’s too much rev so late braking needs careful planning.
What else? The steering feel is sublime and very accurate. Feedback is good too through that small diameter steering wheel. At 1298kg (1275kg for manual), the 86 is on the high side of lightweight but still it feels agile and quick at transition. I think the pivot point could be a bit clearer but that’s an easy fix. Its torque sensing LSD was never really tested in our electronically chained test drive but as I saw how the instructors danced with the 86 I suppose it works well enough. Chief Engineer for the 86, Tetsuya Tada revealed that they’re working on an optional mechanical diff right now with TRD, due out perhaps before the end of the year.
If the 86 is to be the heir for the AE86, then I think there is potential. Just like I doubt you can find any stock standard Hachiroku, the new 86 won’t stay in its factory form for long. Apart from the engine tinkering to increase power, the car needs a weight loss and faster response. The balance is sublime as it was designed to be and while it does not jump forward with excess of horsepower, you know that it feels special as soon as you commit to a corner, and letting the chassis do its talking.
Engine Horizontally opposed 4-cyl, 16v, 1998cc, naturally aspirated
Transmission 6-speed auto
Max power 197bhp @ 7000rpm
Max torque 205Nm @ 6400-6600rpm
0-100kmh 8.2sec (claimed)
Top speed 210kmh (claimed)
Price RM249,000 (OTR with insurance)
On Sale Now
EVO rating 4.5 stars
+ Balance, steering
- Aggressive rev limiter