My Drive this week was the Toyota Eighty Six. Or is it Eight Six? I think most people are familiar with Eighty Six, so I’ll go with that. The Eighty Six is Toyota’s first sports car in a long time, and was developed in partnership with Subaru, which also sells their own version, called the BR-Z. When it first appeared on the Australian market three years ago, it heralded a return to sports cars by the Japanese company that many said was long overdue. What I think is really amazing though is that despite not making any form of sports car for around a decade or more, Toyota really managed to nail it on the head with the 86. It looks good, sounds good, and most importantly, drives really good! Let’s take a look.

The Toyota 86 is a sleek looking two door coupe, and the company says it’s inspired by its more successful sports cars of old, the 2000GT and the Corolla Sprinter 86. It’s got that aggressive stance, particularly thanks to the angry headlights. The body follows the lines of your typical coupe, curving upwards for the cabin and then downwards towards the rear. It looks great and just feels right, and this is a theme throughout the 86 actually – it gets the feel, the balance right for a sports car throughout.

Once we jump inside you can see where the inspiration for the cockpit came from. Dashboard switches and knobs are all inspired by the simple levers you find in a race car, while the instrument cluster is defined by its large tachometer with a digital speedo – again, perfect. The seats snuggle up to you and have loads of lateral support to keep you firmly in place, but they’re soft and comfortable. They’re a lovely place to be, as long as it’s in the front. Yes, this car does somehow manage to find the room for two back seats as well, but it’s a tiny amount of room only and I wouldn’t want to go back there unless I absolutely had to. They’re really for emergency use only. The boot is the same story – it’s positively tiny with only 217 litres of space to use.

But we’re not here to start transporting cargo with this car, we’re here to drive it. And driving is what the 86 does so well. It’s powered by a two litre, four cylinder boxer engine courtesy of Subaru. It’s been tuned to produce a maximum 147 kilowatts of power, which is pretty high for a naturally aspirated two litre engine. Torque tops out at 205 Newton-metres all the way up at 6400 revs, so you can see the kind of torque map Toyota was going for here – very high-rev focused. For racing, that’s perfect. The engine mates with a six speed manual or six speed automatic, connecting to the rear wheels through a limited slip differential. So that’s the specs, but the driving? In a word – balance. I tested the manual variant and I was amazed at the responsiveness of the 86. It reacts immediately to the accelerator pedal, which helps you take off smoothly and quickly. The engine is very relaxed and calm until around 2500 RPM, when the torque begins to seriously increase as you head towards the 7400 RPM redline. The gearshift has a medium throw and slots through the gears with such smoothness that feels just so satisfying.

And the engine sound. This isn’t the same boxer engine you find in a WRX or anything like that. It sounded like someone had ripped out the exhaust system from my test car and bolted on a hot dog muffler or something. Well maybe not that bad, but that was the kind of sound – the sound all small engine sports cars should have. The temptation to push the car past 3000 RPM just to hear that sound was just so strong and believe me, I lost that battle many times. It’s a beautiful sound and one that longs for a racetrack to be unleashed. The 86 would be right at home on a racetrack, not least because of its handling. This car is perfectly in tune with the driver – turn the wheel and almost instantly the car turns. It stays flat and composed, and even building speed around the corners, it keeps its composure until you really push it, when the rear begins to break traction and drift. At this point the stability control will catch the car, but you can turn on a sports profile for the stability control that will allow the car a touch more oversteer before bringing it back to line. It ensures the safety of the car, but it also ensures even more fun. The suspension is taut and firm to enable this level of handling, while the braking system does its job with aplomb, pulling up the car with more than enough ease.

Toyota offers the 86 in two variants. The entry level GT comes standard with 16 inch alloy wheels, cruise control, seven airbags and a reverse camera that runs on a 6.1 inch touchscreen with USB and Bluetooth. The top spec GTS adds to this with a load of convenience features – proximity keyless entry, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, climate control air, leather seats and satellite navigation. You can also get an option pack for the GTS that gives the 86 an even more aggressive body kit, including an oversized rear spoiler.

The 86 is on sale from $29,990 dollars plus on-road costs. If you enjoy going to track days or for any form of light racing really, the 86 will be an absolute blast. As I said at the start, it looks good, sounds good, and drives really good too. It has to be one of the most balanced sports cars I’ve ever driven. That’s it for me this week.

August 29th 2015
Albert Malik