Toyota 86

HYPE can crush a car as quickly as it creates it. But even the extreme level of anticipation ahead of the launch of Toyota’s 86 couldn’t overshadow this driver’s car revelation. In fact, in the context of the bargain $29,990 price for the base GT manual, the 86 is an even more impressive package than we were expecting.

The 86 is a bit like a classic car, with the benefit of contemporary car design but none of the affectations or unnecessary equipment: front-mid-engine, rear-drive, slick six-speed manual ’box, normal handbrake, no stop-start, wrapped in a strong two-door body, with seven airbags and excellent ergonomics inside.

The Toyota coupe rides, handles and sits on the road with a level of maturity far beyond that $30K pricetag. Its steering is millimetrically precise, friction free, and feel rich. The chassis’ balance is sublime, its angle of attack tightened by a lifted throttle, or a wide-open one. Its unflappable balance, composure and body control make you want to spend all day seeking out corners to throw it into. It’s as much fun to drive neatly and quickly as it is slowly and sideways.

Speaking of sideways, we enthusiasts have asked car makers for smaller wheels and tyres for years. Forget style – or at least, don’t make the top priority – and focus on the driving. Toyota’s done just that. The base 86 GT wears a set of 205/55R16s that make the adjustability (and drift-ability) of the chassis so much easier to tap into than if it were wearing ultra-high-performance 18s.

The 2.0-litre flat-four has some Subaru throb at low revs – when pulling and on the overrun. From 5500rpm to 7500rpm it sheds its boxer character. The note smooths out, the delivery becomes more urgent, and the intake note deeper. There’s enough performance on tap to exploit the chassis; the 86 feels like it’ll do 0-100km/h in 7s and 0-400m in 15s. A sonorous engine note is the only ingredient missing (and, okay, we’re yet to meet an extra low-rev Newton-metre we didn’t like). However, at the price – and, realistically, even for plenty more money – a lack of ultimate sonic satisfaction is no deal breaker.

The $35,490 GT-S manual gets some nice extra equipment such as sat-nav, a colour screen, and leather trim, as well as 17-inch alloys and bigger brakes, but also a start button that’s no more effective than twisting a key. In short, the GT-S is well worth the extra cash, but the basic manual GT has everything you really need, including a Torsen LSD and body-hugging cloth seats.

The amount of fun on offer at such a tempting price meant I think almost every motoring journalist present left the 86’s Aussie launch thinking about buying one, me included. At least I didn’t have to hand ‘my’ 86 back at the end of the day.

Right now, its hard-worked brakes and hot exhaust tink and ping in the Wheels garage. We’re not trying to over-hype it, but the 86 awaits meeting its rivals next week in what will probably be the most exciting comparo of 2012. Stay tuned.

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