In front of an estimated 20,000 screaming fans at Fuji Speedway, 60 miles south of Tokyo, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda drove the sharp-looking Toyota 86 down the mile-long straightaway, passed a dozen high profile Toyota and Lexus race cars parked on the grid, and pulled up in front of the world’s media before announcing the all-new model. Few cars are accorded such lavish unveilings. In fact, few cars are worthy of such exaltation. This is one of those cars.
As Toyoda apologized for keeping the motoring public waiting for the car’s launch, he said, “All car lovers have been waiting for this kind of car.” Known for his hands-on developmental work and stints behind the wheel of the Lexus LFA in the Nurburgring 24-hour race, Toyoda poured his heart out to the expectant crowd. “For the last 10 years, I have been a part of the development of this car, so I really feel like my baby is coming out.”
Gone is the concept car’s name, FT-86, replaced by the simple number 86, at least in Japan — in Europe, it will be called the GT 86, and its American-market name is not yet known. With design inspired by the Toyota 2000GT from the 1960s and more recently, the early 1980s rear-wheel drive drifting sensation Corolla Levin AE86 from which the 86 takes its name, the new coupe was borne out of an intriguing joint development project between Toyota and Subaru.
Without going into too much detail, the 86’s exterior styling and product planning (bankrolling) was provided by Toyota, while Subaru supplied most of the bits –- the chassis, the engine, the transmission, brakes and suspension — that make the car so much fun to drive. Toyota offered D4S direct injection engine technology that makes Subaru’s revised 2.0-liter boxer engine cleaner and more fuel efficient, aspects that needed attention. Generating a beefy 200 hp at 7000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 6600 rpm, the 86 gets 30 more horses than the Mazda MX-5, its main Japanese rival.
The secret to the Toyota’s driver thrills lie in the world-first use of a boxer engine in a front-engine/rear-drive layout with a choice of Subaru Impreza-inspired Aisin six-speed manual or six-speed automatic flappy paddles. The 86 is a two-plus-two, but don’t expect to get anyone over 5’7” in the back seat. Meanwhile, the supportive and comfortable driver’s seat will accomodate folk up to 6’3” without problems. Pedal positions are perfectly set, and visibility is good all round.
Taking off on our allotted three test laps of the short course at Fuji, we are delighted to hear and feel strong Subaru flavor burbling its way through the cabin. The naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine delivers healthy dollops of torque through the bottom to mid-range, but could use an extra tweak at the top end. On the tarmac, the 86 feels light but firmly planted, its ride firm but not harsh. Turn-in is sharp and accurate. Body roll in minimal, thanks partly to the engine’s low center of gravity. Tire grip levels are higher than expected, with a slight tendency to understeer.
Since the 86 was developed to be a reasonably priced sports coupe with serious drifting and racing capabilities, we switch off the VSC and traction control units to see what would happen. After dabbing the firm disc brakes to tuck the nose into a tight left-hander while holding 5000 rpms in second, the initial hint of understeer is replaced by a welcome serve of tail action that requires an instant dose of opposite lock to control the slide. But given our very limited time in the car, and the fact that a professional racing driver even spun out once during the drive, we will reserve judgment on the car’s overall balance and whether a drift can be held for any length of time.
Toyota went on today about its (and Subaru’s) decision to build a lightweight sports car that avoided AWD, turbos, and sticky tires. The end result is a stunning first step: This car is a blast to drive and will inject some much-needed adrenaline into an otherwise bland lineup…but we can’t help think that enthusiasts and tuners around the world will want more power –- and very soon — leading to bolted-on turbos. Why? Because the chassis can take more power. A lot more power.
The 86, and its brother the BRZ, are not just fun, rear-drive coupes powered by the same boxer engine. This joint venture has added a fun car to Toyota’s range while injecting some rear-drive spice and variety to Subaru’s AWD lineup. But more than that, these two cars will make the world stand up and take notice that Japan has not forgotten how to make a great driver’s car that looks the part and does not break the bank.
Source: Toyota, http://www.motortrend.com
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