Toyota 86: five years hence
January 2017 sees the Toyota 86 (and its Subaru BRZ twin) celebrating five years, and still going strong.
The 86 holds a special place in my heart, as I was the first motoring journalist to try it in Subic. I remember that night clearly: we had arrived in Subic at 10 p.m. five years ago in April, a few months after the 86 was launched worldwide.
I then begged the Toyota PR people if I could take the 86 out for a spin just so I could familiarize myself. I was so insistent, that Dax Avenido, who was then with Toyota handling marketing, PR and events, handed me the keys quite nervously and said “Botchi, be careful ha?”
It was a red Toyota 86, a manual version. Immediately after stepping in, I knew everything was just right: the seating position, the firmness of the controls, the heft of the steering, brakes and clutch pedals plus the long-travel accelerator pedal.
I immediately took it for a spin, went up the twistiest, darkest, greasiest and most undulating stretches of lacing tarmac around Subic Bay, all the way as far as the Naval Mag area where a lot of old tarmac rallies were held.
So many times I thought I’d lose it, so many times I thought I’d careen into oblivion (better I was dead than walk the long walk home in absolute shame, I thought) flying off a cliff.
Yes, those were stupid times. But gloriously fun times. Enzo Ferrari once said that he who dies in a racing car crash dies a glorious death.
The 86 then was no racing car, and neither was I in a race, but somehow, I felt I could relate to the old man.
Mission accomplished for Toyota, and my curiosity was sated. Thankfully, I was still alive.
A few months after, Subaru flew us to Indonesia and I got to try the BRZ, this time in a tiny slalom track somewhere in Jakarta, though not as fast and furious. It was fun nonetheless.
Fast forward five years, and now the big question is, was the 86 successful in its brief? Toyota and Subaru envisioned the 86/BRZ twins to be affordable RWD sports cars that captured the essence of driving purity and enjoyment.
In that regard, the 86/BRZ definitely did. There’s also a massive cult following for the 86/BRZ in the aftermarket/tuning scene. From basic bolt-on performance parts, to turbo/supercharger kits, even engine swaps, to endless suspension, wheel-and-tire upgrades, and body-kits, from mild to simply mind-boggling.
But success also means impressive sales figures. Therein lay the problem. In a modern society filled with people who hunger for instant gratification, the 86 was a mixed bag. So many people bought them because they were the in-thing. Yet a few months, or a year after, sold them because nobody wanted what was ultimately a compromised, slow (in objective terms versus say, a Subaru WRX, an STI, or a Hyundai’s Genesis V6 or 2.0 Turbo) and tricky (on the limit, versus a regular FWD or AWD car that this generation of drivers were reared in) sports car that had barely passable practicality.
But there are a strong few who remain dedicated to the 86/BRZ platform, and continue to enjoy driving it, usually on weekends, on the track, and of course enjoying the fellowship the car brings with it amongst its fans.
Recently, I had the rare chance to sample the Toyota 86, back to back, starting with a manual, followed by an automatic. Changes were modest: a new steering wheel and touchscreen infotainment system plus revised instrument cluster.
On the exterior, new wheels, new LED head and tail lights, plus new front and rear bumpers signal the differences.
Unfortunately, the local units did not get the upgraded 5 hp bump in power; it’s still at the same 200 hp and 205 Nm of torque.
Interestingly, the suspension feels different, firmer with better rebound control. Toyota’s local product planning only said this: the suspension has a different part number from the old model, yet are physically interchangeable from the old and new models.
Toyota offered no official statement about any suspension revisions though.
For city use, the 86 is tough. The doors need a wide berth to get in and out easily. The low roof is torture to my knees when getting in and out. And the long nose and relatively low ride height means a lot of steep ramps are sphincter tightening moments.
The clutch on the manual is about the same as that of a BMW M Car or Porsche, and shifting through the gears is just as satisfying.
Otherwise, both 86s were absolutely perfect. These are, after all, sports cars—ideally meant as a second or third car, and not as an everyday car.
Fuel consumption is a very decent 8 km/liter in the city for both manual and automatic, and close to 12 km/liter on the highway going down south. If you drive alone most of the time, the 86 makes for a good option as a daily driver with lots of style and pizazz.
On winding roads, the 86 feels like it’s on your side, gently reminding you that you can lean on it a little harder, push on just a wee bit more, brake a little later, and blip/heel-tow downshift because it feels great to do so.
Driving the 86, and cars of the same vein, should always be an occasion in itself. I think a lot of people fail to see this.
It’s not about mad crazy power, lurid tail slides, and crazy burnouts; it’s about finesse, driving purity, and slowly but surely pushing ourselves (and the 86) beyond the limit.
It’s a car you and I can truly grow old with, as our skills improve, the 86 will adapt.
I still want one, after all these years. Thankfully, so does the missus. And the dog. They want an automatic though. Oh well, can’t have everything.
Do you still find yourself wanting an 86?