March 06, 2013 00:00 By Kingsley Wijayasinha
To test its full power, this sportscar needs to be taken out on a high-speed circuit but it may leave you begging for more oomph
When the Toyota 86 was first unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in late 2011, officials from Toyota Motor Thailand said the model would be introduced in Thailand. And true to their word, the car was launched just a few months later at the Bangkok International Motor Show, with the first orders being accepted.
There’s solid history behind the name and the development of the 86, which is called the GT86 in Europe and the Scion FR-S in North America.
The 86 is a product derived from a joint venture between Toyota and Subaru, the latter producing the BRZ. Both companies (Toyota Motor and Fuji Heavy Industries, which manufactures Subaru vehicles) first agreed to collaborate in 2005, and went on to work on the 86/BRZ project in 2008.
Several concept vehicles (such as the Toyota FT-86 and the Subaru BRZ Concept STi) were shown to the public before the production model was finally introduced.
On Toyota’s part, the 86 has a long history that dates back to the Corolla AE86 from the ’80s and even the GT2000 and the Toyota Sports 800, which was Toyota’s first sports car which coincidentally also featured a boxer engine.
The AE86 was a highly popular Toyota model those days. I remember many of them, powered by the famous Toyota 4-AG engines, being raced at the Bira International Circuit during the 80s. Unfortunately that was the last front-engined, rear-wheel-drive Corolla, as future models came with front-wheel-drive systems. This has made the AE86 a highly sought after car even decades after production ended.
Apart from being popular on the circuit, the AE86 achieved high recognition among Japan’s top drifters (such as Drift King Keiichi Tsuchiya) for being a great car to start drifting.
While the design of the 86 may be more towards the low-slung GT2000 rather than the cute-looking AE86, it carries a lot from the AE86 in terms of the overall concept. The car has to be lightweight (1,180-1,250 kgs), affordable and offer balanced performance and handling, along with good fuel economy.
The boxer (horizontally opposed) engine of the 86 is supplied by Subaru, while Toyota supplies the D-4S injection system which uses both direct and port injection. The engine has a displacement of 1,998cc, bore and stroke of 86x86mm (yes, that’s correct), and is capable of pumping out 200hp and 205Nm.
Both 6-speed automatic and manual gearboxes are available, but you won’t get as many features in the latter, which is priced Bt250,000 lower. The top version I drove costs Bt2.74 million and comes with full options, including the auto gearbox with paddle shifters, aero kit including a huge rear spoiler, high-intensity headlights with jet washer, 17-inch alloys, smart entry and engine start, cruise control and leather/fabric seat upholstery. Strangely, the nice front bucket seats also come with heaters, which are not necessary in Thai weather conditions.
The interior of the top model features a red-and-black-styling theme that’s quite arousing, something you don’t expect from a Toyota, which is usually conservative to dull. The 86 is a 2+2 sports car, which means that grown humans will not fit in the rear seats comfortably. This area is usually reserved for children, pets or additional luggage, but for the 86 there is a more important function – to store two wheels and tyres (the other two in the trunk) by folding the rear seat backrest. This means that you can drive to a track day or drift event without needing another vehicle to transport the wheels and tyres. Good idea for starters since with a 2-seater you can’t carry all four wheels.
The 86 is a driver’s car, and in order to properly test drive it you need to put it in a suitable environment such as a circuit. This is what I did. I called up one of my buddies, Kraitos Wongsawan, and booked a slot at the Thailand Circuit in Nakhon Chaisri for the 86 to be driven real hard.
Although in normal driving conditions there is enough torque for the 86 to get around in the city, drive for a couple of laps on the circuit and you’ll start asking for more oomph. I’m pretty sure that many of the 86 owners would consider turbocharging it, which is what Japanese buyers are doing.
At the Tokyo Auto Salon in January, the 86 stole all the attention with various tuners offering performance kits for this model. And guess what? Turbochargers were the most common application.
It’s good to think that apart from helping to stimulate the sports car market with the 86, Toyota is also helping the Japanese aftermarket industry with room for them to offer kits. Meanwhile, I guess that in the future with the STi version, the BRZ will also come with turbocharging (and perhaps all-wheel-drive?) which has been a Subaru feature for its boxer engine for so many years.
Back at the Thailand Circuit, the 86 offered sharp steering response through the corners, while the 6-speed auto gearbox performed surprisingly well, blipping the throttle during downshifting as I entered the tight corners. But to be honest, I’d still prefer the manual gearbox. After all, this is supposed to be a driver’s car and stepping on the clutch, blipping the throttle and shifting the gears is part of the fun. The 86’s manual gearbox also offers a more direct ratio than the auto especially from fourth to sixth.
Too bad the Thailand Circuit was designed for motorcycles and doesn’t have a large enough area for high-speed driving. Nevertheless, it’s an easy track to drive on and a safe one too, as there is nothing for you to crash into.
With the vehicle stability on, the 86 behaves just like a normal car and will understeer if you enter the corner too fast. But you can deactivate it by pressing a button located near the gearbox lever, and the entertainment programme starts.
It is easy to get the rear end of the 86 sliding out with oversteer in mid-corner if you feed too much throttle, but it’s also easy to get it back in line. On the other hand, drifting isn’t as easy as you think as torque is not plentiful like a 500hp V8 AMG that you can just power slide by simply flooring the gas. And that’s where the fun is, since you need to work out the techniques such as weight transfer or use the handbrake to get it into sliding mode.
The suspension set-up comprises McPherson/double wishbones with stabiliser both front and rear. They are nice and stiff, adding to the 86’s dynamic character. Stopping power comes from vented disc brakes (16-inch in front and 15 at the rear) with ABS and Brake Assist.
Unfortunately, the 86 is priced at Bt2.74 million for the top version (Bt2.56 million for standard auto and Bt2.49 million for standard manual), which is rather costly considering that it is intended as an affordable sportscar. But so are other fully imported models such as the Mazda MX-5 and all the Mini variants that are priced in the same neighbourhood or even higher. But the MX-5 is smaller and has less power, while Mini is front-wheel-driven, which makes the Toyota 86 the most attractive choice presently if I’m looking for an exciting car in this price range. What the heck, I’d even downgrade from a BMW Z4 or Benz SLK for this Japanese baby!