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.