Toyota 86: Love the Car, Hate the Hype

About four years ago, we found out about the FT-86 concept and we fell in love with it. Why you would ask me? Well, because for the first time a car maker actually builds a formula that fits the exact criteria for car enthusiasts; a small, light weight and affordable rear wheel drive car, nothing more or less. My mind didn’t go any further. It was a time when the only affordable rear wheel drive sports car out there was a Mazda MX5 and the market was desperately starving when it comes to such segment of sports cars.

The 86 did gain massive hype from the media and fans alike. Some of the reasons are the fact that it refreshes the image of Toyota after a long absence from the segment. Prior releasing early concepts for the 86, fans were scared that Toyota might ditch its racing heritage in favor of sales figures like other car-makers are doing in our times. Yet Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, arrives on time to save the day and rids the Mazda Mx-5 from its loneliness. Besides the fact that the 86 was a spiritual successor of the original Toyota AE86, which already has a huge cult following among enthusiasts especially in Japan & Australia.

Suddenly the hype starts bloating and a huge fog of cheesy marketing, PR approaches blows the whole image of this modern day 86 or ‘hachi-roku’ out of proportion. Yes too much publicity is better than none but matters did slightly backfire.

First of all, lets debunk some media and fan-boy myths as to give room for lovers, haters & neutrals to develop a better understanding about what they are actually seeing when staring down at the ‘Subaru stamped’ sheet metal of the 86:

1. The Toyota 86 is a drift car.

Toyota 86 can be used for recreational drifting as much as any rear wheel drive vehicle but it is not a drift machine, just like Initial D fantasies taught us about the AE86. You can drift it, power-slide it and do some doughnuts with it but the true purpose of it is closely similar to that of the Mazda MX5 and Honda S2000. Light weight, well balanced, reasonably powered and nimble machines designed for the purpose of providing a raw driving experience. A sports car meant to be enjoyed on twisty roads or occasional track-days during the weekends. One common trait of these three cars have are a small rev-happy engine that is not over-powered neither under-powered making it very suitable to toy around on corners.

People compare it to Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe or Ford’s Mustang V6 which are competent sports cars but serve a whole different purpose. We will get to that bit very soon.

 

2. The 86 is built for tuning and aftermarket modifications but the FA20 engine is under powered & not possible to upgrade.

The Toyota 86 is one of a kind for a very valuable reason; it is one of the very few cars out there that really communicate the needs of a car enthusiast. As much as the Honda S2000’s slogan was: built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. The 86 carries the same formula except that it takes this modular philosophy further meeting needs of the driver and aftermarket alike.

86’s Chief Engineer, Tetsuya Tada, did mention earlier that the 86 follows a blank canvas philosophy as in the driver can adjust and modify the ride to suit their liking. The aftermarket took Tada’s statement and blew it into a PR monster; calling the 86 the savoir of the universe, their own aftermarket universe that is. The 86’s marketing image and large volume production could potentially save some of the suffering aftermarket names out there. The 86 can, with ease, soak in all kinds of ridiculous aftermarket modifications, the big question is do you really need to as much as they claim?

Another concern are the hordes of crowds that are conditioned to repeatedly spell out words like “more power” or “turbo” for God knows what reason. There are a few enthusiasts out there with the budget and understanding to why they should upgrade their rides, If only people listen to them often.

The FA20 engine is a pretty fine piece of engineering. A bit short on juice but there is enough to get you out of situations and the engine was chosen from the first place to maintain a low center of gravity. Those complaining seriously about wanting bit extra power dose; I would confess an extra, easy to achieve, 20 horsepower bump would quench their lust for extra straight line oomph.

Otherwise, the whole design of this modern Hachi-Roku is a mathematical formula, nice to make variations but no sudden changes for something already good as is. Finally, bear in mind we live in an era where a significant priority for fuel economy and emissions cannot be ignored; this bug bit the development 86’s team.

It is possible to tune the FA20 engine for forced induction applications but it takes a whole different approach with high compression ratio engines. For a long time, the aftermarket gurus have been dealing with less sophisticated technology, like 2JZs for example. Hence it is of no surprise that a production turbo-kit is yet to be ready from dealers and tuning firms alike. Such feat would alter the way we tune and modify future drive-trains, which focus more on fuel economy & emissions, hence an ambitious move from the aftermarket.

 

3. The 86, BRZ or FRS will change market.

Yes it is a great car built by an ambitious team and a bold decision. We thought, for a minute the car world, ditched this segment. We waited for a very long time and it was worth the wait. It made its mark in automotive history, met our expectations but whether it will change the world or not is up to how other car makers will react. The fact it fills a huge gap in the sport car segment did contribute for its huge sales & demand; many of us don’t like to save up for cars that cost twice, while we can get the same action for less.

We still hope for a Japanese pony car war with Nissan & Honda if they launch their versions one day. Only time will tell.

