In the Spotlight What motoring is about Toyota 86

Words: Francois Steyn | Photos: Toyota SA & Honda SA

What do the GTi Golf, Renault Megane RS and Mini Cooper S have in common? They are all faster than the new Toyota 86. They are also more expensive, and even though they are all fun to drive, none come even close to the fun to be had in the 86. That’s because the power goes to the wrong wheels (read front-wheel drive)!

When Toyota jointly developed the car with Subaru (Subaru's version is called the BR-Z), the most important elements for the chief engineers were that it had to be rear-wheel drive, should be devoid of a turbo and have narrow tyres (205 for the Standard and 215 for the High). How great is that? Add limited slip differential (LSD) to the formula and you have the mathematical equation for mad drifter. Even though the normally aspirated 1,998 cc boxer engine only delivers 147 kW and 205 Nm of torque very high up in the rev range (maximum power is at seven grand), you can unstick the rear-end with ease. That is one of the reasons why I had to wait so long to get the test car: they had to replace the tyres after just 15,000 km. Luckily, the Prius tyres should be less expensive than, say, an XK-R’s fat shoes.

In South Africa there are three models available, the Standard (manual) and High (manual or automatic). The Standard only costs R298 500, which was a most welcome surprise when it arrived last year. I drove the High manual, which has 17-inch wheels compared to the base model's 16s. It also has auto-levelling High Intensity Discharge headlights, cruise control, auto 2-zone air conditioning and heated seats. None are particularly necessary, but are nice to have.

Other unimportant features are the rear seats that are only really useful for storing very small items (without legs). A baby seat can fit in the back, but only just and I had to move the passenger seat so far forward that my wife (who is not particularly tall) couldn’t get into the front. I also used the 86 for grocery shopping and managed to fit four Pink n Pay bags in the front footwell and a bag of dog food in the spare wheel that is in the boot. So there's not much space, but if that is of concern, you are totally missing the point and should rather get a Fiat Multipla.

When I get into a new car the first thing I do is zero the trip computer to see what the average fuel consumption is at the end of the week. Getting into the 86, I immediately saw it was pointless. I’m not saying it’s thirsty, rather that it’s a driver’s car. A driver that doesn’t care about saving fuel or hauling luggage. I think at the end it showed something sensible like 10l/100km.

The interior is hard to describe. The dash is a flat, vertical black panel that houses the air con with a Fortuner radio stuck on top of it. Right in front of the driver is a large analogue rev counter with a white background and a needle-type speedo to the left. There’s also a digital speedo to the right. The buttons to reset the trip meter look like those found on an old Honda Africa Twin. It almost looks like they spent so much time getting the drivetrain right that they made the interior with whatever they could find. It works well though and it is a happy place to be in, if you enjoy driving. They saved on niceties such as electric seats and a multifunctional steering wheel. Don’t get me wrong though, it is still very comfortable and everything that matters is there and works. It also has all the safety stuff, like ABS and airbags, etcetera, etcetera.

When you press the start button, the engine gurgles to life and the twin exhausts lie: “Look at me, I am a very expensive supercar!” The clutch is heavy and the short throw six-speed gearbox notchy, as it should be. There’s no missing a gear in this and the drivetrain feels like it is up to the task of hooning. The leather steering wheel is small and thick and has no distracting buttons. It is also not connected to wheels that have to deal with transferring power from the engine to the road, so all you do is point the 86 in a direction and it obliges. Stomp on the throttle at anything above 3,000 r/min and the rear steps out with ease. The Vehicle Stability Control keeps you out of trouble and my overdeveloped sense of responsibility was the only thing stopping me from switching it off. For that you need to be on a race track.

Before looking at the claimed performance figures, I tried to guess the 0-100 km/h acceleration time by doing a couple of quick lift-offs. It feels much quicker than the actual figure of just under 8 seconds. The top speed of about 210 km/h also seems slow, but that’s the beauty of it. Who drives that fast on public roads these days? What will you gain by reaching 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds? That was the problem I had with the M6 last year. A car like that is such a burden to drive because you have to tiptoe your way around it not to end up in a ditch. The 86 is a driver’s car that can be driven hard and enjoyed every day. Since driving the Lumina SSV, this is the first time that I have tested a car I would actually like to own. If the FJ Cruiser and 86 is anything to go by, I can’t see myself being dissuaded from being an unashamedly biased Toyota fan for the foreseeable future.

Honda CR-V 2.4 Automatic

I liked the look of the first two generations of Honda’s CR-V, but the outgoing model looked like a tee cosy. The all-new CR-V on the other hand is very well designed and not unsightly from any angle. What impressed me most was the ample room inside. This really is a great family car, with me almost stretching my legs straight when 'sitting behind myself'. The rear seats fold forward for a flat load bay and a very generous 1,146 litres of luggage space.

I drove the 2.4 AWD Automatic Executive and as with anything Honda, everything is near-on perfect. Luxury and comfort is written everywhere. It's in the electrically adjustable, heated memory seats, the sound system with USB connection and a sub-woofer, the big steering wheel with all the controls for the sound, cruise control and hands-free Bluetooth phone system.

The controls for the audio system look very much like the rest of the Honda range, and the instrumentation consists of a large needle-type speedo in the middle. Unlike the Civic, the on-board computer display does not reflect annoyingly on the windscreen, but it shows the same information, such as the radio station, average fuel consumption, range left and climate control settings when you change it.

The 2.4 engine is very smooth and perfectly matched to the 5-speed automatic gearbox. This is a car that will devour thousands of kilometres without tiring its pilot or occupants. To the right of the steering column you’ll find the familiar green Econ button with the little leaf on it. If you forget to switch it off, the big CR-V feels lazy on the highway, but you’ll be rewarded in town with a fuel consumption of less than 10 l/100 km. Switch off the leafy button and the revs rise quickly to make use of the 140 kW on tap at 7,000 r/min. It still doesn’t feel fast, but you won’t have trouble overtaking a truck on a country road, with the family and your holiday luggage in tow.

The CR-V is packed with safety features like the usual ABS with EBD and EBA, six airbags, Vehicle Stability Assist, Trailer Stability Assist, Hill Start Assist and Active Cornering Lights. The latter switches on a light to the side you’re turning to. It also has daytime LED running lights and a tyre deflation warning system. The model I drove also had all-wheel drive, which is not so much for off-roading (it has 18-inch wheels), but will help keep the wheels pointing in the right direction. Something that I also never really thought was necessary, but which proved rather helpful, were the tinted windows in the rear. My wife and newborn sat at the back without anyone seeing them.

Writing about Hondas is always difficult. None of them are so fun to drive that you can rave on about it for two pages, but then there’s also never anything to complain about. To be honest, R455 300 is a lot of money, but the base model 2.0 Comfort FWD starts at only R306 800.