Toyota’s new 86 is a true sports car for the discerning massesBy Jason Ang
Philippine Daily Inquirer
TOYOTA—THE brand name today conjures up images of reliable and sensible sedans, MPVs, pickups, and SUVs. And hybrids. Sporty is one of the last adjectives that one would associate with the Japanese car giant. Yet a long time ago, in a galaxy not far away, Toyota has always had an interesting sports car in its lineup. Sean Connery’s James Bond got infatuated with the exotic 2000GT. The Celica gained legions of fans during its seven generations of existence. And the MR2—a compact sports car that shared the mid-engined, rear-wheel drive layout of all the best exotics, but at the mere gasoline budget of those cars—who else but Toyota competently did that?
The sports car all but faded from Toyota’s lineup after the late 1990s, as the company concentrated on building cars that sold in the hundreds of thousands and millions. Its halo car became the hybrid Prius, the very antithesis of a sports car. When Akio Toyoda, grandson of the man who founded the company, took over the reins as CEO, he ordered the construction of a new sports car to once again be their image leader. A car enthusiast and amateur racer, it must have bothered Mr. Toyoda no end that the world’s number two car (and erstwhile number one) manufacturer had no sports car in its lineup.
Still, the construction of a new sports car from scratch must have been daunting, for Toyota then turned to a company it had just bought five percent of—Subaru. Though Subaru’s bread and butter were also sedans and station wagons, the rambunctious DNA of its rally-bred Impreza racing cars were embedded in each one of its cars. The two came to an agreement, with Subaru doing the engineering work and manufacturing, while Toyota would be in charge of the styling and product planning. The big T would foot the bill, and would get to sell its version, called the 86, first.
Thus, after weeks of international and local teasers, we found ourselves in a hangar at the Subic International Airport, anticipating some seat time behind the most important Toyota vehicle in years. We didn’t have to wait too long, as we entered to the sound of screeching tires as the team of drift racer David Feliciano was circling the track with four 86 cars in white, red, dark blue, and black. A camera crew’s pickup truck was shadowing the action, along with a hovering miniature helicopter.
No doubt about it—the drift team was playing with the cars. Sliding them, spinning them in donuts, drifting them on the rain-slicked tarmac. The drivers got out of the cars, with large grins under their helmets.
The 86 is a textbook Japanese sports car. Within the 4240-mm length is a classic profile: long hood, boomerang-shaped roof, and short rear deck. Although the tail looks like a hatchback, the car actually has a trunk and fixed backlight. The rear haunches feature hints of the 2000GT and classic Celica, with its appropriately pronounced fender flares. Twin tailpipes flank a triangular light cluster, incorporating the reverse lamps and rear foglamp. The front has a modern beady-eyed stare highlighted with LED eyebrows. A subtle crease runs along the fenders and across the hood, allowing the front section to display shades of color as the different pieces catch the light.
Inside, the 86 is all business with a pleasantly tight cockpit. The seats are heavily bolstered, both at the base and the seatback. The tachometer sits front and center of a simple three-gauge instrument cluster. The steering wheel is nearly vertical, as befits a true sports car.
At the heart of the 86 is a horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine—a.k.a. a boxer. Naturally, you might think, since this is a Subaru-engineered car. Yet this is not just because it is Subaru’s signature engine configuration. Subaru has always touted the boxer engine, thanks to the layout of its cylinder block and heads, as one that results in a lower center of gravity. That may have been a nullified advantage in an Outback or Tribeca, but does it pay dividends in the 86? With the engine positioned only 460 mm from the ground, the car has a lower center of gravity that all of its rivals, including the markedly low-slung Mazda MX-5.
That engine is a normally-aspirated unit, for reasons of quick response and willingness to rev. It pays off handsomely, as the 86’s boxer spools up very quickly. The 7500-rpm redline allows the car to stretch it legs without having to row through gears frequently. On a short section of airport tarmac, we would run out of road in third gear even before the engine hit its maximum. Toyota quotes a 0-100 kph time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 226 kph for the manual car.
Despite the lack of a turbo, the 2.0-liter unit produces maximum 197 hp and 205 Nm. The gearbox is a slick-shifting six-speed manual, supplied by Aisin and reportedly sharing parts with the Lexus IS-F’s. Clutch action is light and feels linear. It’s as easy to launch from standstill as a Corolla, and shifting at maximum revs is painless, too. Also available is a six-speed automatic model, with paddle shifters. A Torsen limited-slip differential puts the power down to the rear wheels.
The 86 uses a conventional steel chassis, weighing in at 1275 kg. The car’s weight target no doubt made a larger body and more usable back seats improbable. Brakes are large 15-inch discs at the front, 14 at the rear. The car rides on 215/45 R 17 tires.
What makes the 86 worth all of the hype, and more, is that it is designed to be accessible to almost anyone in the market for a new car. The entry-level manual-transmission model retails for P1.550 million. A host of performance upgrades will be waiting courtesy of TRD and others, but it functions quite well out of the box, no tweaking needed.
The initial target for Toyota Motor Philippines is 80 units (perhaps 86?), which will undoubtedly be snapped up as this is being printed. As such, the sales figure is insignificant compared to the 40,000 or so units that TMP will move this year. The revenues may be insignificant, but the effect the 86 has on the rest of the Toyota lineup will be invaluable. It’s no wonder that Toyota, including TMP, is such a big effort to launch this car. The 86 is a car made to lift Toyota out of its reliable but dull image, a dream machine among all the practical vehicles.
If you’re willing to scrape up a little more cash, and tell the kids to bear the nonexistent space in the back (they will surely love the 86), there’s no reason why you can’t buy this car instead of a Camry. It offers all the thrills of a European machine three times cheaper its price. Being a Toyota-Subaru construct, all it needs to continue to run will likely be fuel and air, apart from the occasional inexpensive oil change. What is likely, though, is that the car will be attractive as a secondary vehicle, a Sunday driver that beats the heck out of an off-roader or a rickety used exotic. Your savior from motoring boredom has arrived.
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