Straight out of the box, this car can be pointed at a race-track and it won't be found wanting. There is now a cult following for the 86 - surprising perhaps for car from a brand more synonymous with Camrys and Klugers.
That image is set for another shake-up with the announcement of a new one-make Toyota 86 Racing Series.
This series, open to any manual variant of the 86 prepared with the Racing Series upgrade kit and mandatory safety gear, looks set to attract plenty of attention.
For while it may be among the cheapest ways to get into motorsport, it will be running as a support act at select V8 Supercars events.
To give us a taste of what the drivers are in for, Toyota threw us the keys to the very same cars that will be gridding-up at Australia’s premier motorsport circuits, and set us loose around Canberra’s Sutton Road Driver Training Centre.
But did we enjoy it?
Vehicle Style: Race-prepped sports car
Price: $65,000-$70,000 (estimated)
Engine/trans: 147kW/205Nm 2.0 4cyl | 6sp manual
ON THE TRACK
Changes between the regular 86 that you can drive out of your local Toyota dealership, and the Racing Series cars are surprisingly few.
Toyota’s goal has been to keep the cars as close to what you can buy as possible. The plan is to keep the enthusiast appeal, but also to maintain the low-cost element.
Neal Bates Motorsport has been behind the development of the 86 Racing Series package, using a range of suppliers to provide parity across the grid. The rally and tarmac ace knows a thing or two about setting up a race car.
Suspension has been upgraded to adjustable coilovers supplied by Queensland’s MCA suspension, brakes move to AP Racing calipers with four-piston front and two-piston rears, biting down on larger 330mm front and 316mm rear rotors.
A TRD engine oil cooler and Motec ECU are also part of the package, as is a custom manifold and exhaust system (and the results are ear-bleedingly good). Other touches like a new rear spoiler, modified throttle stop, and a baffled sump complete the package.
Competitors will also need to fit their cars out with a roll cage, racing seat, and multi-point harness to comply with CAMS approval requirements, but can select their own components.
All up, the changes applied to the cars total less than $25,000 on top of the donor vehicle.
To demonstrate the effect of the new components and race set-up, Toyota let us out on the Sutton Road training circuit back-to-back in a standard 86 GTS followed by the Racing Series car. (And then threw us into the passenger seat beside Neal Bates to show us what the car can really do...)
The first couple of laps in the standard 86 reminded us what a nimble, agile package the 86 is. Lively steering, crisp throttle response, and a tightly accurate gearbox make the 86 right at home on track.
But, jump into the Racing Series car (I took to the driver’s seat of Leanne Tander’s car,) and the experience is transformed, yet still so familiar and close to the core vehicle.
But the noise through that custom exhaust is maniacal. There’s a distinct boxer howl, totally unlike the muted growl of the production car, but it also breathes more freely once you really start to pile on the revs.
Flat out down Sutton Road’s main straight and tipping into the sweeping first bend feels not unlike the production car.
The noise, though, that's different, and there's more gravel thrown up from the sticky Dunlop race rubber (another control item), but the way it builds straight-line speed is also much like a 'street' 86.
Tip into the sweeper and the steering, unchanged from the production car mechanically but with an alcantara rimmed airbagless sports wheel, also feels like the showroom model.
But the way it gets through a corner, and the way it tenaciously holds a line, that's when you'll really feel the race set-up below. And the ride is firmer, for unrelenting on-track grip.
Where the standard 86 is set up to shake its tail into long controllable slides when cornering, the racecar fires through bends like a slot car.
And the relationship between steering and throttle inputs is a natural one - of course you can still step the rear out if you want. But this time around it takes dedicated effort, not the same casual shift of weight and liberal throttle application of the showroom version.
Brakes too get the Neal Bates going-over. And while the standard 86 GTS 'street' brakes held up even after a solid afternoon of firing around the Sutton Road circuit, you could smell the stress they were under.
No such signs of stress with the racecar. But instead of a gently yielding and highly controllable pedal, any brush of the brake pedal in the Racing Series 86 had you washing off speed like you'd thrown out an anchor.
And how good are they? While seated in the passenger seat beside Neal Bates, a mob of errant kangaroos, positioned behind the apex of that first high-speed sweeper, decided it was time to occupy the track.
At somewhere around 170 km/h a hard stop brought the 86 to an unstressed, but rib-crushingly fast standstill - a result I was more than happy with.
The changes between the 86 you can buy, and the one you will see racing around Winton, Sandown, and Bathurst might not be ground-breaking.
They’re just good commonsense changes that take an effective sports car and prepare it for the rigours of trackwork. If you were going to turn your own 86 into a circuit car, you’d likely make the same modifications.
The fun part will be watching a field of thirty-something cars (it will vary slightly from round to round) piloted by pro-drivers like Steven Johnson, Leanne Tander, and Glenn Seton, go doorhandle to doorhandle with a group of high-level amateurs.
Control cars, all developed to be identical, but hardly lacking for performance pedigree, should see Australia’s best new drivers shine - and right in front of the V8 Supercar team managers who may well provide them with their next career move.
What a shame I've missed a spot in this year's line-up.