SA's premium automotive magazine

Launch Pad: Toyota 86

Sportscar roots

John Bentley

Heading West on the N4 just before Kaapmuiden, hook a left onto the R38 towards Barberton. For the first few kilometres you’ll bounce across a poorly-maintained bumpy tar B-road, but about 20km in, it changes to a smooth-surfaced winding ribbon along the periphery of the Barberton Nature Reserve, a route that could have been created for Toyota’s new rear-drive 86 sportster.

Planting the loud pedal through the twisties, flicking through the meaty but positive six-speed manual gearbox, feeling the rear wheels doing their thing, I think of the late Sy Simons, one of my mentors in this motoring journalism game. Sy, once motor editor of the Rand Daily Mail, was a former Spitfire pilot and a mean driver, having, for example, finished second in the international LM Rally in a VW Karmann Ghia. He retired to Barberton, which he described as having “the best rally roads in the world”. Most of his ‘fun’ would have been on the dirt roads up to Pigg’s Peak, but it crosses my mind that Sy would have, on occasion, have relished a quick drive on this very stretch, especially in a quick rear-drive car. How he would have loved the 86…

The 86, you see, is no ‘Playstation special. The 86 takes Toyota back to its rear-drive sportscar roots, to iconic creations such as the Toyota 800, 2000GT and Coroklla AE86. This an ‘old school’ car, one that brings back the kind of driving pleasure we’re losing in our new world of front-wheel-drive and heavily driver-aided clones. Sure, there are driver aids – TRC traction control and VSC stability control – but, even with them engaged, they allow the rear wheels just enough leeway to provide classical driving thrills. Disengage them completely and you’re back in ‘when we’ world…

Twinned with Subaru’s BRZ at the design stage, the 86 unashamedly uses a Scooby-designed water-cooled flat-four petrol engine displacing 2,0 litres. The direct-injection system is engineered by Toyota, and claimed outputs are 147kW at 7 000 r/min and 205Nm at a rather peaky-sounding 6 400 r/min. But the engine’s free-revving character, along with the car’s lightweight construction – there’s an aluminium bonnet and an all-up weight of 1 250kg – make for decently rapid performance.

There’s a choice of two six-speed transmissions, supplied by Aisin. The manual is purpose-designed for the 86, and the automatic is a modified version of the transmission from the Lexus IS-F, minus two gears. The auto uses a traditional wet torque converter design, but its software has been engineered to mimic the response of a dual-clutch gearbox.

To me, the 86 is at its best in manual-shift form. There’s nothing like the ‘hands-on’ feel provided by an honest rear-drive machine with a manual ’box. The auto is a pretty slick offering, and those who prefer not to do the shifting themselves will no doubt be pretty happy. But you could say the auto is a different car…

And one of the impressive things about this ‘return to motoring roots’ by Toyota is the pricing. You can have the base six-speed manual model for R298 500. The ‘High’ top-spec manual costs R329 400 and the Auto, available only in the top spec, is priced at R346 500.

Base manual      R298 500
High manual      R329 400
High automatic   R346 500

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