New style, old school
So here’s a head-scratcher. A car designed to be so uncompromisingly driver-oriented gets evaluated over the course of a modest stretch on public roads, followed by an afternoon of wearing out its rear tyres at a Driftkhana. (For the uninitiated, which before the 86 launch included this writer: a gymkhana involves clocking the shortest time over a compact, tortuous course, usually in a parking area; a Driftkhana involves a similar course, driven by going as sideways as possible.)
It must be said that the 86 coped with both of these activities rather well.
Toyota’s new sporty coupé goes about its business in a refreshingly old-school, Honda S2000-sort-of-way. The recipe is disarmingly simple: lightweight aero body, superbly balanced chassis and healthy but not indecent power. It weighs a handy 1 239 kg, has a centre of gravity of 460 mm, and a 53:47 front:rear weight distribution.
And yet it seats four. At a list price of just under R300 000 it’s a serious threat to the hotter hatches out there.
Of course, the 86’s tech is anything but old school. You simply couldn’t squeeze those 147 kilowatts at 7 000 r/min out of the 2,0-litre Four without a range of tech wizardry, most notably the combination of a newly developed boxer engine with Toyota’s latest direct fuel injection system. Toyota’s D-4S system features separate twin injectors for direct or port injection, depending on engine speed.
A collaboration between Toyota and Subaru (the other make’s version is called the BRZ), the 86 is intended to be a car for the purist. Frontengined and rear-driven, with a 6-ratio gearbox, it doesn’t pretend to straddle any middle ground. This is a car made for seeking out the finest, unstraightest blacktop and then driving spiritedly along it. Swoop into a bend, and the 86 dives in eagerly. Feel the nose running wide because you are going a tiny bit too fast? Lift off the gas pedal – only a twitch, mind you – and the 86’s rear wheels nudge outwards, just enough, almost like it can read your mind. It responds to the driver’s bidding like few others.
How does it do in a straight line? It must be said that the 86 doesn’t provide the fireworks, the sound and fury of a big V engine. That said, the 2,0-litre boxer provides a healthy kick. We drove the automatic version first; on changeover to manual, my co-driver commented that they felt like two different cars – the manual being his preferred ride. Part of that, it seems, is that the auto damps out the characteristic opposed- Four growl (a “sound generator” boosts engine noise under full-throttle acceleration). I have to confess that I will sit on the fence with this one: I didn’t think that the auto suffered any significant dynamic disadvantages compared with the manual. One exception was that, when using the wheel-mounted shift paddles it seemed to be less “smart” than some other similar systems, sometimes failing to read the driver’s intentions and holding on to a gear or changing up at the optimum moment. Of course, that might be simply a matter of unfamiliarity, given our short exposure to the car.
Although the 86 is a car designed around the driver, it doesn’t skimp on the creature comforts and features. There’s a total of seven airbags: driver, passenger, side, curtain and driver kneebag; air-con; and top-notch sound system.
Toyota calls it the world’s only front-mounted horizontally opposed engine and rear-wheel drive package. But it’s not the first. Back in 1962 the two-cylinder boxer-engined Sports 800 made its debut at the Tokyo Motor show. Dainty and fuel-efficient, the Sports 800 was a hit on the endurance race circuit. Another source of inspiration: the Toyota 2000GT, of which just 337 were built. Designers worked on the 86 in the shadow of a 2000GT strategically placed to imbue their efforts with its spirit.
The 86 makes use of a logical concept with an intriguing name: Aero Sandwiching. What that involves is pressure from top, bottom and both sides – effectively sandwiching and stabilising the car both vertically and horizontally. There is apparently no need for excessive (and drag-impacting) downforce. The concave “pagoda” roof, reminiscent of the 1960s Mercedes-Benz SL, forms part of this flow-doctoring, which is mirrored by a matching underbody treatment. Drag coefficient is 0,27. Stabilising fins known as sakana (“fish” in Japanese), appear throughout the bodywork and are said to contribute additionally to lateral stability.
A vehicle centreline mark is located on the front upper edge of the dashboard, and its reflected image can be seen on the windscreen. It’s all designed to make positioning the car in the bends easier for the driver.
Music to your ears
Increasingly strict noise regulations are inimical to the sports car experience – on the inside, at least. So, in common with some other manufacturers, Toyota keeps it quiet on the outside, but sporty in the cabin. Intake pulses set a resonator vibing at certain frequencies, and that sound is piped into the interior.
Wallpaper > New on the Block (October 2012 Issue)