For the unfamiliar, the Toyota 86 is the direct successor of the Toyota Sprinter Trueno and Corolla Levin from the mid 1980s, a line that was popularized by Initial D and the drifting scene. The 86 was launched in 2012 and now, three years on, we’ll see if it’s still the great car we know it to be.
Style-wise, nothing has really changed. The low-slung coupe profile of the 86 says it’s a sports car, not a run-of-the-mill compact sedan. Toyota gave the 86 a look that harkens back to when sports cars were curvy and sleek, echoing a modern interpretation of the design they put on the road with the legendary 2000GT. Unlike the AE86, however, the current 86 does not have a liftback and instead has a bootlid, though there isn’t much trunk space.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, the 86 really hugs you. The seats are properly bolstered and fit body types of almost all shapes and sizes. The orientation of the cockpit, err, cabin is definitely for the driver, with a large tach staring you in the face. Then there’s a rather large steering wheel with a nice, full grip. There are red accents on the steering wheel, the shift knob for the six-speed gearbox and the bucket seats. There is seating available for two more persons in the back, but do note that the headroom and legroom in the rear is rather non-existent.
Meant to be driven hard
This 86 may be a car meant to be driven hard, but it does come with a lot of good equipment. Automatic climate control is standard and it’s dual zone. A smart key is standard along with push-button ignition, cruise control, HID headlamps and LED running lights. Unlike the rather basic 2-DIN audio system Toyota initially launched the 86 with years back, the 2015 model gets a better Kenwood audio unit with Bluetooth, USB and Aux input. For safety, seven airbags come standard along with a sport-tuned Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system, something that we’ll put to the test.
At the heart of the 86 is the FA20, a flat-4 cylinder engine that was jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru. With dual overhead cams, 16 valves and direct injection, the 86 gets 200 horsepower and 205 Newton-meters of torque. That’s plenty of numbers to kick the tail out, thanks to a six-speed rear-wheel drive transmission.
Press the ignition and the Boxer motor lets off a growl. It’s ready to rock. In urban streets, the 86 is stiffer than your average car. The suspension is clearly sharpened for handling, so in terms of comfort, it’s quite hard. The ride height of the 86 might not be for those who live in places with huge speed bumps, but still, it doesn’t scrape over the typical speed bumps if taken gently. Of course, the 86 isn’t a car that belongs on city streets – it’s much like an athlete. It’s a car meant to have its legs stretched and it loves to do it.
Up in the mountains and on a challenging road with no traffic in sight, we begin to truly explore the limits of the Toyota 86. Floor the throttle and you can clearly hear the note of the 2.0-liter boxer engine in front of you; the intake note is actually reminiscent of the 1.6-liter Toyota 4A-GE from the original AE86. On a clear, flat stretch as well as the uphill straights, the 86 builds up speed very well, but any car with a good engine and transmission can do that, and it will be its cornering abilities that will separate this car from the rest.
Gradually lift off the throttle, load up the front under braking, heel-and-toe the perfectly placed pedals, feed the steering into the turn, keep it composed, and power out gradually once you hit the apex. That was the sequence I was putting the 86 through and the car did not disappoint. Not once did I feel like I was being overwhelmed by the power of the car. It was always so controllable. Never did it seem like it was going to get away from me at any point, at the high speeds I pushed it to. The 86 simply took instruction and kept at it flawlessly at every single corner, one after the other. The composure of the car in the corners even at high speeds is simply inspiring, and that’s with the Traction Control System off and VSC Sport activated. Once you do turn off the electronic driving aids, the 86 truly becomes a drift toy and the only limit to the growing smile on your face will be your skill set.
It’s a tall order to accomplish, at least by what I can feel. I’ve pushed cars like the Lancer Evo X MR and even a powerful Lexus RC F, but none of them felt as right as this. That’s the real magic behind the 86, a car that achieves high levels of driving inspiration you would only feel in far more expensive and far more powerful machines.
No wonder they’re selling so many of these new Hachi-Rokus, doing for the sports car market what the MX-5 did for the popularity of the roadster.