Say Toyota and words such as solid, reliable, good value spring to mind, not sexy and desirable - but that has all changed with the arrival of the Toyota 86, the prettiest, affordable two-seater hard top sports car to arrive in this country for a long, long time.
Unleach your inner Schumie...
Not only is it drop dead pretty, but it squirts off the mark enthusiastically and it clings to the tarmac as though it's nailed to the ground. It is probably the best-handling sportscar money can buy in this country in the R300,000 price range.
In reality it is not red-hot fast and it poses no real threat to the boy racer hot hatches gang, but it's the way it gets up to speed and the way it handles that makes the 86 such a delightful, honest driver's car.
Under its sleek, tapering bonnet power is produced by a 2-litre naturally-aspirated boxer engine developed for Toyota by partner Subaru and one cannot help but wonder how it would boost performance figures if it is whipped by a turbocharger.
As it stands the engine kicks out 147kW 205Nm, which is good enough for a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 226km/h, but short of the Golf GTi's 155kW and 280Nm, 0-100km/h of 6.9 seconds and a top speed of 240km/h. The 86 (pronounced eight six NOT eighty-six) retails at R298,500-R346,500 and the GTi costs R341,000-R389,600. The sporty Volksie has a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine and is available with six-speed manual and DSG. The 86 also has a six-speed box and is available in automatic or manual.
The engine kicks out 147kW 205Nm, which is good enough for a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 226km/h.
But although the VW is probably the finest hot hatch on the market and beats the 86 on most fronts on paper it runs a distant second in the looks department. But then, so do most other cars on the road...
Such as been the excitement at the arrival of the 86 that every single car in the first batch were sold out immediately and at the last count there was a waiting list way in excess of 1,000 keen buyers.
The 86 was launched in this country in August and I recently got to drive the manual model, which was so much fun that I considered hi-jacking the car and fleeing into the deep interior of the Karoo, or Namaqualand so that I can drive and play with it until Toyota or the police catch up with me.
Down memory lane
But common sense, and my wife's disciplinary finger, prevailed so I made the beautiful rural roads of the Boland my playground and what fun I had.... Music turned on loud, the fun pedal drilled to the mat and just me and the 86, which brought back sweet memories of '60s classics in my life such as MGB, Austin-Healy, Alfa 1750 GTV and Dart Flamingo.
The cabin is handsomely decorated and in typical sports car fashion occupants sit low down.
The 86 puts power down via the back wheels, which certainly adds to the fun. This, along with its low, wide crouch, 53/47 weight distribution and choice of driving mode ( standard, 'unprotected', i.e. all nurse-maids given the day off, or sport style, which speeds up throttle response and quickens gear changes), high-revving engine (max power is at 6,400rpm but you can push the limit to about 7,300 or even a tad more) and its un-Toyota-like sharp steering are guaranteed to put a big smile on your dial.
The one rather strange quirk of this eye-catcher is the standard tyres in which the attractive alloys are wrapped. The reason for this is that the Japanese Masters dictate that this be done to add to the car's natural fun feel or what they call 'affordable fun'. They might have a point but if I ever bought an 86 the first thing I would do is to fit fat takkies which will look better and give the 86 even more grip (our test car was fitted with larger 17-inch Michelins).
It needs to shout a bit
While I am at it, I would also get an expert to fiddle with the aural concert at the back because this is a car that should thunder and shout, not whisper like some sedate yummy mummy's school taxi.
The 86 puts power down via the back wheels, which certainly adds to the fun.
But a little word of warning, when you feel like growing horns and decide to turn off all the helping hands you better be wide awake because this little beast will shake you out of the saddle quite quickly if you wave the whip about. Over-ride experience and common sense and you can run out of road quite spectacularly, particularly if the surface is uneven, because the back does lighten up and is keen to want to whip around.
The cabin is handsomely decorated and in typical sports car fashion occupants sit low down... and forget about the back 'seats' they look pretty but they are pretty impractical, designed for legless garden gnomes. The same goes for the boot where most of the space is taken up by a full-sized Michelin. But then sports cars have never been bought for their practicality, so the 86 is no exception...
The 86, known in Europe as the GT86, is Fast Fun with capital letters, yet it is also quite happy tootling along in congested traffic, not that anybody in his right mind would want to 'tootle along' in the 86. Fuel consumption (7.8 litres/100km in the combined cycle) and emissions of 181g/km won't make the polar bears tap dance but then very few zippy cars are by nature really good friends with polar bears.
Although the interior s not exactly luxurious, the wrap-around sports-style seats are comfortable (if a tad narrow) and the 86 does come with an onboard computer, a six-speaker, CD/MP3/USB/Aux sound system, seven airbags, ABS and vehicle stability control.
For an additional R31,000 you can add bigger wheels, dual zone climate control, HID headlights with LED strips and dual-zone climate control. Cough another R17,000 and you get an auto box.
Bottom line is this is an exceptionally cute, nifty and affordable sports car, destined to draw attention and keep Toyota sales staff smiling broadly for a long time. If you want one you better jump because Toyota SA has been limited to only 800 cars this year.
Toyota 86 hits the tarmac
Toyota GT86 customers test drive - What Car?
The Toyota FT-86, GT-86, Scion FRS - CHRIS HARRIS ON CARS
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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