|Image slightly pixellated thanks to MS Paint and Vista...
Unfortunately, I am unlikely to be upgraded from a small-time blogger to a writer for TopGear Magazine or such like between now and June 2012, so chances are I won't be able to have a go in the hotly-anticipated new sports coupé built by Toyota and Subaru. However, the kind chaps at Polyphony Digital have now given the JDM Toyota 86 to all us GT5'ers for free this Christmas, so I thought I would play motor journalist and report my findings, having driven it for a couple of hours. This, then, is like one of those "first impressions" reviews magazines do after driving a new car at a launch event. Only virtual, obviously...
I have been over the reasons for this car's hype before. It's a return to what driving enthusiasts need, an affordable 2+2 with a keen focus on handling and enjoyment behind the wheel. I won't go on about that again, though. What we can focus on instead is the looks, because of all the first impressions a car makes on you when you first encounter it, the looks are the, er, first. It's quite faithful to the original FT-86 Concept from 2009, with influences from the updated "FT-86 II" and the Scion FR-S Concept that followed between '09 and now. Overall it looks sharp, particularly at the front with that aggressive bumper and "angry eyes", however the rear end, while not exactly ugly, isn't as good-looking as the tail-ends of the concepts (the FR-S Concept in particular had a more delicious derrière). It's mostly in the lights, I think. The side windows are borrowed from the 2000GT of the late '60s (which is roughly the same size as this new car, despite having two less seats and two more cylinders), and help give it a very handsome profile. The wheels take influence from the 2000GT as well, although you have to look carefully to see it, but in the official pictures it appears to be riding just a little too high. I suspect there will be a TRD sports kit to fix that within a few months of it going on sale though, seeing as it's meant to appeal to the tuners.
After doing the good old "oil glitch" (change it immediately to gain horsepower), I decided first to take it out on Kart Space, because it's a small car (the same length and height, give or take, as a Mazda MX-5) and it's a tiny track that barely allows you to get out of 2nd gear, so if it has Mini-like agility at town speeds, we'll find out here. I've lapped the FT-86 Concept around it in 41.0xx seconds, but that car weighs 230kg less, so I wasn't really hoping to beat it. While the concept was a tricky little devil on the limit with its knife-edge handling, the production car proved to be incredibly obedient. The Logitech wheel and the virtual car's front end felt perfectly in sync, and however much I turned the wheel, that's how much it turned, plain and simple. The rear end was very well-behaved, too, perhaps because it's weighed down a little more (despite the weight distribution being F 53:49 R, as opposed to the perfect 50:50 of the concept, a change designed to add controllability). Before I knew where I was, I had done 12 laps, and only stopped when I had reached "the wall" and stopped beating my times. I managed a 41.1xx, which was surprisingly close to the concept car.
I have read elsewhere that the GT 86 uses the same tyres as the pious Prius, which sounds worrying, but the idea is that because they're not very grippy (when does a Prius driver ever explore the limits of adhesion?), it makes the car more fun to drive, and easier to coax into a slide despite the low power output. I can understand that and yes, this car is a lot of fun, but when I took it around Eiger Nordwand, the switchbacks in the first turns revealed a weakness in these tyres for a sports car. In the first corners, a right hairpin immediately followed by a left hairpin, I experienced understeer. I don't like understeer. I think those corners are designed to expose it though, as I remember a particularly horrendous experience hauling a Ferrari 512BB around these corners (MR cars understeer in this situation, like at Hammerhead Corner, and it would seem that MR cars from the '70s really suffer in these corners), but nevertheless, if you go into a slow corner too fast, you'll get some understeer.
Finally, I went to a real-life track, the Nürburgring. It was very good here, which you would expect given that it was - like so many cars nowadays - tested extensively at the fearsome Nordschleife. It changes direction without arguing, and the longer, sweeping bends allowed for more of the power-on driving this car is good at. I managed a time of around 8:15, which is as fast as a 330bhp BMW 1 M Coupé, a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, and faster than any hot hatch has managed in the real world. It wasn't even a terribly impressive lap, if I'm honest. I know I can take a couple of seconds off.
So how good is it then? Well, I think it's an educational tool. The low-grip tyres and brilliant natural balance that converts input to output so directly mean that if you want to learn how to drive fast, you must drive one of these. It does what a Mazda MX-5 does, but better, faster and with more seats and boot space. It's a pure sports car for the masses.
And so concludes my first virtual road test. Enjoy some more pictures below.
|Boxer-86 badge. The bore and stroke measurements are 86x86mm.
|Remember, you can click to enlarge the images.
|The styling references to the beautiful 2000GT are obvious when they are end to end
|Dishing out some donuts with an AE86 (the "Suichi Shigeno Version" made to resemble the Initial D hero car, minus the tofu logo)
|The proportions are much more similar in this comparison, as both cars are 4-seaters. The AE86 could only have come from the '80s.