New 86: Getting back to basics

It’s no secret. Toyota has been in need of a brand-builder, a car that stands out so much in a crowded car park that heads turn and smiles break out as a finger points and a voice with a grin says “...isn’t that the new...” whatever.

The company with the cowboy hat logo did it before with the MR-2, a cheeky little two-seater that looked great in red but unfortunately disappeared almost before it arrived. There have been others – the Supra, the 2000GT, the Celica – but in recent years the menu has read cheese sandwich, baked beans or instant noodles.


Nothing wrong with the cars, but not many folk would burst into the pub and shout: “Guess what, I just bought a Yaris!” And, for the record, the Supra sold 384 000 units, the MR-2 319 000 worldwide.

Anyway, Toyota called in Subaru (or perhaps it was the other way around), the two giants of the auto world huddled around a table, and they came up with the Toyota 86, aka the Subaru BRZ. Identical in every way except for some cosmetic work; the Subaru is expected later this year but in much smaller numbers than the close to 60 a month that Toyota is hoping to move.

There is, by the way, an 800-strong waiting list - what a nice place for an auto retailer to be...

Subaru says BRZ stands for “Boxer engine, Rear drive, Zenith” — meaning high point. In the US Toyota has badged the car Scion FR-S, in Europe the GT86. None of which explains the ’86... OK, well, that comes from the bore/stroke, square at 86mm, the 86mm diameter of the exhausts and as a tribute to the Corolla Levin AE86.

Image gallery.

It was the 2000GT - of which only 337 were built - a two-litre straight-six coupe first displayed at the 1965 Tokyo auto show that helped establish the company’s global reputation as a sports car manufacturer. Perhaps the Eighty-Six will re-establish that reputation even if it did look like a rip-off of the E-Type Jaguar (that’s it in the background of the image above).

The Toyota arrived this week with a launch based at Malelane airport, just off the N4 at the bottom of the Kruger Park. Why an airport? Well, Toyota SA is punting the 86 not as an outright performance machine (which it certainly ain’t) but instead as a 2+2 that, even in moderately inexperienced hands, offers a lot of safe fun on the open road.

It was even pointed out that they tyres come from Toyota’s Prius hybrid, with a hint that their relative grip level is just right for, er, spirited cornering with not all the wheels pointing in the same direction. Toyota says “they give the car a unique feel”.


Which is why the automaker taped off a couple of sections of the airport – small as it is – and gave the visiting journos a short course on drifting with a pimped version of the 86 before sending them round a “driftkhana” course. Very amusing, though my report card said “needs more practice”. Humph.

That was preceded by a familiarisation 140km drive from Malelane to Barberton, out in a six-speed manual and back in an auto. Each is fun to drive, with a seriously sorted suspension that corners flat and fast and the Prius rubber starts to let go just when you expect it – if rather suddenly – with correction easy. The electric steering doesn’t have a “feel” penalty and the manual box has a superbly short and accurate throw and the general handling is aided by the low-set boxer engine and seats said to be the lowest in the bracket.

In fact the centre of gravity sits only 46cm off the tar and, for the purists, the weight split front/rear is 53/ 47%. The car weighs 1239kg.

The auto? Well, if you do a lot of driving around a city, you might want one and its paddle-shifts, so go for it. If you like to play (which seems to be Toyota’s slogan for the car) stick with the middle-priced 86 High (spec) – which leads nicely to the 86 prices:

Toyota 86 6-spd Standard - R298 500
Toyota 86 6-spd High - R329 400
Toyota 86 6-spd High a/t -R346 500

Each of the three has the identical 147kW/205Nm engine; the two High models are identical except for the gearbox (even the floor shifter looks like the lever in the manual version). External differentiators between the two grades are limited to the high-intensity discharge headlights with diode light accents, 17” alloy rims and headlight washers which appear only on the High models.

However Toyota assured me that a Spur menu’s worth of accessories will be available soon.

As a Toyota spokesman told me: “The Standard and High models each have the same genetic make-up – but different personalities. The 86 is unlike any other Toyota in its purest, most concentrated, form.”

Kerry Roodt, Toyota SA’s general manager of marketing communications, weighed in with: “The true marvel of the 86 is that it’s every inch as much fun to drive as its vastly pricier competition.

“It’s priced with the hot hatches but dishes up classic sports-car delights – front engine, rear-wheel drive, fast throttle responses, quick and meaty steering – without the need to be travelling at warp speed to enjoy them.

“In fact, the 86 goads you to drive it flat out as often as is possible and you can pilot it that way 90% of the time.”

All helped by a Torsen limited-slip differential and three-mode vehicle stability control, including SPORT.


Toyota says this Subaru engine is the world’s first horizontally opposed unit with D-4S (direct injection four-stroke petrol) technology. Essentially, each cylinder has twin injectors for direct and port injection. D-4S performs both high-pressure direct injection into the cylinder and conventional intake port injection, or direct cylinder injection only, in accordance with engine speed.

That, Toyota says, mixes intake air and fuel evenly at all engine speeds, increasing throttle response, power and torque over a wide range without sacrificing fuel efficiency and “environmental performance”.

At 4240mm long, 1775mm wide only 1285mm high and with a wheelbase of 2570mm, the 86 claims to be the world’s most compact four-seater sports car – though don’t be misled by the “four” – the car is very much a “2+2”.

High-grade units have 17” aluminium rims with machine-finished twin spokes offset with thin, dark accent spokes. Standard models have similarly finished 16” symmetrical alloys.

High grade also gets a digital speedo and the auto models come with a shift indicator light.


The generic steering wheel has a diameter of only 365mm, the smallest yet in a Toyota, with a buckskin finish developed through exhaustive feedback from test drivers, hand-stitching and an embossed ‘86’ logo.

Two seat finishes are available, a combination of leather and Alcantara on the High models and a non-slip, suede-like fabric on the Standard version, and the rear seat can be folded, creating sufficient space (should you wish to go racing) for four standard tyres and some  racing paraphernalia.

The High model also has a frameless rear-view mirror – it looks odd, but grows on you – and a red start/stop button on the centre console, carbon effect trim, black roof lining, red upholstery stitching, aviation-style switches and aluminium pedals.

Each model grade has seven air bags: driver, passenger, side, curtain and driver’s knee bag.

Further High-spec gear for your extra cash includes cruise control, illuminated sun visor mirrors and auto aircon. The audio system, with AM/FM/CD, six speakers, AUX and USB input connectivity, is shared. The six speakers comprise two 25mm dashboard-mounted tweeters, two 160mm door speakers and two 6 mm rear quarter speakers.


Performance figures include 0-100km/h in 7.6sec (8.2 for the auto) and 226 and 210km/h respectively. Fuel consumption is listed as 7.8 and 7.1 litres/100 km respectively with CO2 emissions of 181 and 164g/100km.

All models will be sold with a four-year or 60 000km service plan, a three-year or 100 000 km warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance on call.
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