It is not as if Toyota need to do anything to promote their 86 (they could actually put a moat of hot coals outside their dealerships and have Gordon Ramsay as their head of customer service and they would still sell them) But amazingly, they decided to do so anyway.
And they didn’t just pick any old race track to do this in; they took us to the epicenter of their motor sports program in Cologne, Germany, to show us the birth place of one of their most iconic models and give us a deeper understanding of the bigger picture.
You see the Toyota 86 is more than just a car. It is a reflection of the entire brand and is everything you need to know about where Toyota is headed. They’re done with the whole reliable-as-a-fridge thing; everyone knows that when the world ends there will be nothing left but cockroaches, styrofoam cups and Toyotas––what they were lacking was excitement, so you cant really blame them for pouring it on thick.
And if anyone knows how to throw a come back party, it is definitely Toyota. They started with a decommissioned military airfield, and well, you can pretty much fill in the blanks from here.
But more than just outright speed, the exercises were set up to demonstrate the incredible balance and handling of the 86. Coming into a fast corner, for example, we were told to hold a speed of 80km/h, which of course once I added VAT and service charge was more like 110km/h, and then hit the brakes hard mid curve. This would send lesser cars into a dangerous spin. But the Toyota just laughed it off with nothing more than a few yellow lights flashing on the dash.
Unlike other systems, Toyota’s vehicle stability Control (VSC) is so advanced, you barely feel it kick in. Rather than an on/off system, the VSC seems to be continuously variable coming in with just the right dosage each time, allowing you to play a little before slapping your wrists.
But as impressive and advanced as the VSC system is, all the fun begins when you turn it off. Throw the car into a corner hard and get ready to grab armfuls of opposite lock and use your right foot to steer. Running on energy saving green tires helps, but all that goodness is coming from the extremely stiff and well-balanced chassis.
So much has been said about the lack of power, considering the potential of that lovely chassis, but Tetsuya Tada, the chief engineer of the 86, tells me that it is because he designed the car to be modified. “I simply wanted to develop a good foundation. I wanted to build a car that is limited only by your imagination”
When asked whether he would prefer a turbo or supercharger, he leans more towards the supercharger, but insists that he has developed a car that he feels can cope with just about anything. He has even developed an app that downloads your data on to a memory card, that when plugged in to a Playstation®, can create a fully animated replay of your lap. Yes, just as you see it in the game.
Best part of it all is that Tada san confirmed that the 86 is just one of three exciting sports cars Toyota will offer in their line up, fueling speculation of a new Supra and Celica.
By day two, after every last ounce of adrenaline was squeezed out of us, we took to public roads for several hundred scenic kilometers of winding country roads and un-restricted autobahns. Amazingly enough, we squeezed a passenger into the back seat, and although he did come out looking a little bit like sushi after two hours, still said that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
The ride is firm but fair, and combined with that incredibly sharp steering rack that is more talkative than my six year old after eating a pound and a half of chocolate, is just loads of fun to throw around. Tearing up and down mountain roads leaves you with a smile that feels like your face will crack, and you begin to forget all about the lack of power.
After kissing 230 km/h a few times, and flirting with 8,000 rpm on every corner, it was time to reluctantly hand the keys back. There would have been a tantrum of ‘amalayer’ proportions had it not been for the promise of visiting the birthplace of the Toyota 86 on our last day––Toyota Motor sports headquarters, or TMG, which housed a mechanical buffet of F1, Le Mans, Rally, hybrid, touring, Gt and almost every type of racing cars you can Google.
Although the 86 is technically not born in Cologne, it gets all its’ DNA from here. This is where they built their Formula One cars, and all that goodness came trickling down into the 86. Yet despite all their achievements in rally, F1, touring and other mainstream events, they spoke heavily about their hybrid Le Mans car that took the lead in the last 24 hour race, only to be punted off the road, which led more than a few of us wondering if the 86 may one day end up being an electric dream.