It’s funny how, to those who really love them, cars take on a human form. There exist some that are toned, taut athletes. That one can see breathing even at idle, their muscles rippling as the intake of oxygen energises body, mind and soul.
The Toyota 86 is one such car.
And yes, it runs, this athlete. Not in the way that it’ll win the 100m sprint – with a 0-100 km/h time of 7,6 seconds there are far less athletic cars that could outpace it in a straight line – but in the way that it’ll enable you to complete the triathlon in a top position and still leave you asking for more.
That’s the point of the 86 – it’s not meant to be the fastest in a straight line; it’s meant to make itself one with the driver, heightening his senses and raising his adrenaline as man and machine tie bends together with tight efficiency.
But, not all roads nor all journeys are equal – the spectacular roads in and around Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route (that link the towns of Sabie, Hazyview, Graskop, Pilgrims Rest and Lydenburg) perhaps being a little more equal than others. It was here where that athletic vigour within the 86 was made very clear to me. I’ve driven these roads many times before, usually in something a little more mundane. But the 86, as my chosen weapon, oh, baby…
Its naturally-aspirated, 2,0-litre, four-cylinder boxer engine produces 147 kW of power at 7 000 r/min and 205 Nm torque between 6 400 and 6 600 r/min; so you do need to make it scream for it to deliver a decent turn of pace. That’s no chore, though – it relishes being revved, pulling harder as the needle climbs with a real shunt in the back coming in above 5 500 r/min as you near the torque peak.
It’s also light, at 1 240 kg (split 53:47 front to rear), and with a 400 mm centre of gravity it’s drop-to-your-knees kinda’ low. Riding on simple yet impeccably-tuned MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension, it all adds up to superb chassis balance and an obedience to your every telepathic command. Quick, responsive electrically-assisted power steering; powerful brakes and a rifle-bolt action gearbox are your connection to the machine.
Perched in those perfect, supportive seats (heated, I might add) you view the sharp, chiselled cheekbones either side of the bonnet. The front wheels are directly below those, so you know exactly where you’re placing them as you enter each bend. The 17-inch 215/45 Michelines of the high-spec model grip superbly, you grin.
Push a little bit harder the next time and the front end dives into the bend, while the rear begins to wiggle around a bit. Over and over again, the motor screaming up to its 7 500 r/min maximum, you revel in that superb chassis balance, perfect driving position and those telepathic controls.
It makes you fizz with excitement yet, with the standard limited-slip diff making sure both rear wheels have the power they need, it’s all so controllable even in the most extreme of the three driving modes – all driver aids off.
This is what driving, real driving, is about. The 86 leaves you little time to focus on much else. I suppose that’s why they didn’t adorn it with a substantial sound system – the original models got a seemingly random unit from an old Hilux (eeugh) which has thankfully been replaced with a more modern Bluetooth-equipped touch-screen job. The interior, while sporty, could also benefit from being of a slightly higher quality. But again, you hardly notice any of this.
It’s also about as practical as sportscars come; there’s space for driver and passenger and a couple of bags on the back seats. The boot is tiny but, once again, this car wasn’t exactly designed to attack Sandton City. Thankfully, Toyota has also recently added a moulded boot mat – so you don’t anymore have to put what little shopping you can fit in it into the spare wheel…
So, robot racers, boulevard cruisers and pavement posers need not apply. If you enjoy driving, enjoy a car that comes alive and makes you feel alive no matter what the road or the journey, well, you are the person for whom the 86 was designed. And if you are shopping for a sporty little number, it should feature toward the top of your list.
Practicality? Any hot-hatchback, from a Ford Fiesta ST to an Opel Astra OPC, will trounce it. It’s even true; they’ll likely nail it in a sprint and perhaps, in some cases, match it for smiles. The 86 – that taught, toned, athlete – is for the driver who knows that the sprint can be so much more rewarding when you toss in a few hurdles here and there; who wants to feel his car breathing beneath him. At R354 600 with a four-year/60 000 km service plan and three-year/100 000 km warranty, you’d have to look at far more exotic machinery to find that elsewhere.