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Dec 26

Preview : Toyota GT86

Hachi Roku. These two little words, Japanese for eight-six, invoke immediate images of sliding around mountain corners touge style and going similarly sideways at track drift events.

It also brings to mind an affordable, simple, yet practical rear wheel drive hatch and coupe. For reasons of packaging, space and production costs, the Japanese car industry was going front wheel drive with their smaller cars in the early 1980s. Indeed, Toyota themselves had done so with the E80 and E82 series Corollas. But rather than leave RWD Corollas behind altogether, Toyota continued to produce the AE85 and AE86 RWD Coupes and Hatches alongside the new FWD models.

Given that they were roughly the same price as the bum-dragging opposition and were able to be flung sideways with such aplomb, these rear-driven Corollas became extremely popular. It didn’t hurt that the platform was such a brilliant example of a rear wheel drive chassis either. Light, agile, precise and above all else, fun. When Toyota mated this platform with the powerful and advanced(for the time) 4AGE DOHC 1.6L engine, it created something destined to become a legend.

Now, partnered with Subaru, Toyota are aiming to strike gold a second time with the rebirth of this car.

We were invited along to a preview test of this forthcoming car. We took our notepad and timing equipment along with us. We give you now a mix of information and drive impressions. Not quite a review, but almost.

Before being allowed in the cars, drivers were taken into a briefing room above Fuji raceway, where the 86’s chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, showed a short video about the car and then spoke.

Instead of an executive committee making decisions based on profits and focus group research, the idea for the new “Hachi” was carefully shielded and protected against such influences by a group within Toyota who love these kinds of cars. Fans of the original AE86, as well as some of Toyota’s other historical sports cars.

Tetsuya went on to say that the goal of this car was not one to only look good in brochures, but that throughout the project, the aim remained a car “that would be fun to drive!”

Akio Toyoda (global boss for Toyota) is a some time racer, which may explain why we were being told that with the rear seats dropped, the boot has exactly the right amount of space for four spare wheels and a toolkit.

Tada then went on to say “Numerical performance is not as important as the sensation of driving the car. We did away with commonplace items like high grip tyres. Lap times are not what this car is about, let others concentrate on those things.”
“Our customers want a car that is fun when they are in control of it, not one that automatically controls itself, they just want the car to be fun to drive!”

The message is coming through loud and clear. This is not a performance vehicle in the outright sense. Leave that to Nissan’s GT-R or Mitsubishi’s Evo. It is simply about the joy of driving.

Sitting in the 86’s low, but comfortable pews on Fuji’s start line, we prepare to find out if they’ve really distilled and bottled the fun factor into the car.

Everything inside the car is very close to the driver and there’s a slight sense of claustrophobia because of it. A high dash and door sills are the cause.

This is all alleviated a bit by the fact that, for a modern day car, and especially a sporty one, there is tons of vision all around the car. Thanks to minimalist pillars and large glass areas.

Pedal, wheel and gear lever positioning are damn near perfection. While the instruments are both big and clear to read. Drilled pedals are a nice touch.

It’s a pity about the rest of the cabin though. Apart from some gaunchy almost-body-colour trimming on the steering wheel, gear-knob, handbrake lever and door handles, this is one very plain interior.

Press the starter button to fire up the engine and the 2.0L boxer sounds like a deeper, more burbly version of the Subaru Impreza RS. Blip the accelerator pedal and the reaction is a very very quick trip around the tacho. Extremely light flywheel perhaps? It seems that way.

Take off and Toyota claim the 147kW/205Nm engine hauls the 1180kG car to 100km/h in 7.1 seconds. We recorded 6.8. Which isn’t exactly going to set the world alight, but is reasonable nonetheless.

There’ll be no suprises when we tell you that this engine needs to be revved to go anywhere once rolling. With only 205Nm, it’s almost a torque free affair. But revs are kind of the whole point here anyway. It makes for fun. It also leads to many gear-changes.

The six-speed Aisin manual gearbox in the car is essentially the same unit used in the Lexus IS250 and it transfers drive to the rear via a very tight limited slip differential arrangement.

The clutch is light, yet it offers plenty of feel. The gear lever eagerly changes from slot to slot as quickly as you can move your hand, without causing any synchro lash-back. It is a firm, short throw too. This is a fun car to change cogs in. You’ll do it again and again for the sheer pleasure of doing so.

The platform underneath the car is basically that of the new Impreza, but missing the front diff. This means struts up front and double wishbones down the back.

The steering is maybe slightly heavier than you would expect for a car of this ilk, but it’s very direct and precise and offers a ton of feel.

Brakes are bitey and haul the car up quite well into Fuji’s corner entries.

Turn off the traction control (which seems to take an ice age to turn off) and you’ll discover one of the most superbly front-to-back balanced vehicles in the car world.

There’s an immediacy to the turn-in that is unrivalled by anything below supercar status, with a delicious, and addictive, front-mid-engine feel. It feels darty – immediately responsive to the point of being alive!

It then follows this up with a tail-happy attitude that brings serious grins to the face. The car swings the back end around mildly if you back off the throttle. Then, if you plant your foot back into the firewall, the rear tyres start spinning like crazy and the car holds long, easy slides.

Thanks to the lower grip limits of the low-rolling resistance Yokohamas fitted to the car, all of these handling traits are accessible without ridiculous speeds being needed.

Fun factor? Absolutely nailed it!

There’s a few cars that Toyota wanted us to think about in reference to the new Hachi Roku. They are all from Toyota’s sports car past.

There is the S800. The relevance being that the S800 also had a front-mid-ship boxer engine and light weight.

Then there is the 2000GT. High revving 2 litre engine. FR layout.

Finally, they want us to compare the car to the original AE86. The obvious inspiration for the new one.

Look at the glass areas and front wheel arches of the new car, side on, and you can see the influence of the 2000GT’s lines. The practical overall shape of the car owes much to the original AE86. The S800 used the horizontally-opposed engine and was a similar proposition of less complicated parts for cheaper ownership.

But we’d like to throw some other cars at you to think of the new eight-six in light of :

Porsche 968, Lotus Elise, Mazda MX5, BMW 2002
This car is seriously lithe. It feels lighter and more immediate in it’s responses than Mazda’s convertible baby does. It offers the mid-corner balance of the Porsche with the adjustability of the BMW. It’s like driving the Lotus, except with the engine being mid-front instead of mid-rear.

The joy of this car is in it’s fine handling and easy limits. It makes you laugh and grin while driving.

At release, there will be those who criticize the little Toyota’s straight-line ability and it’s track lap times. But they’re seriously missing the point.

Michael Adams and Michael Hughes for Infinite-Garage.

EDIT : New Information from Toyota Australia – The car will retail between $39,990 and $48,990 depending on options and specs. This places it bang-smack in both MX5 and WRX territory.

3 comments

  1. Jason

    For those of us in the states, I would like to add that Toyota expects this car to sell for a little under 25k dollars.

    Thank you Michael for this fantastic article!

  2. Dennis

    This car will be released as a Scion in the states.. This clearly shows us that this is meant to be a great affordable car for the youth… Scion’s advantage is that they are what we in car sales call a “Pure Priced” vehicle. This means very very little mark up about half the mark up as what is on the corrola or camry.. That is saying a lot…

  3. him

    Piece of crap

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