Ryan Bubear gets his paws on the Toyota 86 High six-speed manual...
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It's no secret. These days, cars in general are ridiculously expensive.
Want a bog-standard family sedan with a decent badge glued to the bonnet? Best you sell your first-born daughter. And look into hawking one of your kidneys for good measure, just to cover the first month's insurance.
And don't even try comparing overseas car prices to our own — the depressing realisation that the price-tags attached to most vehicles in South Africa are massively over-inflated (thanks mainly to those nasty government import duties) will only make you miss your recently sold daughter that much more.
Yet, somehow, Toyota has managed to price the 86 — which, as it turns out, is a rather special sports car — from under R300k. That's tremendous value for money. To put it in perspective, consider this: you'd pay around that much for a reasonably well-specced (yet decidedly dull) Corolla or Jetta.
In the UK, prices start at £25 000, which translates to about R350 000 at the current exchange rate. Yes, the cheapest British 86 (or GT86, as they call it) boasts a beefier trim-level, but even SA's most expensive variant is cheaper still. It's almost unheard of.
But enough of the numbers. What about the actual car? Bluntly, the Toyota 86 lives up to the extensive hype. It's a magnificently fun-to-drive, great-to-look-at vehicle, with an affordable price-tag. In the market for a hottish hatch? For that sort of money you could have an actual sports car instead — free-revving naturally aspirated engine in the front, limited slip differential, and driven wheels at the back.
The low-mounted 2.0-litre flat-four — seemingly Subaru's main contribution to the project — is an absolute gem. It feels, sounds, and responds in a distinctly Subaru-ish manner. Peak power of 147kW arrives at a lofty 7000rpm — which means it does its best work at high revs — while 205Nm is available between 6400 and 6600rpm. It pulls cleanly and the exhaust note from the large-bore twin-exit tailpipes is surprisingly muted, allowing the boxer soundtrack to take centre stage as the needle hustles towards the 7400rpm redline. Toyota reckons it's good for 7.8 litres per 100km (for the record, we managed a respectable 9.0).
The six-speed manual gearbox features a delightfully short and precise throw. It has a sturdy feel without being clunky and matches the boxer's character well — each gear falling into place with a satisfyingly solid sensation.
As good as the engine is, those expecting the 86's straight-line speed to match its visual verve may be left feeling like a teenage boy who finds out his girlfriend's been wearing a Wonderbra all along — a touch disappointed. It's by no means slow — taking around 7.6 seconds to complete the obligatory 0-100km/h dash — but comparisons to the popular turbocharged hot hatches are inevitable.
Bring on the bends
But the Toyota 86 wasn't conceived to be driven in a mere straight line. No, the true fun is to be had in the corners. With an extremely low centre of gravity, an ass-to-grass seating position (the driver's hip-point is an almost comical 400mm from the tarmac), and the rigidity of a true Englishman's upper lip, the 86 handles like it's on rails, and body-roll is virtually imperceptible. It'll happily kick its tail out too, if that's what you’re into... although I didn't spend too much time in the most extreme of the three VSC modes, considering the fact that most people don't travel to work in a cloud of oversteer-induced tyre-smoke. But happily, there's more than enough power to take advantage of the superb chassis.
On normal surfaces, the front MacPherson strut and rear double wishbone suspension systems provide an unexpectedly comfortable ride. On severely pitted tarmac, however, the suspension is less forgiving, with each imperfection in the road amplified to make your jiggly bits, well, jolly well jiggle. But if your daily drive involves at least average surfaces, the 86 belies its sporty nature and provides higher comfort levels than some hot hatches.
The steering is positively meaty. It feels natural and direct and encourages you to attack corners with more bravery than you probably should. The three-spoke steering wheel itself is refreshingly simple — it's tiny (measuring just 365mm) and devoid of the multitude of buttons and switches that plague most modern cars. Its purpose is singular.
We tested an 86 High six-speed manual (about R31k pricier than the entry-level model. A six-speed automatic with shift paddles is also available), which gets 17-inch alloys, automatic HID headlamps (with LEDs), frameless rear-view mirror, digital speedo read-out, cruise control, keyless entry/push-button start, and automatic climate control. The High model also benefits from excellent body-hugging heated leather/Alcantara front seats.
The cabin, even of the range-topper, is not at all flashy, but features a number of nice touches: carbon-effect trim, red upholstery stitching, and aviation-style climate control switches among them. The instrument cluster sports an oversized white-faced tachometer, which is flanked by a dark-faced speedometer and fuel gauge. The only aspect that feels slightly out of place is the seemingly out-of-date sound system fascia. A minor complaint, though.
The single area in which the 86 can be unequivocally faulted is space. For driver and front passenger, there's plenty (even headroom is decent, thanks to the low seating position), but the back seats are utterly pointless. The two tiny rear bench buckets have the sort of legroom that'd make your anorexic friends feel fat and your midget mates feel cramped. Boot space, too, is compromised, with an uncovered full-size spare poking up through the centre of the floor.
But the Toyota 86 isn't trying to be a people-carrier or a luggage-lugger. It isn't angling for the best-of-both-worlds or any sort of compromise between family car and sporty fun. It's pure. It's involving. And above all else, it's fun.
The 86 is Toyota's most exciting vehicle in years. It turns heads, handles impeccably, is truly engaging to drive, and best of all feels like a far more expensive machine than it actually is.
It is almost certainly the best value-for-money sports car on the market today.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.