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June 21, 2012

First Drive: 2012 Toyota 86

Photos by Ulysses Ang

Upon his appointment as Toyota Motor Corporation CEO, Akio Toyoda has one goal: make Toyota fun-to-drive once again. As the founder’s grandson, Akio-san knows that one vital ingredient to make this dream a reality is to create an affordable and spirited sports car. Before the birth of the 86, it was puzzling that Toyota—being the world’s largest automaker, didn’t have a single sports car in its line-up. The absence was made even more obvious given the carmaker’s illustrious past: Toyota Sports 800, 2000GT, Celica, MR2, and Supra. Now, after years of anticipation and excitement, the long wait is over as the company has introduced a new addition to its line-up; one that finally re-introduces a legend: the Toyota 86 sports car.

The name “86” or Hachi-Roku in Japanese is highly significant for Toyota as it refers to a series of affordable, simple yet excellent coupes sold from 1983 to 1987 (AE86). By reviving this iconic name, Toyota is sending a clear signal that the new 86 is built upon the carmaker’s expertise in engineering, innovation, and racing heritage.

For a day, the Subic International Airport was transformed into Area 86—a place where fun and excitement rules. And upon seeing the pièce de résistance, you know Toyota’s got it right. From the side, the 86 borrows its shape from the 2000GT with the long, powerful hood and arrow-shaped profile. The front features a low and aggressive bumper with pronounced wheel arches while at the back, a trapezoidal-shaped bumper with unique tail lamps and exposed twin exhaust pipes lend it a stunning and dramatic touch. As sexy as the 86 is, it’s designed to cut the wind as well. It has a 0.27 co-efficient of drag thanks to novel touches like a pagoda roof layout, a built-in spoiler on the trunk lid and a functional rear diffuser. The Toyota 86 is simple, purposeful yet inherently muscular.

Stepping inside, the 86 features a design matched with both form and function. Everything inside is put there to induce driving fun. Despite the low-slung seating position, the 86’s sight lines and surfaces have been shaped to specifically let the driver identify where each corner of the vehicle is at. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is the smallest one in the Toyota line-up and features a meaty thickness for optimal grip. The large gauges keep the driver involved of the engine details while a shift light indicator help facilitate precise shifting. The black interior is forward and business-like, offset neatly by red stitch and highlights on the steering wheel, door trim, and seats. Though the aural delight is supposed to come from the engine, the 86 does have a proper integrated audio system with a USB/auxiliary input as well as six speakers. The Toyota 86 features a 2+2 seating configuration, but it must be said that it’s hard to find anyone who’ll fit in the backseat easily. Thankfully, it can be folded flat, allowing the 86 to have enough luggage space to fit a set of four wheels and alloys—perfect for the occasional track day.

And the Toyota 86 has the perfect ingredients to make it the perfect track day weapon. First, Toyota teams up with Subaru in developing an all-new horizontally opposed engine (4U-GSE). This engine incorporates Subaru’s low-mounted block and heads with Toyota’s direct-injection (D-4S) technology. The result is 200 horsepower, 205 Nm of torque and most important: a very low center of gravity. Second, the power is pushed through the pavement by a newly developed limited-slip differential allowing the 86 to achieve extraordinary balance and a planted feel. Third, the weight is kept at just 1,275 kilograms (for the automatic) meaning it’s nimble and agile in and out of any corner. Lastly, the weight distribution is at a nearly perfect 53:47 meaning it’s easy to coax the 86 to point in any direction.

Pushing the starter button just forward of the gearshift wakes the “boxer” engine to life. At idle, there’s a noticeable raspy note. Bleep the throttle and it’s replaced by a deep and pronounced bark. Despite the lack of a turbocharger, the combination of its lightweight chassis and free-revving engine pushes the Toyota 86 from a standstill to 100, 120, 130, and then 164 km/h on the tarmac straight in no time. It’s given that the 6-speed manual is excellent given the light-weight clutch and short, precise; the bigger surprise is how responsive the 6-speed automatic is. By flicking the minus paddle on the steering wheel, the 86 downshifts with urgency, allowing the Toyota 86 to hit and bounce on the rev limiter. The steering is light and precise, while the cornering prowess is telepathic. The 86 is playful yet obedient, allowing the tail to kick out and still be easy to catch by just a small correction of the wheel. The 86 comes with a variety of computer-aided driving aids such as Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and traction control, which for the brave, can be turned off.

As fun-to-drive as the Toyota 86, everyone is stunned by its relative affordability: P 1,550,000 for the 6 M/T, P 1,650,000 for the 6 A/T, and P 1,875,000 for the 6 A/T Aero which adds a wrap-around body kit and a high-style rear spoiler. It’s available in seven colors including Satin White Pearl which adds P 15,000 to the purchase price.

Indeed, the 86 is a truly attainable sports car, a true incarnation of the AE86. Plus, given that it’s a Toyota, the 86 is bound to be ultra-reliable with low maintenance cost. If there’s one problem, it’s the lack of supply. The first batch of Toyota 86 is all spoken for, and the next batch is expected to arrive in early 2013. If the wait isn’t a problem, the Toyota 86 represents the new breed of Toyota—one that makes the brand truly exciting, desirable, and fun-to-drive. Toyota has done it right with the 86, and there’s without a doubt that with every happy 86 driver out there, Akio-san’s grandfather is looking down, smiling too.

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