Toyota 86 Auto on track – first drive (video)

Initial impressions of the hottest sports car of the year from Yas Marina
By Shahzad Sheikh

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for – the Middle East launch of the Toyota 86, the most highly anticipated new sports car of the year. So team MME were at the launch held at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in full force. It was a day of presentations, drift demonstrations, skid-pan antics, video gaming (huh? Yeah really) and finally some proper track pounding in the evening.

But first some basic facts. The car is on sale from June 1st in the UAE and throughout the region – some countries have already started deliveries. And here at MME, we’re awaiting delivery of our very own 86, very soon!

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

The facts and figures

Prices range from AED95,000 ($25,800) for the base model with manual gearbox, rising to AED125,000 ($34,000). There are three grades of automatic (AED100-125k). And the colours available are Lightning Red, Orange Metallic, Galaxy Blue, Satin White Pearl, Crystal Black, Dark Gray Metallic and Sterling Silver Metallic. TRD (Toyota Race Development) accessory kits will be available from August 2012.

And in case you didn’t know, the 86 is totally new sports car co-developed with Subaru, featuring a 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine with direct-injection technology putting out 197bhp at 7000rpm and 151lb ft or torque at 6400-6600 – although it’s relatively flat throughout between 3000-7000rpm with a slight dip at 4000rpm.

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual or torque converter automatic (based on the tranny in the Lexus IS-F) with paddleshifts through a torque-sensing LSD (limited slip differential) – which of course is a must for drifting, but more of that later.

Acceleration is 0-100kph in 7.6 seconds for the manual and 8.2 for the auto with a top speed of 226kph and 210 respectively. Combined fuel consumption is an extremely efficient 7.8 and 7.1L/100km, all thanks to a lightweight kerb weight of less than 1300kg.

It has Rack & Pinion electric power steering, MacPherson Strut suspension at the front and Double Wishbones at the back, and extremely low centre of gravity, front rear weight distribution of 53:47 and an aero drag coefficient of 0.27.

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

‘Adding this new car to our lineup provides us the opportunity to expand the ranks of our customers and reaching out to a somehow forgotten target market, passionate about driving true sports cars. Toyota 86 will reignite this passion,’ Simon Firth, Managing Director Al-Futtaim Motors.

He added, ‘Unlike other sports car the Toyota 86 is not just designed for the rich but will be accessible by many, because what fun is a sports car if you can’t afford to buy one.’

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

Tetsuya Tada and Simon Frith

Drifting

The Toyota 86, says its creator, chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, was inspired by three cars from Toyota’s heritage – the 1965 Sports 800 (featuring a two-cylinder Boxer engine – and you thought it was just a Subaru/Porsche thing – front engine and rear-wheel drive) the gorgeous E-Type rivalling 2000GT and the of course the cult classic AE86, famed for its significance in the Japanese drift culture.

Unsurprisingly then the new Toyota 86 had to tick off ‘drifting’ as one of its key attributes and it has done so emphatically. I know this thanks to a demonstration by UAE Drift Star, Ahmed Al Amri, who took me around in one rarely ever going in a straight line. ‘With the Toyota 86, I feel like my life is always sideways’ he said later – which pretty much summed it up.

He was driving a manual car (watch the video) and you’ll note that he never uses the handbrake, did little more than a Scandinavian flick to unsettle the car, and used momentum to get into the slide, powering through on full throttle in second gear, without having to worry about bouncing off the limiter and simply chopping away at the wheel to keep the slide on.

He makes it looks easy, and appears to be having so much fun doing it, but then he’s supremely talented. But the balance of the car seemed perfect for this sort of thing, and the power was just about adequate to keep the slide on. Not only that, but doubts about whether this car can really torque the torque, were quashed as part of the section is slightly up hill.

Wet skid pan

For the next session we were behind the wheel, but on a wet skid-pan. The exercise demonstrated the effectiveness of the traction control system as in very slippery conditions with the throttle full on, it was remarkably easy to negotiate a series of water walls.

With the traction in the half-way, VSC Sport Mode, allowing more lateral movement things got a bit slidey and rather entertaining, whilst I still managed to get around the course without too much drama – dab of opposite lock being and a little judicious application of the throttle being required.

Press and hold for three seconds to turn the systems off – and the traction and stability systems really are off – and I immediately spun after the first wall! Treading through the rest of the course a little more gingerly was of course possible. I could indulge in a bit of slo-mo ‘drifting’.

