Artists have long loved the way a blank canvas can be plotted with creative thought. While the 2018 Toyota 86 GT Performance Pack is not awaiting a spray can or two, it really is – quite literally when ordered in white – one bare two-door coupe.
Especially in the entry 86 GT model grade bereft of any standard equipment, this Toyota delivers drivers a low and sporty rear-wheel drive platform, a six-speed manual transmission, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel. And that’s about it.
Toyota usually leaves owners to fill in the blanks, however, with a brake upgrade here and a wheel/tyre package there, acknowledging that a driving enthusiast’s wants and needs are likely to be unique – some nuanced, others never-ending.
Not this time, though. Replacing last year’s orange-only 86 Limited Edition (LE), Toyota has coalesced that model’s unique 17-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brake package and Sachs damper upgrade into a new optional Performance Pack available even on this 86 GT. Call it three splashes of paint onto the canvas, then.
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $34,340g, (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 152kW/212Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.8 l/100km | Tested: 10.0 l/100km
It might be difficult to believe, but this original-generation Toyota 86 first launched in 2012, making it six years old this year. It has been facelifted since, arriving in 2016 with a new grille and tail-lights, extra body strengthening, a recalibrated electronic stability control (ESC), more forgiving suspension and a slight power boost.
But that original $29,990 plus on-road costs pricetag is no more, and a new-for-2018 update also includes standard satellite navigation with ToyotaLink apps connectivity for the first time, raising the 86 GT sticker by another $550 to $31,440 (plus orc).
That infotainment update also coincides with the launch of this Performance Pack priced as a $2900 extra-cost option. Toyota boasts of “supreme stopping power” and dampers that “boost handling and responsiveness” for that considerable premium.
However, considering that last year’s 86 LE cost $41,490 (plus orc), and this 86 GT Performance Pack totals $34,340 (plus orc) with all of its mechanical components, could this be the driver’s car bargain of the century and best 86 yet?
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, remote central locking, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite navigation, USB input and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None
Toyota’s 86 GT Performance Pack undercuts last year’s 86 LE by $7150, but you do lose a stack of equipment in the process. Although mechanically identical, gone are keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather/Alcantara front seats, dual-zone climate control, steering wheel audio buttons, plus a colour trip computer screen.
If that sounds desirable, at least, a new 86 GTS Performance Pack adds it back in from $38,840 (plus orc) – or $4500 more than this 86 GT Performance Pack.
While there may be a world of difference between this Toyota costing almost $35K compared with nearly $40K, this cheaper model really does feel barren inside. Beyond the equipment differences to the pricier model, gone too are the suede inserts on the dashboard, the chrome doorhandles and piano-black trim.
It’s an all-grey affair, complete with black cloth seat trim and clacky manual air-conditioning controls from a Toyota HiAce. While nav and a digital speedometer are now standard for the first time, the 6.1-inch centre touchscreen’s slow response rate and low resolution graphics are disappointing whatever the price.
Yet don’t write the 86 GT off just yet.
Indeed, this Toyota as a base model grade presents as a brilliant antidote to the modern world where a thin veneer of luxury and success are apparently highly rated.
Spartan this 86 might be, but the seats are superb, with the sort of low driving position that no similarly priced hot hatchback such as a Volkswagen Polo GTI can match – and nor can a Mazda MX-5 roadster with its narrow and flat front chairs.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel and manual shifter likewise fall perfectly to each hand. Beyond the lack of garnish on the plastics, quality is superb with this Japanese-built model, right down to the solid vertical door grabs.
There are two back seats, each lacking in legroom but both with a base nicely tilted to afford great under-thigh support, while the backrest can fold to allow longer items to be threaded through the competitively sized boot compartment. Call this coupe a halfway house between the practicality of a hatchback and tightness of a roadster.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 152kW/212Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: six-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Keeping with the virginal-white, blank canvas theme, this 86 GT Performance Pack arrived with just 500 kilometres on its odometer. And so it must be raised up-front that the 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder petrol engine – already lacking in outright performance – certainly felt tighter and more restricted than in last year’s 86 LE.
Rather than requiring a turbocharger, which many enthusiasts demand is needed, it is more essential that the next-generation 86 winds the weight scales under 1200kg, because currently it’s much heavier than an MX-5 with the same-sized engine.
The four-cylinder feels dead in the low range, lethargic in the mid-range and spirited above 5000rpm towards its 7800rpm cut-out. That’s perhaps unsurprising given that 212Nm of torque is made from 6400rpm until 6800rpm, and 152kW of power is developed at a screaming 7000rpm.
Just look at the price, though. The 86 continues to have just enough performance to be fun, without the sort of spritely punch of a 1.8-litre turbo Polo GTI, for example.
With that caveat out of the way, the GT can draw its ace card. For the money and whatever the bodystyle of passenger car, there simply isn’t any better steering, ride, handling and braking to be found than with this Performance Pack optioned.
Flawlessly smooth yet sharp steering is immediately a highlight, whether around town or on the open road. Last year’s body rigidity and suspension revisions created a more accommodating coupe, but these dampers from ZF Sachs – a renowned German brand – mix compliance with control like never before.
Combine a new ESC tune with a superb Track mode, plus more grip from the Michelin Primacy HP 17-inch tyres – replacing the standard and soggy Yokohama Advans – and brilliant Brembo brakes, and digging into this coupe’s vast handling abilities has never been more fun.
Braking later means getting more weight over the dainty front-end than before, maximising turn-in grip. The rear gets lighter too, the damping allowing less roll than the standard car but with enough passive movement to encourage the driver to apply throttle and indulge in this coupe’s rear-wheel drive configuration.
Even the six-speed manual is a delight to row, while the throttle is at all times crisp.
Suddenly, standing start and overtaking performance deficits are a distant memory, though the fact that a driver only paid $35K for a level of dynamics approaching sports cars of double the price will conversely remain very memorable indeed.
ANCAP rating: N/A
Safety features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and three-stage ESC.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Average nine-month or 15,000km intervals, but at least the Toyota Service Advantage capped price program is cheap, at $180 each for the first four checks/three years’ worth.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A 2.0-litre MX-5 is lighter and spritelier, with a more playful chassis. It lacks that honed dynamic focus of the 86, but isn’t worse off for it. The nicer infotainment and cabin, however, are offset by the practical deficit of two seats and a small boot.
The BRZ, meanwhile, is just a more expensive twin to the 86 without the super affordable Performance Pack, while a Polo GTI adds dollops of refinement, performance, comfort and practicality – but minus the proper sports coupe driving position and (rear-wheel drive) dynamics.
- Mazda MX-5
- Subaru BRZ
- Volkswagen Polo GTI
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We know from experience that this factory-fresh 86 GT Performance Pack engine will free up over time. And with just a touch extra punch and flexibility to meet the upgraded brakes and chassis, this really is a near-flawless way of spending $35K.
There’s no hiding the reality of a sparse cabin, and a lack of both low-rev urge and outright speed. However, every negative is far outweighed by positives that don’t merely edge ahead of similarly priced rivals, but front-up to high-priced sports cars.
From the driving position, to the manual shift, to the steering, ride and handling, the brakes and body control, plus the ESC calibration, this is high-end sports car engineering for top-end Corolla coin.
It might not be quite a work of art, then, but the addition of this Performance Pack helps frame a prettier picture for Toyota 86-buying enthusiasts than ever before.
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