I don’t think I’ve ever driven so many pre-production versions of a car like I have the Toyota 86. Ever since that first short test around the Fuji Speedway short course back in November, and the glorious day thrashing the 86 and FRS around Sodegaura Forest Speedway in December, I’ve always wondered how the affordable entry-level sports car that everyone has been waiting for would feel like out on the street. Track driving is tons of fun yes, and it’s a great way to get to know a car very quickly by pushing it to its limits and beyond, but from an owner’s perspective a daily driven sports car like the 86 and FRS needs to tick a lot of other boxes to really be great all round car.
So when Toyota invited me to the first 86 on-road drive event of the car I jumped at the opportunity. With the scenic roads around the Hakone Turnpike (now called Toyo Tires Turnpike due to a curious tire sponsoring deal) there would be ample scope to put the 86 through its paces and drive it as an owner would.
From the Prince Hotel in Ooiso where Toyota had set up camp for the day we would be able take various versions of the 86 out for a short highway commute and then a mixture of normal roads before ending up at the entrance to the Turnpike, which is a privately owned toll road. With no time to waste I was in a brand spanking new manual “GT” version literally minutes after I had arrived and made my way up towards the mountain roads.
With so many Japanese and international publications participating in the drive event, the Turnpike was alive with the scream of naturally aspirated flat-four engines. As ever, when making my way up what has to be one of Japan’s best driver’s roads…
…I stopped at the little scenic view point about a third up the long climb to the top. Here I spotted a Subaru BRZ and the limited edition, and final version of the RX-8, the Spirit R. One Japanese magazine had brought these two cars along to the event to do a group drive feature along with the 86. This was actually the first time I had seen the BRZ out on the road!
With the clock ticking I got in the car again and climbed up a little bit more, before stopping again to grab some shots of the GT version I was driving, and of course the stunning view of the Odawara coastline.
The GT is the mid-spec version of the 86, sitting in-between the entry level “G” and fully loaded “GT Limited” trim levels. It comes with a few more trim upgrades over the base model G…
…things like silver inserts around the center console and steering wheel, as well as red stitching all over the cabin. There is a slightly higher level of equipment too like dual zone automatic air conditioning, keyless entry and those nice drilled aluminum pedals. On top of these three grades a fourth model is also available, the “RC” a stripped out “ready-to-tune” or ready-to-race” version which comes with 16-inch steel wheels, unpainted front and rear bumpers and no audio or dash trim panels.
The engine however is the same for all, the brilliantly zingy Subaru-derived FA20 2-liter flat-4…
…which of course features Toyota’s D-4S direct injection system to give optimal mid-range and high-rpm performance.
The GT I was driving had been fitted with the optional 17-inch by 7J wheels, which replace the multi-spoke stock 16-inch by 6.5J wheels the car is offered with in Japan. The adequately grippy 215/45R17 Michelin tires are used at each corner.
It was then on to a quick drive up to the top of the Turnpike where I came to a very surprising realization. I must have driven close to 100 cars on this stretch of road over the last decade, and I can positively say I have never enjoyed myself as much in a production car as I did in the 86. It might not be as fast or as accelerative as some rides I have taken out here, but when it comes to driver’s satisfaction and putting a rather big grin on your face, nothing comes quite so close to the 86. But no time to ponder over these initial thoughts…it was straight back down towards…
…the Prince Hotel to drop off the car. There, more excitement followed as I had a chance to put the manual, as well as the automatic version of the car, through the fun little slalom course that Toyota had laid out for us all to enjoy.
Just like back at those initial drives on track it was once again great to feel the superb chassis come alive in your hands, as I pushed over the rear -end grip of the car and steered it on the throttle. It’s a simple and very rewarding exercise that once again proves the outright agility and directness of the 86’s package.
The TRD tuned version was next, which if you recall we have already looked at in one of my car features last month. This was a big eye opener as it perfectly demonstrated how a few simple, yet well thought of modifications, can tap into the 86’s vast potential.
After taking a white manual GT Limited on the Turnpike for a non-stop fast paced drive, I returned back and picked up an automatic, the final car I would sample on the day. You may remember me raving about the auto when I first had the chance to drive it around Sodegaura, the Lexus IS-F derived fast-shifting torque converter was surprisingly well suited to a bit of action out on track. It felt very good on on the road too…
…giving the 86 a calmer and more relaxing character but really coming alive when put into sports mode and asked to machine-gun through the gears via those steering wheel mounted paddles.
There is no doubt the manual will be the most popular with those people lucky enough to be ordering an 86/FRZ/BRZ around the world but it’s great to see that Toyota have put just as much effort in guaranteeing a great driving package for the self-shifting version.
The top of the line GT-Limited comes with alcantara trimmed seat centers…
…which do a better job of holding you in place through the corners than the regular fabric versions.
All test cars were also fitted with a touch-screen navigation system, a must have in Japan! On this particular view you can see all the wiggly lines of other nice roads that snake up to the top of the Hakone mountain range.
Not something you see every day! As I was shooting this picture the red BRZ zoomed by with a couple of other 86s in the background!
The BRZ is a car we will be looking at next in more detail, the last of the 86/FRS/BRZ trio that remains to be driven. After spending as much time as I possibly could driving the 86s…
…it was time to call it a day and return back to the Prince Hotel and grab a drink to relax a little after the fast-paced event. Toyota set up a cool little display area with a ton of 86 merchandise. They are obviously trying very hard to engage the potential customer in a variety of ways and why not, the car itself stands for so much, who wouldn’t want to be seen wearing cool…
…86-branded driving shoes like these!
There is a variety of colors, so you can select one that best matches the body color or interior of your 86!
We will be seeing a lot of that flat-4 logo from now on!
Check out this line up of bags…
…and a limited edition tool set!
This is another model of driving shoe made in collaboration with Asics.
The display included a cross-sectioned FA20 engine where you can see how the direct injection and regular injection systems are laid out on each cylinder. The direct injection actuates in the mid-range through to the 7,000 rpm redline, helping give a smooth and linear power and torque delivery and optimal throttle response.
If you opt for a 6-speed manual this is the gearbox your car will be running…
…but if you prefer the auto, this complex looking unit is what you will get. There is a lot of technology packed into all those complex gears, clutch packs and solenoids!
The seat on the left is what the “G” version of the 86 comes with while the other two are Gazoo Racing versions, the one on the right a full-on race bucket seat. We might be seeing that seat in the 86s that are participating in the Nurbugring 24h race this weekend.
And to finish up it was great to see the progression of the various concept cars that Toyota worked through over the years before settling on the final design. This red version is the car we saw back in 2009 at the Tokyo Motor Show and the one that sparked off the pretty much relentless interest the project has been enjoying for the last 2 and a half years.
The more aggressive and tuned up G’s interpretation…
…sporting lots of carbon fiber, big wheels and brakes, hinting that Toyota was always been interested in appealing to the aftermarket tuning scene.
The third and final concept, and by far the best looking one, was this closer to production styling exercise that gave us all a pretty good idea of what the final car was going to look like.
In little over a month the 86 seems to be doing rather well in Japan, selling just over 3,200 examples since its launch back on April 6th. These initial orders, not counting the Japan-spec BRZ, plus the ramping up of production for the launches in the US (FRS & BRZ), Europe (GT86 & BRZ) as well as Australia (86 & BRZ) has put Subaru’s factory at full production. If you were to order an 86 in Japan right now, in the more popular GT and GT Limited spec, you wouldn’t be able to receive a car until October or later. We just hope Subaru is up to the job of keeping up with production of this sensational little car!
-Dino Dalle Carbonare