2012 Toyota 86 First Drive Review Photo:
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Tony O'Kane | Jun, 05 2012 | 53 Comments




After what seems an eternity, Toyota’s much-hyped 86 is finally here.

We’ve driven it, we’ve drifted it and we declare it to be good - very good. What’s more, with a starting price of $29,990 it is without doubt the performance-bargain of the decade.

For less than the price of a high-grade Corolla, Toyota will sell you a bona-fide sports car. One that’s not just agile and responsive, but absolutely filled with character.

That Toyota was able to resist pricing the entry-grade 86 GT above the $30k mark is commendable, but the fact that the full-fruit 86 GTS starts from $35,490 is downright incredible.

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Prior to the 86’s arrival, the cheapest car that could deliver the same kind of RWD thrills was the Mazda MX-5, which is hardly cheap, given its $44,265 starting price.

The 86 is just as enjoyable to drive as the Mazda - if not more so - has two more seats and a larger boot, yet is nearly $15k cheaper.

In that context, the word “bargain” is something of an understatement.

But the 86 isn’t just about compelling value, it’s about the drive. Toyota invited us to Canberra to spend a day behind the wheel of its newest sports car, and we came away thoroughly impressed.


The Interior

You sit low in the 86, real low.

Your legs stretch out ahead into the deep footwells, the steering wheel (Toyota’s smallest) points straight at your chest and the door trims are right at your shoulder.

It’s not a wide cabin, and the gear lever falls close to hand - as it should in a sports car. You don’t feel hemmed-in though, and there’s plenty of elbow room and headroom.

With reach and rake adjustment to the steering column, it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel.

Everything conveys a sense of sportiness, of inherent athleticism. The tachometer dominates the instrument cluster, there’s no elbow-impeding covered storage behind the gearlever and the short-throw handbrake is positioned close to the shifter.

In a nod to the 86’s sports car lineage, Toyota also brought a vintage 1967 2000GT to the 86 launch and, like the 86’s cockpit, the 2000GT’s driving position is low-slung, snug and very driver-focused.

Yes, in the 86 there are some horribly misaligned panel gaps in the dashboard and no buttons on the steering wheel. But Toyota will no doubt attend to the former, and the presence of the latter would just get in the way when spinning the wheel between its lock-stops.

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There are other genuine negatives - depending on your plans for the car.

The back seats are cramped, and this 5’8” correspondent wasn’t able to straighten his neck, thanks to the slope of the rear glass. They’re strictly for occasional use by children and (very) small adults.

The wide door sills can also be a challenge to get over - perhaps not easily negotiated if wearing a skirt (or a kilt).

However, we suspect most enthusiasts would be happy enough to live with these shortcomings.


On The Road

For the road drive, we strapped ourselves into a base model 86 GT manual.

In our opinion, it’s the most appealing package. Besides its bargain-bin pricing, the car isn’t burdened by the extra weight of xenon headlamps, sat-nav and heated seats, yet it still comes with the same engine and driveline set up as the GTS.

That engine, by the way, is a free-spinning unit that begs to be wrung hard.

Derived from the Impreza’s FB20 2.0 litre boxer four, the 86’s FA20 four-pot has the same internal dimensions but kicks out more power (147kW) and more torque (205Nm) thanks to a set of Yamaha-designed heads with both port and direct injection.

It produces peak power at 7000rpm, 450rpm shy of the rev-cut, and peak torque only comes on stream at 6400rpm.

Around Canberra’s suburbs, the 86 feels sedate. Low-rpm response is not its strong suit, and it’s better to leave the six-speed manual in a lower gear than you normally would.

It’s fairly quiet though, with the characteristic boxer rumble being dialed out by some clever exhaust engineering.

Get clear of suburbia, and the 86 comes into its own. Use the short-throw shifter (one of the best around), drop back to second, then floor it.

Power builds in a linear fashion with a rising throaty note as revs climb. Keep more than 4000rpm on the dial and the boxer motor is in its sweet spot. Any less and progress is slow.

It’s no rocket ship in a straight line. The 86 needs a string of corners to show off its true capabilities, and Canberra’s geography was happy to provide several sinuous passes for us to sample.

The steering is wonderfully direct, and has an accuracy that’s hard to find in modern cars. For an electrically-assisted system, it transmits decent feedback with great on-centre feel. And the fast rack ratio (13:1) makes it easy to quickly wind on lock.

The 86’s nose tracks into corners with a minimum of bodyroll, and with stability control deactivated the tail can be provoked loose with a judicious squeeze of the throttle.

The standard Yokohama Db tyres don’t give much grip, but that actually makes the 86 a better drive. After all, it means you can have more fun at slower (and thus safer) speeds.

Most importantly though, the 86’s inherent chassis balance makes it easy to control a slide, and to feel the onset of traction loss.

The suspension tune is, in a word, brilliant. The base 86 GT is fitted with a set of anemic-looking 16-inch alloys, but we found the ride quality on those taller-sidewalled tyres to be near-on perfect.

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Ride comfort on choppy roads is excellent, but it’s not to the detriment of cornering performance.

In fact, we felt the addition of 17-inch wheels would spoil the 86’s balance. If it were our money, we’d stick to the 16s.

The GT’s ventilated disc brakes are smaller, measuring 277mm at the front compared to the GTS’s 294mm rotors.

Brake feel is quite good though, with strong response, a linear increase in pedal pressure and no fade during our drive.

And the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals are all perfectly positioned for heel-toeing. Toyota has definitely paid much attention to detail with this one.


First Drive Verdict

It’s not just the pedal arrangement, nor the crisp handling, nor the slick and precise gearbox. With the Toyota 86, every component works in concert to do just one thing - excite the driver.

Tetsuya Tada, chief designer of the 86, is an enthusiast with intimate knowledge of how a sports car is meant to feel. After having driven the 86, his influence is obvious. This is a tremendously enjoyable car.

Toyota didn’t tell us the pricing before we embarked on our road drive - they saved that bombshell for later.

It was a shrewd move, for throughout the drive we speculated that a mid-$30k pricetag would be reasonable for the GT. To hear that $29,990 retail price was a very pleasant surprise.

The arrival of the Toyota 86 will have a profound effect on the performance car landscape. It’s bound to steal significant market share from the current crop of hot hatches.

When you can have a vehicle that’s more stylish and more fun to drive than a Golf GTI - for similar money to a Polo GTI - how could you go past the Toyota 86?

That’s right. You can’t.

Stay tuned for our on-track assessment of the Toyota 86’s dynamic capabilities. There’s handbrake turns, drifting, plenty of apex-kissing and loads of high-rpm action. If you’re an enthusiast, you won’t want to miss it.



  • 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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