COLIN SMITH LIKES DRIVING A CAR THAT KNOWS WHAT IT WAS MADE FOR
While multi-tasking versatility has its appeal, the cars I like the most usually have a much narrower focus.
There’s something appealing about immediately identifying with what a design team set out to achieve and then exploring whether they’ve succeeded — or perhaps discovering the accountants interfered or the marketing types are being overly optimistic in their message.
Toyota made a massive change of direction from its vehicle design conservatism of recent years when it launched the 86 sports car in mid-2012. Now there are some detailed Model Year 15 upgrades for the 86 and GT86 models.
You’d be hard pressed to identify them visually — the most obvious clue is the shark fin roof antenna — and on the road I’d say back-to-back driving would be needed to pinpoint the differences.
Toyota says the handling and stability has been enhanced with increased suspension rigidity and new shock absorber tuning. The shock absorber work includes lower friction oil and new oil seals and guide bushings.
The aim is improved shock absorber friction characteristics along with a reduction in body roll and enhanced steering feel.
We’re talking increments rather than substantial change and the good news from sampling the updated GT86 is that Toyota’s sports car remains a totally engaging drive.
The 86 is a simple recipe and a contrast to big horsepower and massive grip performance cars. It’s all about a revvy 2.0-litre engine, a short throw manual gearbox (in the test car, a six-speed auto is optional) and a chassis that responds to subtle steering and throttle inputs and carries speed thanks to its poise and agility rather than road hugging grip levels from massive tyres and over-bearing electronics.
On the GT86 version the 17-inch wheels have Michelin Primacy HP radials in a modest 215/45 R17 size that you commonly see dressing up some small hatchbacks.
But it’s a very effective combination of quick and informative steering, reasonable grip, a low centre of gravity and taut body control that makes the GT86 a joy to drive on a twisty road.
There’s 147kW available from the Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre boxer engine and 205Nm of torque that doesn’t arrive till 6400rpm. But it revs eagerly accompanied by some intake and exhaust personality and the gear ratios encourage the lively character with 100km/h achieved at 2600rpm in sixth gear and flick-of-the-wrist downshifts to 3400rpm in fifth and a busy 4100rpm in fourth.
You sit low in an 86 supported in nicely bolstered seats — with manual cushion height and slide/recline adjustment. And you go about your work using a short gear lever, alloy pedals and a leather steering wheel that has the sole purpose of guiding the car.
Cruise control switchgear is on a short right hand stalk and you won’t find audio, phone or trip computer buttons cluttering the 86 steering wheel.
Pure sports car focus comes with compromises, of course. In contrast to cars with easy entry raised seat hip points the 86 is low and you slide down onto the seat cushion.
In the rear even a 2+2 description is perhaps a little optimistic with restricted rear passenger head room and quite a bit of front passenger co-operation needed to achieve any sort of useful leg room.
In reality, the rear seats are somewhere to throw some of the weekend luggage and the fitment of ISOFIX mounts and tether points seems equally as hopeful as the idea of anyone of even average stature using the rear seats for more than a few minutes.
Boot space is reasonably tight and the GT86 should be hustled around the countryside with the knowledge there’s no spare wheel on board and a puncture would mean relying on the emergency inflator kit.
There’s been a few MY15 updates in the cabin with the GT86 receiving a new carbon fibre dashboard insert within the instrument panel and a new black and red interior trim is an option.
GT86 equipment features include dual zone air conditioning, heated front seats, push button engine start, seven airbags, a six-speaker audio system with CD player, USB port and auxiliary jack, power windows and mirrors, HID headlights, LED daytime running lights and front fog lamps.
This is not the easiest car when it comes to rearward visibility and a reversing camera would be a benefit in car parks and tighter spaces. In fact a rear wiper would be a very useful addition before backing out of the driveway on a wet day. Toyota’s pricing hasn’t changed since the 86 launch with the standard 86 listed at $42,586 for the manual version and $43,586 for automatic.
The higher spec GT86 starts at $47,486 for the manual with the same $1000 premium for the automatic.
Dual front airbags
Front seat side and head protection airbags
Driver’s knee airbag
Front seatbelt pretensioners and load force limiters
Whiplash reducing front seats
Vehicle Stability Control with Sport Mode
Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist
Daytime Running Lights
2 x ISOFIX child seat mountings
2 x child seat tether points
Immobiliser security system
Flat tyre inflator kit (no spare wheel)Crash test rating Overall rating (2012 Australasian NCAP rating) ★★★★★
Fuel economy Combined (claimed) 7.8 litres per 100km
Road test results Combined 7.6 litres per 100km