Magazines and publications did excessively blow things out of proportion, with many, making the car look flawless and perfect. No such thing exists and each ride has its own unique flavor. People that drove vehicles costing twice with more amenities and power have enjoyed this car far better; others chose the latter. Again the fact remains that the 86 is an entry level sports car and it gives more for less. It does offer less kit but in return offers less tangible delights that could grow on you.

The 86 is a nice, back to basics, car. A very original and bold move from Toyota & Fuji Heavy Industries. Is it the best car out there? Is it really worth buying? The only way is to take it for a drive and see for yourself; I believe it will grow on you in a special way despite how perfect or rubbish everybody claims a car to be. Always rely on first hand experience.

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5 thoughts on “Toyota 86: Love the Car, Hate the Hype

  1. A decent article although at times it seems you seem to be picking a fight when there isn’t one to be picked. Yes, to a certain extent the car was over-hyped but as you mention yourself, for good reason. Because it fills a gap that was much needed, so does it not deserve the recognition from magazines and car enthusiasts alike. It seems that you would rather the car remain largely unknown to the outside world keeping it of sort, more pure to the dedicated petrol heads.

    At one point you mention, “Then a huge fog of bullshit approaches blowing the whole image of this car out of proportion; doing the Toyota 86 a favor by making it more popular but at the same time doing it harm; words from spineless media, start emerging, like: drift machine, tuner’s heaven and an affordable Porsche Cayman.” When you say, ‘doing it harm’, please do elaborate on what you mean. Are you to suggest that mere words from article writers will harm the credibility of the car or are you worried that advertisers will put the car on such a high pedestal that the real thing wont meet expectations. Apart from these which are subjective to an individuals opinions, there really isn’t any harm to come out of promoting the car, especially when some of the terms you mentioned can be justly applied to the vehicle.

    As for the drifting aspect of the machine, I can go on and on about how the technicalities make it a perfect drift vehicle, how its center of gravity is just right, the steering column nimble enough, the suspension firm yet able to absorb the weight as the car shifts directions, but I’d rather let actions speak louder than words. These actions being that Ken Gushi, using a slightly modded 86 came in 9th at in the 2012 Formula Drift, which by no means is ‘recreational’ drifting as you put it. Also closer to home, Ahmed Al Ameri the current Drift Champion in the UAE became part of the Toyota Emirates Drifting Team and plans to use the 86 in upcoming competitions as his ‘drift machine’. His words, not mine. This shows the 86’s drifting pedigree, coming from seasoned drifters, not fan boys or wannabes as you so eloquently call some.

    All in all, give credit where it’s due. The 86 is a drifting machine and there is no shame in labeling it as such. That does not mean to take away from the other features that the car has to offer. It can simultaneously be a drifter and a affordable mid-level rear wheel everyday fun sports car.

    You mention that the ‘true purpose’…of the 86 is, ‘A sports car meant to be enjoyed on twisty roads or occasional track-days during the weekends.’ Firstly, that is your opinion. Some might say, the true purpose is to be a drifter, others yet to revive Toyota’s racing heritage. Why limit it? What position are you in to say that the purpose of it is such and such. It comes off as arrogant, making you sound like the very same spineless media you were earlier bashing for labeling the car. Why can’t it be all of the above and more. For me, the 86 is a drifting car, at the same time its a sports car for twisty roads, all the while its a window into the past and a taste of the future.

    In this article, you go through a checklist of what in your opinion, the car is not. You mention all these things, and in the end you say but the 86 isn’t this. You approached the article in a negative way and it reads as such. Alas, I leave you a rant in reply of one. After-all, these are but my humble opinions.

    • Also, if you are ever in need of writers, give me a shout. Although after my rant, I may have stirred some feathers so know this, all I say comes from a lifelong passion of cars and the 86 seems to have rekindled a flame within. I also hold drifting in high esteem therefore at times I may go on the defensive. Let it be known that I bear no ill will with that rant of mine. Cheers.

      • Not at all.. I enjoyed reading your critique.

        My objection about it being a drift machine is that with 200 hp you cannot really perform any competitive drifting.. For example a powerful Mustang might not require performance mods to do the trick far better as a competition car. Al Ameri confirmed that the 86 he will be building will have an excess of 500+ wheel horsepower.

        My main objection is the huge media & pr hype that some automotive publications are injecting into the 86’s image.. Yes it is good for making the car popular but I think if such move was taken in a more subtle and mature pace, it would be a more genuine win.

        After driving the 86, I personally liked it as a roadster-like car, in stock shape. When I said the true purpose of the 86, I meant as it is in stock shape. The chassis is amazing and would take any kind of modifications to suit the needs for any kind of motorsport activities including rallying.

        I approached the article in response to the negative reaction from regular enthusiasts and consumers that actually reacted to the over-done marketing hype that publications have built around this car. I realized there is some harm done to some extent. Toyota’s PR & marketing department are not the one to blame; they carefully and accurately marketed the vehicle. The big fuss came from the struggling aftermarket business & several automotive media that tend to spread butter on things. I believe you know what I am pointing at here.

        I am actually on the look out for a blog buddy as things might be growing bigger & better here.. We can keep in touch on: roj@86cult.com for more info..

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