Today I met a lovely lady named Esther. Her nametag said Toyota something or other but I was mesmerised by the key in her outstretched hand. Why? Simply put, it was the key to my unicorn – a most mythical beast who’s history I’ve tracked with obsessive conviction, likewise its AE86 predecessor, but today a week ahead of the official launch, I was standing in front of the N1 City McCarthy Toyota for a preview of the new Hachi-Roku, but you can call it the 86.
Now I imagine its not easy when your cult obsession goes mainstream – I can imagine mullet enthusiasts felt similarly when MacGyver hit the television circuit – so I suspect I was not a lot of fun around the office continually correcting my peers with ‘its a hachi roku, not a hajichu roku!?’. They’d go ‘huh?’ And I’d explain that the name was eight six, not eighty-six you westernised fool!
Well, after having the opinions of the entire internet and international motoring fraternity shoveled into my brain space I reckoned enough was enough and took a constructive foot forward. I must warn you, my opinion is that of an unqualified fan at this point, this is my first, first drive – you’ll get a better impression next week after I wring an 86′s neck through curvaceous Mpumalanga asphalt.
You can see the pictures, and possibly one or two on the road so I won’t waste your time with aesthetics beyond saying; its tiny, wide and intrinsically Japanese. Creating this shape with a sheet of origami wouldn’t impress me, I’m just saying. The dealer car is a standard spec item so it’s the (better looking?) two-tone 16 inch alloys in those pearl white arches, and the boot lid is bereft of a massive wing. Climb in and its identical to the demo I sat in, in February. Toyota and Subaru, neither of whom have been accused of creating luxurious and inspiring cabins – and in this collaborative attempt I’m afraid its more of the same. The difference is here it’s expected, the brief after all is simplicity and purity so I’m glad to see some trick details such as a carbonfibre-look weave in the shape of the letter ‘T’. That’s for Toyota, not turbo – but more about that later. Driving position is perfect, you’re low to the ground, just like the boxer motor upfront. The seats grip well, and the wheel fills the palms satisfyingly. It’s a good start. Twist the ignition into life and it’s a Subaru motor that greets you with a burble. It has got Toyota’s own direct injection fitted to it, and revs its naturally aspirated arteries all the way to 7000rpm. I oblige with a rev, it surprises with an urgency I wasn’t expecting – but this was at idle and I was wasting time.
Pulling out of the parking space was the easiest thing to accomplish. In modern terms this is a light car and the steering wheel feels like its plugged directly into the front wheels. I can’t remember the last time I drove something rear wheel drive and tiny, but this is an encouraging helm. Head onto the freeway and its tractability is strong, like a torquey turbo but sonorous albeit metallic, typical soundtrack of a WRX but without the wooshes and squirrel noises. Esther has let me take the 86 on a route of my choice so I’m indulging in some bends but the roads are too congested to properly gauge handling. Still, I get my kicks and can say with authority that it’s a really good steer – nimble but with enough heft to feel authentic. The biggest criticism leveled at the 86 thus far has been its low power, but I’m one of the few who ‘get it’. In this car you could get close to its limit and yours without the sensation of a black-hooded scythe-wielder staring down the back of your shirt, and believe me there is still enough grunt to get you into trouble. After driving 380kw super coupes this is a revelation, and at R298 000 it’s an affordable one.
Want more? You’ll get it next week when TopCar drives the 86 in windier surroundings.