The term “Japanese sports car” is an oxymoron. This is the opinion of those who call themselves true sports car enthusiasts; they believe that only sports cars from Britain, Germany or Italy are worthy of the name.
However, in 1967, Toyota introduced the 2000 GT, which was seen as the Japanese Jaguar E-type, but at a fraction of the price. A convertible version starred in the James Bond movie You only live twice. A few of these cars were imported to South Africa, and one of them starred in the Afrikaans James Bond-esque movie Staal Burger. In January 1969, a road test of the 2000 GT appeared in CAR magazine, and those who read the test, will remember the picture showing the test driver using opposite-lock to keep the car under control. Only 337 examples of the 2000 GT were produced.
Since then, virtually every Japanese manufacturer has attempted to emulate the 2000 GT, but few did so with much success. The only exceptions were the Datsun 240 Z,the Nissan 350/370 Z, the Mazda MX 5 (admittedly, a smaller car) and the Honda NSX, which was a rival to the Porsche 911, but less expensive. However, Toyota has just introduced a model which will change people’s perceptions, not only of Toyota, but also of Japanese sports cars in general.
The 86 was developed in conjunction with Subaru, which will introduce its version, the BRZ, later this year. It takes its name from the Corolla Levin AE 86, which was produced from 1983 to 1987. This model was not available in South Africa, but it is considered to be the 86’s spiritual predecessor. It is fitted with a Subaru-developed 2,0 litre “boxer” engine which develops 147 kW at 7 000 r/min. What makes this figure even more impressive, is the fact that it was achieved WITHOUT a turbocharger, which suggests that the 86′s may be more reliable than a forced-induction engine in the long term. It should be able to reach 220 km/h, but I would rather leave it to the professionals to test this claim (CAR test driver Deon Joubert, are you listening…?).
The interior is very well-finished, and even the Standard model is well-equipped. In fact, the high-specification model, which will be introduced in a few months’ time, comes with larger (17 inch) alloy wheels, leather upholstery, climate control and heated seats, to mention a few. The price difference between the Standard and the manual High model is about R32 000, and you really have to ask the question whether or not the premium for the higher-spec model is worthwhile. The only exception is if you must have an automatic transmission, because this option is only available in the High model. Whichever model you choose, one thing remains for certain: the 86 is no family car by any stretch of the imagination. You sit very low in it, and even small children will have great difficulty in making themselves comfortable in the rear seats. Moreover, luggage space is very limited. The large spare wheel offers peace of mind, but the downside is that it makes the boot very shallow. The rear “seat” can be folded down in one piece, and as far as I am concerned, this can remain folded down in order for luggage capacity to be increased. The children cannot be accommodated in comfort, so is best to leave them at home.
However, start the engine, and the first thing you notice, is that lovely boxer engine sound reminiscent of the Subaru WRX. This promises lots of fun, and in this respect, the 86 does not disappoint. The engine loves to be revved, but this is not imperative, because despite its high power and torque peaks, it can be driven normally. This makes the 86 a treat in everyday traffic. In fact, the test route did not include an open-road stretch, but this did not really matter. The controls are light and easy to work with, so driving the car on an everyday basis is a real pleasure. As befits any true sports car, the 86 is rear-wheel-drive, so it is ideal for drifting. Fortunately, every conceivable safety feature is standard equipment, so there is no doubt that you can have lots of fun with it, and still live to tell the story.
I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a car as much as I did the 86. It proves that a really exciting car does not have to cost a fortune, and that it does not have to have an exotic badge either. Moreover, people have accused Toyota of manufacturing boring cars for people who cannot think for themselves, especially in light of the Conquest RSI and the Corolla RXI being discontinued. These people have to eat their words, because the 86 will exceed even their wildest expectations. Needless to say, it is not a car for the family motorist, but for enthusiasts who already have a family car, it is a great way to express their enthusiasm for cars. Add the Toyota badge, and you cannot help thinking that it is going to be a winner. Despite its obvious shortcomings, I am madly in love with it.
An official launch report and driving impression of the Toyota 86 will appear on CARmag.co.za soon, don’t miss it!