The biggest problem with cars, particularly the fun ones, is that they are too expensive, almost outrageously so. If I want to depress myself by making a list of my dream cars – vehicles I’d be delighted to drive even once a week – nearly all the prices have six figures in them, and far too many of them are approaching a cool half
a million dollars.
Every now and then, however, something miraculous comes along: a car that’s hugely entertaining to drive, that establishes a joyful connection between man and machine, one that makes you grin and chortle every time you corner it, and yet comes with a price tag that doesn’t sound like it should be attached to a small house.
The original Toyota 86, launched in Australia in 2012, shocked us all by being light, playful, fast, frenetic and, best of all, just $29,990 brand new.
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the term “inflation”. It’s done a hell of a job on this much-loved vehicle, which has just returned with new GR badging (it stands for Gazoo Racing, the go-faster division of Toyota), an inflated engine – its own from 2.0 litres to 2.4, raising power by 18 per cent (174kW) and torque by 22 per cent (250Nm) – and an asking price of … deep breath, dear readers … $43,240.
The good news is that, even at the new dollars, the Toyota GR86 is a genuine performance car because it is so much fun that you’d really have to spend twice or even three times that money to get something that comes near it, or beats it.
The old 86 was brilliant because it was so pure, so happy to shake its rear sideways at the slightest provocation and felt so totally alive and eager to please in your hands, and its only failing was that it could have done with just a bit more power. Well, now it’s got it, and it adds up to a really quite important 1.3-second faster sprint to 100kmh, clipping the tape in 6.3 seconds.
Somehow it also feels even more puppy-like in its desire to spread joy, even sharper through the steering and, happily, it has an even more satisfying six-speed manual gearbox that is perfectly set up for heel-and-toe changes. (Yes, there’s also an automatic version, but I won’t talk about it.)
It’s a package that’s so impressive as a driver’s car that Toyota felt confident enough to launch it at Phillip Island, a race circuit built for properly impressive speed machines. Our time hurling it around the Island’s marvellous, long corners was one of profound hilarity.
Toyota has set up the traction-control software in such a way that, in Race mode, it will make you feel like some kind of racesuit-owning drift king. It lets you kick the rear end out, play with it, hold it sideways and gradually tear your tyres apart, but then, just when a mere mortal would spin off on to the grass (as I did when I turned the traction fully off, like a fool), it catches you, pats you on the head for your efforts and sends you off in the right direction.
If sliding isn’t your thing (check your pulse), the GR86 is also properly quick and impressive at cutting laps as well. Out on public roads, it is firm, but not unforgivably so, and it looks pretty damn good, too.
This Toyota GR86, then, is that rarest of things – not just a car that you want, that you might even dream of, but one you might actually be able to afford.
I even know a journalist who’s ordered one. Truly.
Find out more at Toyota.com.au.