TOYOTA 86 TRACK TEST REVIEW
The Toyota 86 has a lot to live up to. Conceived to inject some excitement into Toyota’s line-up, the Japanese auto giant hopes the 86 will capture the attention of the world’s motoring enthusiasts.
There was also another; the humble AE86 Corolla.
Sold here as the Toyota Sprinter, the AE86 was an unassuming two-door hatchback that boasted entertaining RWD dynamics... and not much else.
But while it didn’t have much power, its tail-happy handling endeared itself to a generation of young, cash-strapped enthusiasts. Even today it enjoys a healthy cult following - particularly in the niche sport of drifting.
Toyota is aiming its new 86 range squarely at enthusiasts; it enlisted the help of current AE86 owners to ensure the 86 would have the same charming RWD attributes as its spiritual ancestor.
Is it fast? Is it driftable? Does it handle?
At Toyota’s invitation, we hit the asphalt (and dirt!) at the Sutton Road Driver Training Complex (SRDTC) in Canberra.
The SRDTC has a 2.5km road loop that features a number of surface changes, plenty of off-camber corners, a high-speed sweeper and even a bumpstop-shattering crest.
It’s no racetrack, mind you, and the two-lane width of the tarmac and lack of run-off meant we were a little more conservative than we would otherwise be.
Still, we managed to hustle the 86 GTS up to 165km/h before hitting the brakes for a tight chicane, and were left impressed with the car’s high speed stability.
Under hard braking you can feel the rear end start to wag as weight transfers onto the front wheels, but again, it feels quite controllable. The pedal is firm and easy to modulate, and the brakes of the GTS (and the GT, for that matter) generate plenty of stopping power.
The 86 changes direction with a minimum of fuss and scarcely any bodyroll.
The electric power steering is wonderfully direct and gives a kind of tactile response that’s hard to find in most other electric racks. It doesn't have the feel as some hydraulically-assisted systems, but it’s not far off either.
With a front/rear weight distribution of 53:47, the 1220kg 86 is still slightly nose-heavy, but it exhibits a very neutral balance through corners.
Want some fun? Tip in a bit of throttle at the apex and you can summon up a lurid slide, which is easily caught thanks to the fast (13:1) steering rack ratio.
The 86's stability control calibration isn’t the best for a sports car, though. It allows a small degree of slip, but has a somewhat abrubt cut-in when you breach the threshold.
The good news however is that even a driver of moderate talent can control an 86 with the VSC switched off.
The 86 does a tremendous job of conveying a maximum of information to the driver’s fingertips, ears and backside.
Not only is it easy to sense when the rear wheels are about to break away, but you quickly become accustomed to just how much throttle and counter-steering is necessary to control - or sustain - a slide.
It feels natural, like an extension of your own body. You don’t have to fight the car to get it to do what you want - and that’s how a sports car should feel.
However, it must be said: the 86 isn’t terribly fast. It’s got a better power-to-weight ratio than a Golf GTI, but unlike the turbocharged Golf, the 86 needs to be driven hard to get the most out of its naturally-aspirated 147kW/205Nm 2.0 litre flat-four.
As we mentioned in our First Drive Review, it definitely helps to have more than 4000rpm showing on the tachometer if you want to get anywhere in a hurry.
Throttle response is good though, and the power delivery is linear right up until just short of the 7450rpm redline.
With a forebear like the AE86 Sprinter, a car inextricably linked to the sport of drifting, the Toyota 86 is heaped with a lot of expectations when it comes to getting sideways.
So what’s it like to drift? In one word: easy.
The neutral handling balance that we described earlier means the 86 is supremely controllable.
In steady-state cornering, there's a slight bias towards understeer, but all that's needed to call up some oversteer is a slight application of throttle.
Roll on the accelerator and the 86 rotates easily on its axis, an axis that feels like it's somewhere in the transmission tunnel, right next to your hips.
It might not have a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, but with a full tank of fuel and a single occupant, it feels mighty close. You can feel through the seat of your pants that this is a wonderfully balanced chassis.
Grab an armful of opposite lock, and the 86 can be held in a slide at virtually any angle you wish just by moderating the throttle. Drift fans rejoice: this car is built to get sideways.
We flung the 86 around at ridiculous angles on an autocross course, an irrigated skidpan and even a dirt circuit.
It felt just as controllable and predictable in each of those environments, although deeper parts of the skidpan allowed the front wheels to aquaplane - thus creating terminal understeer.
One challenge for prospective drifters is the 86's relative lack of power, but at low speeds (under 90km/h) you can work around this by either using a lot of revs and a well-timed clutch kick, or a swift yank of the handbrake.
What's amazing about this car is that it's both eager to oversteer, yet remarkably stable when in a slide. It's not the bucking bronco that some RWD performance cars can be.
Take it to a skidpan and it'll make even average drivers feel like heroes, and, better yet, it will teach anyone who tests its limits the finer points of car control.
A key part of the old AE86's appeal was in its scope for modification.
More than 25 years since it launched, there's still a dizzying array of aftermarket parts available for the venerable Sprinter.
Some owners have managed to shoehorn everything from supercharged V8s to turbocharged rotary engines under its slabby bonnet.
Toyota knows that 86 owners will want to customise their cars too, and the automaker has designed the 86 to be mod-friendly.
There's even a cut-price variant sold in Japan with unpainted bumpers, steel wheels and no stereo (the expectation being that the owner will change them out for aftermarket parts anyway).
We've no doubt that Australian 86 owners will enjoy modifying their cars, but we'd suggest they spend at least a few months driving it in stock configuration.
Bigger and wider tyres will add more grip, which will make it harder to drift and less compliant over rough roads. Larger brakes will add unsprung weight and spoil the suspension's bump response. A turbocharger adds weight and throttle lag.
Instead, enjoy it in its purest form. The 86 will retain its fun-to-drive character on those skinny low-grip Yokohamas, and it's easier to exploit the engine's modest power as a result.
Once you're ready to take it up a notch, we'd recommend a brake upgrade first. The standard stoppers are fine for a couple of hard laps at a circuit like Sandown, but they stand little chance of surviving a full track day.
All models bar the base GT automatic are equipped with a limited-slip differential. For those intending on regular forays to faster tracks, we'd recommend some stickier tyres to aid grip and high-speed stability.
Suspension mods would be the next logical step, but we'd suggest keeping the wheel size no bigger than 17 inches (16 inches may be even better), just to keep some compliance in the ride.
TMR Track Verdict:
If you've never driven a car on a closed circuit before, the 86 is the car for you.
it's a great platform for learning car control and racecraft, and its inherent tune-ability means its performance can grow with your skill behind the wheel.
Seasoned driving enthusiasts will also find there's plenty of fun to be had in the 86, even at stock power levels. The 86 has one of the finest chassis around, and there's a surprising depth to its on-track abilities.
No, it probably won't be the fastest car at your next trackday, but outright speed isn't the 86's raison d'etre.
Enjoyment behind the wheel is the goal, and in that respect the Toyota 86 delivers in spades.
- 2012 86 GT - manual - $29,990
- 2012 86 GT - automatic - $32,490
- 2012 86 GTS - manual - $35,490
- 2012 86 GTS - automatic - $37,990
Note: pricing excludes on-road costs.
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