I haven't been this excited about a car launch. Ever.
There we were, up bright and early, some of us -myself included- opted to forego breakfast to head on back to the airport grounds to get in line to sit behind the wheel of the most highly anticipated enthusiasts' car this year.
This is the Philippine launch of the Toyota 86... and I want this to be my Groundhog Day.
Breakfast can wait.
The Three Year Itch
Flip back the calendar 3 years, and Toyota Motor Corporation unveiled a concept -a promise, really- that showed an exciting new direction for the brand. That concept was the FT-86, a sleek, front engine, rear-wheel drive sports coupe, a throwback to the days of the now legendary AE86 Sprinter Trueno/Levin/Corolla GTS and even as far back as the 2000GT from the late 60's.
From then, until last year, Toyota has been teasing us with further concept cars like the FT-86 II and the carbon-fiber-clad FT-86 G Sports, all signaling a return to the exciting days of the brand; days when cars were designed with passion and engineered with driving fun in mind.
Now, however, the car we could only drive in Gran Turismo on the Playstation before has been made metal that we can see, touch, smell, drive, or even kiss... if that's what gets your motor running. And here we all are at the sprawling Subic International Airport to finally meet the latest -and undoubtedly the proudest- Toyota.
On the airport grounds before the actual launch proper, Toyota had virtually every variant of the 86 on hand, in all colors, manuals, automatics and even the one with the TRD aero kit.
For design, the basic shape of the FT-86 Concept has been preserved, though tweaks have been made to the edges that would have been impractical for a production car, especially in terms of safety... possibly even for production.
Actually, if you take a close look, the design of the production model has plenty of cues not from the AE86 (it's supposed direct ancestor), but from the 2000GT. The flanks, the curves, the proportions are all 2000GT. Looks great in the pictures or sitting under the flourescent lights of an auto show, but it looks even better when basking in the sun.
Inside, the 86 feels like no other Toyota before it. Unlike Toyota's, err, Lexus's supercar, the LFA, the 86's cabin isn't technically -or financially- intimidating. In fact, if feels like its welcoming you in, winking and whispering: “Drive me.”
The front seats are properly snug for spirited driving (there'll be much of that today), while all the leather trim from the shifter (either manual or auto), the steering wheel with that stylized “86” logo or even the dashboard itself are stitched with red thread.
The switchgear is properly Toyota, of course, save for some aircraft/race car style toggles for the A/C and the buttons on the center console for the traction control, sport stability control and shift mapping for the automatic transmission version; more on that later. I could also talk about the small rear seats, but that's not really why you're reading this story, is it?
Under the skin
The action begins with a button under the A/C toggle switches, and with a quick press, the 86 comes alive. Unlike any other Toyota before, the 86 was developed with Subaru (the latter's version being the BRZ), and as a result, a 2.0 liter, naturally aspirated flat four (boxer) engine finds its way at the heart of the coupe.
If you're familiar with Subaru's 2.0 boxer engine in the Impreza, then you'd know that the engine produces 150 horsepower and 196 Newton meters of torque. Thanks to the collaboration between the two brands, and Toyota's D4-S gasoline direct injection system, the same displacement engine in the 86 produces 197 horsepower (200 PS) and 205 Newton meters... a leap forward for an N/A engine.
With the boxer engine, uh, boxing, we take the car out on one of two courses available, and are both designed by DMF Drift, headed by David Feliciano. The first is a high speed track consisting of part of the airport's runway for a V-max run (within the constraints of the open portion) and taxiway for a high speed slalom. The second course is a far more technical autocross, and was designed to put the car's agility to a full test of its capabilities.
First up was the 86 A/T on the high speed track. Launching the car is easy, and for this exercise, I had the tranny's map set to SPORT mode (though there's also a SNOW mode, but good luck using that here). The more liberal setting allows the 86 to maximize its rev band, and shifting is done via the paddles (up on the right, down on the left).
The corners (marked by pylons) on the high speed track are designed to showcase the car's cornering stability, and it did not disappoint. Point the 86 into the corner (after properly setting up for the turn, of course), squirt the throttle and the car tucks itself in neatly. No squirming, no nervous jitters with the traction control and stability control on.