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

Track driving

After a ‘leisure session’ involving games with virtual reality versions of the car, I was beginning to think that about the most driving I was going to get done today.

It wasn’t until the evening, however, that we finally got some proper wheeltime. Jumping into the back car of a three-car convoy for the on-track session around the shortened club circuit section of Yas Marina, employing the tortuous Laguna Seca-style corkscrew downhill right-and-left.

Despite my six-foot plus frame, and wearing a race helmet, I not only fitted in the car, but was very comfortable indeed. Amazingly – and the unusually low seating position probably contributes to this – there will still room above the top of my helmet rather than it being jammed up against the roof as is normally the case on these things. Of course no one could possibly sit in the seat directly behind me, but that’s not my problem.

 

There’s plenty of shoulder room, good visibility out – as far as track driving is concerned – and all the controls are typically Toyota intuitive and felt logical. It’s a low-slung seating position with your legs stretched out.

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

This was an automatic – no manuals were available to us – so we put them in the manual settings and used the little paddles behind the wheel. The VSC Sport mode was engaged.

Being the last group of the day, and amongst the quickest to go round, we ended up with an extended session and I probably put in around 15-20 laps with our instructor going quicker towards the end and really putting the V6 Aurion pace car on its door-handles by the end of it.

Now here’s the thing, I’m not a much of a track driver, and sometimes these sort of sessions frankly intimidate me. Usually after the requisite number of laps I’ll happily step out and count my lucky stars that I kept it on the black stuff. However, on this occasion, I could’ve kept going all night.

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

This has a lot to do with the limited power, limited grip, the levels of feedback and the ability and talent of the chassis, all of which means that it was just enough, as a package, to keep me entertained, without entirely scaring the bejesus out of me.

The steering response, the weight transference, the amount of information the chassis is telegraphing back to my bottom, all means that there are no surprises with this car. In VSC sport mode, it did shake a little loose at the rear through some of the tighter corners and the chicanes, but it was always drama free and easy to correct.

There’s no sense that being a ‘drift specialist’ this car is over-eager to pivot and catch you out. Where there is movement, it’s benign and you quite revel in the moment, rather than dread it. At speed the handling is positive, biased towards oversteer, but sufficiently neutral to instil enormous confidence in the driver.

Performance

Despite being slower than some of the cars I’ve driven on this circuit in the past, it didn’t feel particularly underpowered (although that might have been more apparent on the long straight, if we had been using it) and the braking remained positive and fade-free despite the repeat laps.

Of course it would have been even more satisfying to try it as a manual, but the auto performed well, only sometimes obstinately refusing to change down on occasions when I was perhaps too ambitious anyway and it was duty-bound to protect the engine from over-revving. It didn’t however change up, admirably bouncing off the limiter and revealing to the world I’d missed the change. There was a delightful blip on downchanges and upchanges were crisp and reasonably fast.

Toyota 86 Middle East launch

Verdict

It’s one of the most fun cars I’ve driven on a track in a long time, mainly because it was accessible and playful. Of course that does leave a big question mark as to how it will feel on the road at slower speeds – cars that come alive ‘on the limit’ in a track environment, sometimes prove a bit dull on the street. Frankly speaking I need to get it out on the road, and I’m desperate to try the manual box (Al Futtaim Toyota, please note). So we can’t really deliver our final verdict until we’ve had some real-world experience with car.

Having said that, the vibe is good. This is a car that seems eager, responsive, talkative and very natural to drive. What it lacks in outright performance, it makes up for in its desire to dance, with its excellent front-rear balance, sweet steering, low centre of gravity, light-weight and skinny tyres.

Of course that means that most would-be buyers are probably thinking of boosting the power outputs, upping the tyre and wheel size, and slapping on bulky bodykits even before they’ve left the showroom. But the point of this car is to be a back-to-basics piece of driving kit that’s not about performance or posing, but purely about revelling and enjoying the driving experience. And I have a suspicion it’ll do rather well at precisely that.

Spec
2012 Toyota 86
Price: AED95,000 ($25,800) to AED125,000 ($34,000).
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Boxer, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 3500rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 7.6 (manual) & 8.2 (auto), 226kph (manual) & 210 (auto), 7.8L/100km (manual) & 7.1L/100km (auto)
Transmission: six-speed manual or auto, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1273kg (manual) & 1296kg (auto)

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