OPINION: Toyota's new 86 sports car is proving a hit in New Zealand in more ways than one, writes Rob Maetzig.
It seems the new Toyota 86 sports car can't keep itself away from the public eye.
Only a few short weeks after being the subject of all sorts of media controversy over whether it is a suitable car for little old ladies to drive, the car has hit the news again.
This time it is because a bright-red example was badly damaged while being taken out for a test spin on the outskirts of Christchurch.
It seems the person behind the wheel took the word spin a little too literally, and speared off the road.
End result No 1: the first seriously crashed 86 in New Zealand.
End result No 2: photographs of the crashed car flooding on to various Internet sites.
You wouldn't expect this sort of reaction to a crashed Corolla, would you? It just goes to show how much public interest this new Toyota has created during its very short career, and for good reason too.
The 86 is such an interesting car. It is of a design that harks back to the heady days when Toyota last produced sports cars, it is powered by a horizontally opposed engine that is the result of a collaboration between Toyota and Subaru, and those in the know will be aware that it is getting rave reviews all over the world.
Those in the know will also be aware that you can buy three versions of the Toyota 86 in New Zealand. There's the entry 86, which retails for $41,986 with manual and $42,986 with automatic, a higher-specification GT86 that costs $46,986 with manual and $47,986 with automatic, and a limited-edition Toyota Racing Development TRD86 version, which costs $63,486 with manual and $64,486 with automatic.
Most interest centres around the TRD model. Immediately after the media launch of the 86 recently, yours truly caused a stir when he reported that one of the first to order a TRD was a 72-year-old lady from New Plymouth, who put down a deposit on the car without even seeing one. The controversy was all over suggestions from another journalist that it was inappropriate for people of her age to own such sporty product.
Now I don't know whether it was by design or just good luck, but immediately after that media event, Toyota New Zealand sent me a TRD to drive for a few days.
After I had finished with it, the New Plymouth dealership took the 72-year-old out for a spin in it and she loved it, sporting a huge smile when she climbed out of the car at the end of it all. Now, another New Plymouth lady in her veteran years has also ordered a TRD. It seems her last new vehicle purchase was an MR2, and she wanted another Toyota sports car.
After my few days behind the wheel of this vehicle, all I can say is that the Taranaki ladies are getting something rather special.
These TRD86 versions are prepared at Toyota New Zealand's Thames plant, and only 20 of them are initially being created. That makes them so limited edition that not only will each of them require their own low-volume-vehicle certification, but their owners will receive a Certificate of Authenticity signed by Toyota New Zealand's chief executive, Alistair Davis.
Toyota Racing Development is the in-house tuning shop for all Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars, just like the likes of Ralliart are for Mitsubishi, and STi for Subaru.
At Thames, standard 86 and 86GT models are fitted with all sorts of TRD parts. Everything from a front bumper spoiler, side skirts and rear diffuser are fitted to the exterior, wheels go up in size to 18-inch and are fitted with 40-series tyres, and other TRD bits and pieces include a red push-button start, TRD key ring and radiator cap, and a TRD plate in the engine bay.
The car gets a high-response muffler kit with four exhaust tips, and brakes are uprated to a package supplied by Brembo.
Climb into the TRD and fire up the engine, and the first thing you notice is the exhaust note. It's raspy, thanks to the sporting exhaust system, and the sound gets even raspier once you move the six-speed manual into first and accelerate away.
The ride is also harder because of those big wheels shod with the 40-Series Michelin Pilot tyres, and the overall impression is that this 86TRD is not the sort of car to be tootled around town, and much prefers to be out on some open road and given its head. When it does that, it drives really well.
This coupe has a kerb weight of not much over 1220 kilograms, a 50-50 weight balance, and a low centre of gravity, thanks to the design of the boxer engine.
All that combines to present a vehicle that offers really pure sports motoring.
There are many other sports cars around that are more powerful than the 86, but this car's engine does develop 147 kilowatts of power, which gives it an excellent power-to-weight ratio of 120kW per tonne, and that contributes to a motoring experience that is something special.
It is not as if it is particularly fast, but I can't think of too many sports cars that will be capable of beating this model through the corners and bends. Really nice.
Being a flat four, the engine is able to be sited just 459mm from the ground, which is more than 20mm lower than most sports in-line engined cars, and that is what helps give the car its precise handling.
A low interior hip point of only 400mm from the ground lets those in the TRD fully appreciate all of that too. Climb into the car and settle behind the smallest steering wheel yet seen on any Toyota, flick the short-throw manual into first and head away, and you're soon into an enjoyable motoring experience.
The 86's exterior design pinches quite a few design cues from the Toyota 2000GT of the late 1960s, which in itself was the predecessor of products such as the Celica and Supra. The side window shape and the rear wheel arches are all inspired by the 2000GT, and it helps contribute to the aggressive-looking lines and, obviously, the TRD version looks the most aggressive of all.
Having been behind the wheel of one, I can just imagine the scene in New Plymouth when a couple of life-loving veteran women get the keys to their 86s. They're going to have a ball.
POWER PLANT: 2.0-litre direct-injected flat four-cylinder boxer engine, 147kW at 7000rpm, 205Nm at 6400-6600rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Rear-wheel-drive. As tested, six-speed manual transmission. Electric power-assisted steering. MacPherson strut front suspension, double wishbone setup at the rear.
HOW BIG: Length 4240mm, width 1775mm, height 1285mm, wheelbase 2570mm.
HOW MUCH: $68,486.
WHAT'S GOOD: Good looks, lovely handling capability, punchy engine.
WHAT'S NOT: It's a two-door coupe, so don't expect too much room in the back seats and boot.
OUR VERDICT: Have fun ladies!
- © Fairfax NZ News