Entering the runway, the instructor tells me to let her rip, and I obliged, maxxing out the tach's needle before I pull the paddle on the right, making sure it doesn't miss the power band. At the halfway point, after a V-max of about 160 km/h in a quarter mile, we slow down a bit for a long, sweeping left hander onto the taxiway, where we were to try out the car's real stability at speed. Simply put, the whole dynamics package works... like a boss.
Waku Waku Doki Doki
Toyota Philippines actually brought in the man behind the dynamics of the 86. His name is Tetsuya Tada. A rather tall man, and a great example of Toyota's Waku-Doki (which means heart-fluttering excitement, or something to that respect) "philosophy", Tada-san made sure that the car he delivered was one to do the brand proud, not to mention the legendary shoes it has to fill and live up to. Judging by that wide smile on his face as the 86 was unveiled to the public -sideways, no less-, it's mission accomplished for him and his team.
A Tale of Two Transmissions
After the high speed test, it was time to try out the 86's agility. This time, I opted to try out the 6-speed manual version of the 86 on the technical course. I couldn't resist, I just had to have my gloves on for this.
Taking it around the tight, complicated autocross-style course, I realize that the 86 M/T is more my type. In all honesty, while the auto tranny felt good (especially with the paddles), nothing really compares to the analog feel and driver involvement of a simpler, short-throw manual transmission. I'll pick it over any auto 'box any day... even if it was a more advanced dual clutch automatic transmission.
The technical course was pretty much designed to be taken in 2nd gear all the way, with numerous gates and a rather tricky flow to it. Like any other car, take a corner too fast and you'll end up with understeer and lots of tire squeal. However, the 86 is quite forgiving to drive; if you carried a bit too much speed, ease off on the steering lock a bit, apply a little more throttle and the car responds immediately, tucking its nose in easily for the corner. Impressively easy to drive hard and fast.
Oddly enough, by the time I finished my 2nd stint, it was now time for the sumptuous (as it is often called) lunch, quickly emptying the drivers' waiting area... except for a few of us.
Well, we're not a foodie website now, are we?
The bad news...
There is, however, always a catch with such a hotly anticipated car.
Like its highly popular big brother back in 2005, the 86 is in such high demand worldwide that Toyota reportedly has a 9 month waiting list and backlog for Japanese customers alone. Subaru's plant in Gunma (where the Toyota 86, USDM Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ are made) is literally working around the clock to churn out the cars to serve their customers. For a manufacturer, it's a great problem to have.
For customers, it's a different issue, especially in the Philippines, as our allocation for this year won't be hitting triple digits, again due to the high demand in bigger markets around the globe. Locally, people are already plunking down their reservations at multiple dealers. Expect lines to extend well into next year. Just telling it like it is.
In fact, during a quick chat with Toyota Motor Philippines President Michinobu Sugata (a bonafide AE86 fan who bought one back then with money loaned from his parents), he groaned at hearing about the backlog of orders, especially since he plans to get one for himself in Japan.
Oh, and he wants it in orange.
The good news
It's the price: the Toyota 86 starts at just PhP 1,550,000 for the 2.0 M/T and up to PhP 1,875,000 for the 2.0 A/T Aero version in White Pearl. The pricing means that the 86 isn't just reserved for a select few or the ridiculously rich, instead it's a sportscar (much like the Genesis Coupe, the only other comparable machine in terms of price) that every fairly-successful, hard working guy (or gal) can afford.
If you do get one, it might be a good idea to enroll in a high performance driving class with Tuason Racing School or even abroad with Bondurant or Skip Barber. You could also get sideways lessons with DMF. We can say its for safety, but really, it's just so the lucky owner can truly explore its limits.
There have been plenty of amazing events and new cars this year, and the one that is really hard to top is the Porsche World Road Show. However, chances are if you're anything like me, we probably won't be able to afford any of the cars at the PWRS until we have gray hair and/or grandchildren... or have enough clairvoyance to guess the correct combination for the lottery.
The 86 is very, very different... beyond the obvious, I mean.
It represents a realistic chance of sportscar ownership for many of us, and by having the car within the reach of most of us -others, with a bit more savings and hard work- only endears it to us even more. That, to me, is Waku-Doki.
Piece of advice, don't deliver tofu with the Toyota 86; the trunk (like many a sports car or coupe) just isn't big enough.
Other than that, yes, the Hachi Roku is back.