2013 Toyota 86 Picture
That's the nose we've waited to see all these years. Get used to it. | November 29, 2011
2013 Toyota 86 First Drive
Even More Fun Than We Had Hoped
A turn of the steering wheel, a quick lift off the accelerator midcorner and then a slide from the tail, caught and then held with a flick of the wrists and a touch more power. Oh, and then a big grin. A very, very big grin.
This is our second time behind the wheel of the 2013 Toyota 86...sort of. Last month we sampled a prototype of the 2013 Scion FR-S, which is an 86 dressed for the American market. After that drive we said the Scion is small, light and nimble — everything a good sports car should be — and we speculated that it might be the best car in a decade. Well, now we've tossed the little coupe around again, and with every mile behind the wheel that suspicion is growing into a deep-rooted belief.
The 86 — or Toyota Hachi-Roku as native Japanese speakers will call it — has undergone a long gestation from concept to production. Launched at the 2009 Tokyo Auto Show as the spiritual successor to the iconic, early 1980s AE86 generation of the Corolla, it was commissioned by then-company chairman Katsuaki Watanabe to lure young, fun-loving drivers back to a Toyota brand that had become dominated by big-selling but ultimately bland models. The rear-drive, front-engine coupe has been refined and adapted both to suit styling tastes and crash regulations in the ensuing two years, but has not lost any of its original purpose.
That journey has also included a close collaboration with Subaru, in which Toyota owns a 16.5 percent share. With all of Toyota's own research and development engineers working flat-out on alternative powertrain projects, Subaru was asked to handle development, testing and production of the car. Toyota has taken the lead on project planning and design, and the collaboration will spawn three mechanically identical cars: the Toyota 86, which will be sold in America as the Scion FR-S, and the Subaru BRZ, which will be sold globally, including in the United States.
All three will be powered by the same flat-4 2.0-liter engine, whose resin cover under the hood is actually etched with the names of both Subaru and Toyota. In the U.S., the engine will produce 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Based on the Subaru FB20 block but fitted with Toyota-designed heads, the engine has been reworked with a longer stroke and smaller bore, better to rev highly while delivering peak torque lower down the range. It's also allowed Toyota to follow its tradition of giving its sportiest cars a square ratio of bore to stroke; in the 2013 Toyota 86 it is, appropriately and in no way coincidentally, 86mm by 86mm.
The platform is also new, and already speculation is rife as to how many variants will be spun off it in order to make the investment in its creation pay off, perhaps in the form of harder, faster models and even other related vehicles. Tuners, both those officially linked to the manufacturers involved and unofficial, are also said to be lining up to offer every imaginable type of modification.
And, in truth, this car is all about the corners.
In total, a massive 91 percent of parts are said to be proprietary to the 2013 Toyota 86 and its counterparts, which makes it remarkable that the targeted starting price will be around $25,000. Still, a quick look underneath the car reveals suspension pieces that look a lot like those on the WRX — both front and rear. Either way, there's also no doubting that the 86 has been conceived, set up and aggressively priced to pull in new customers and bring some much-needed sparkle to the entire Toyota (and Scion) range.
Based on our test-drive, it will achieve this easily, although it's worth noting that our drive was conducted at a test track in Japan, where the silky-smooth surface made any conclusions about the ride impossible to gauge accurately. Those impressions will have to wait until early next year, ahead of full production models going on sale in the summer of 2012. So, too, will final comments on the car's interior; this is a pre-production car, set up to almost launch spec save for the fitment of details such as the audio system.
The Drive Is Sweet
Stepping into the 2013 Toyota 86's bucket seats — which are snug, grippy and set at a perfect, low-slung height — sets the tone. Toyota says they were positioned so that any driver could open the door and stub a cigarette out on the road without having to move from the seat — it's an odd theory on which to base a driving position, but there's no doubting that the end product works, imbuing the car with a sports car feel. With all the controls falling neatly to hand, the cockpit is as cosseting as a Porsche's, if not imbued with as many classy materials.
At idle, the engine note is fairly subdued, but take it up to the 7,500-rpm redline and it soon sounds suitably growly. In truth, there's no need to take it that far up the rev band, as peak power and torque arrive far earlier (at 6,500 rpm and 4,500 rpm respectively), but it does sound good and delivers a complementary aural soundtrack to the driving thrills if you're pushing on through a sequence of corners.
And, in truth, this car is all about the corners. Its relatively low power means it's no sprint champion, and the 0-62-mph time is estimated at a modest 7.0 seconds. But the key facets of a 2,822-pound curb weight, rear-wheel drive, ESP that can be fully turned off, quick steering and a limited-slip differential make it a riot in the twisty stuff. The tires are also a critical part of its makeup, although they look a bit wimpy. They're the same size as the Prius's optional rubber (215/45R17) and offer equally tepid grip, all the better for lurid slide if the mood takes you.
Turn in to a corner and there is some roll, but it's well contained. On a constant throttle and steady steering it understeers slightly, but lift midcorner or trail the brakes — or just throw it in — and it'll either straighten its line or flick to oversteer as you choose. There's fun to be had in either state, as the car steers delicately on the throttle or swings the tail willingly. Long drifts require a delicate use of momentum, though, as there simply isn't enough power to maintain a massive slide in 3rd gear or higher.
And, although the 2013 Toyota 86 is oh-so willing to slide if you provoke it, it never catches you out when it does start to slide because the steering is so nicely weighted and the chassis so responsive that they telegraph exactly what's happening at all times. At 2.5 turns lock-to-lock the steering is quick without being hyperactive, and although it feels light in everyday use, that has the benefit of making it easy to live with when you go on the attack.
Eye on Driving Fun
There are disappointments, but they are minor. The six-speed manual is a touch notchy, and not quite as precise as an MX-5 shifter, while the six-speed auto that is also on offer changes smoothly and quickly, but lacks the sharpness of its dual-clutch rivals. When it's on, the ESP also intervenes too harshly — the sound of it at work is so loud that you initially feel as if something has broken, and it scrubs out power delivery at an overly dramatic rate.
Despite this, at its best, the 2013 Toyota 86's driving experience is a match for the likes of a Porsche Cayman, and accolades don't come much higher than that. That it can't reach those heights across as broad a range of conditions as the German-built car shouldn't detract from its overall success, because the fact it can even get close is a minor miracle given the price differential.
This is a quality car, thrilling not only for what it is but also because it is likely to start a trend that every eco-conscious manufacturer with an eye on driving fun will have to follow.
Portions of this content have appeared in foreign print media and are reproduced with permission.