Toyota 86 is fun and affordable

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 07:01 30/08/2012

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With an historical connection such as this, this new sportscar can't miss.

Almost 30 years ago Toyota introduced its AE86 series Corolla Levin and Sprinter Trueno, a pair of lightweight front-engined and rear-driven cars that quickly became very popular for the spirited quality of their drives.

Their careers lasted until 1987 when they were replaced by front-drive versions. But even today these little cars are fondly remembered and - if you can get your hands on any - they remain popular for various motorsport events, particularly rallying and drifting.

Now there's a new 86, and once again it is a lightweight front-driven and rear-driven sportscar. But this time, instead of being powered by a conventional Toyota twin-cam engine, under its bonnet is a 2.0-litre boxer engine developed in conjunction with Subaru.

And why is the new vehicle called 86? Obviously there is that connection with the much-loved AE86, but it's also interesting to note that its boxer engine has a square bore and stroke setup of 86mm x 86mm.

Not only that, but Toyota New Zealand has chosen to make full marketing use of the two numbers by offering this new sports car with prices all ending in 86 - the entry model retails for $41,986 with manual and $42,986 with auto, a higher-specification GT86 costs $46,986 with manual and $47,986 with auto, and special edition Toyota Racing Development TRD86 models soon to arrive will cost $63,486 with manual and $64,486 with auto.

From a marketing perspective, a good idea. And another good idea was to have Australian motorsport ace Neal Bates in attendance at the New Zealand media launch of the Toyota 86 last week.

This guy can really drive, as he quickly proved by taking journoes on drifts around a specially-prepared carpark in Rotorua, followed later in the day with hot laps around the motorsport track at Hampton Downs.

He did it so well in the 86, too. This new coupe impresses as a beautiful car, with a kerb weight of as low as 1222kg, a 50:50 weight balance, and a low centre of gravity thanks to the design of the boxer engine, and as such it just yells out to be driven with spirit and enthusiasm.

In that respect the Toyota 86 can probably lay claim to offering the purest form of sports motoring since the launch of the original Mazda MX-5 more than two decades ago.

There are many other sports car 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 120 kW per tonne, and that contributes to a motoring experience that is something special.

This is a car for enthusiasts, and I can see it not being long before the 86 appears on the country's racetracks and rallying special stages, providing those behind the wheel with loads of fun.

All grades of the 86 are powered by the same newly developed 2.0-litre flat four engine, which is the result of a joint-venture project with Subaru - that manufacturer's version of the car, called BRZ, will arrive in New Zealand soon.

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It's a high-revving engine that doesn't sound like any boxer engine I've listened to before. It offers sufficient oomph to get the manual versions to 100 kmh in 7.6 seconds (the autos take 8.2 seconds) and the top speed is more than 200 kmh.

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. The Toyota people were very pleased to advise that this low centre of gravity is beaten only by the likes of the Ferrari 360 and betters such product as the Porsche Cayman and Nissan GT-R, and that that's what helps give the car its precise handling.

A low interior hip point of just 400mm from the ground lets those aboard the 86 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, whatever the speed.

The 86's exterior design pinches quite a few design cues from the Toyota 2000GT of the late 1960s and which in itself was the predecessor of such product as the Celica and Supra. Side window shape and the rear wheel arches are all inspired by the 2000GT, and it helps contributes to the lines of a smooth-looking car.

Every 86 has seven airbags, sports mode stability control, traction control, ABS, alloy wheels, cruise, air conditioning, CD audio with Bluetooth and iPod compatibility, daytime running lights and a multi-information display.

GT86s have 17 inch instead of 16 inch alloy wheels, auto-levelling lights, LED daytime running lights, leather trim, red stitching, and Alcantara-lined sports seats, alloy sports pedals and climate control.

The TRD package is initially only be available on 20 cars, with a choice of colour and transmission for each car which will be built to order. TRD86s have a special front spoiler, side skirts, rear lower bumper spoiler and boot spoiler. Black finished forged 18 inch alloy wheels and a Brembo brake set-up are included along with a high response muffler, a four-tip exhaust and a sports air filter.

At last week's media event, Toyota NZ general manager of sales Steve Prangnell said the intention behind the 86 is to again offer a fun sports car that can deliver performance motoring at an affordable price.

The car enters the market with 100 available for sale over the remainder of 2012. Prangnell expected sales volumes to remain strong this year, and there are plans to increase sales next year.

Personally, I can see that easily happening. This Toyota is an exciting new vehicle with performance and handling every bit as good as its looks. It appeals as the ideal revival of all those good times achieved all those years ago with the AE86.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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