One of the best – and it comes without spin
I won’t waste time telling you too much about the Toyota 86.
It’s a pretty special car, but also one that has benefited from glowing column centimetres in publications all over the country over the past couple of months.
The sheer volume of words already written about the 86 was the reason I did not attend the media launch held by Toyota NZ recently.
There are few things more tedious than motoring writers complaining that they have not received enough special treatment.
But the 86 had been handed out to so many writers for exclusive (sic) early drives that I couldn’t see the point in participating in a launch event, the purpose of which is normally to give all media equal access to a new car at the same time.
For what it’s worth, I think Toyota NZ could have let this exceptional machine stand on its merits and play things straight.
That would have resulted in many more stories than it subsequently generated by trying to manipulate the flow of information to the media.
By the time the launch event came around, it was clear the invitation list was rather small and that some of those attending were the same people who had already written at length about the car.
To a cynical journalist’s eye, it seemed like less of a car launch and more like a celebration event for Toyota’s media friends. The ratio of company dollars spent to copy generated must have been small indeed.
One journalist attending chose to write not specifically about the car but about something another writer said regarding Toyota’s sales and marketing of the vehicle during the event.
Naturally, the other writer then penned a story about the story that had been written about him. That’s what happens when you make motoring writers feel too important.
It’s common for journalists to receive gifts from car companies at media launches; as a thank you for giving up your time, souvenir of the event or however you’d like to justify it.
It’s a long-standing tradition and has contributed many interesting objects to my office shelves over the past 18 years.
It’s true: I love a present as much as the next independent commentator. The eighty-sixers received expensive 86-branded clothing and an iPad for their trouble.
Obviously, I do not currently possess a high-quality puffer jacket and high-tech tablet. Bitter? Honestly, no.
I was invited to the event and I knew about these alarmingly extravagant gifts ahead of time. I was a bit surprised that Toyota thought such things necessary.
We’re not talking about a Camry here: we are a famously fickle bunch but I don’t think much incentive is required to get motoring writers excited about the 86.
Having politely declined the invitation, I was spared having to think about where the line between launch gift and inappropriate gratuity lies.
Clearly, Toyota New Zealand knows how to push the right buttons with the media. Me included. I admire the company greatly for that; it knows how to play the game. As long as you realise it’s a game, all is well.
Last week, I got a phone call offering road-test time in the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) version of the 86, a limited-edition model that was not part of the media-launch drive.
Accepted with thanks and, again, well played, Toyota. I’m still utterly opposed to preferential treatment for select journalists, unless the journalist happens to be me. What’s the matter: haven’t you seen a hypocrite before?
I still have not driven the basic 86, which you might say is entirely my fault because I was too busy posturing about equal rights for all. Fair point. The TRD’s appeal lies in even greater exclusivity, obvious style and a few select bits of quite serious hardware.
But the raw appeal of the 86 is still obvious through the cloud of expensive TRD enhancement. The basic car’s lightness, sublime steering and delicate rear-drive chassis have already made it famous.
The fact that it is not particularly fast merely highlights the dynamic precision of this machine.
Like the Mazda MX-5, it entertains at any speed and never spoils the effect with an excess of power. Except that it’s much, much better than an MX-5, which is something I never thought I’d say about an affordable sports car.
Toyota’s chequebook created this machine but it is mostly a Subaru underneath and is built by that company. I’m tempted to say the Subaru version is the one to have in New Zealand, because it’s more authentic and will be much more rare.
But everybody expects a Subaru to be entertaining, whereas a Toyota that delivers dizzying driving pleasure is the rarest thing of all.
I still suspect that the least expensive $41,986 model will be the most impressive 86 of all: at that bargain price, with a bit less exhaust noise and more compliant footwear, this car must surely approach perfection.
But even in flashy TRD form, this is one of the best sports cars you can buy for the money. One of the best sports cars I have driven at any price. It’s absolutely wonderful. And that’s not an iPad talking.
What exactly is it? Toyota’s acclaimed new rear-drive sports coupe, with a package of Toyota Racing Development enhancements bolted on at the company’s Thames facility including body kit and spoilers, 18-inch alloys, special air filter and exhaust and Brembo brakes.
Toyota has limited initial TRD86 build to 20 cars, all made to customer order.
Powertrain: 2.0-litre horizontally opposed four producing 147kW/205Nm. Six-speed manual transmission, rear-drive. Combined fuel consumption 7.8 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 7.8 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? You can add the TRD package to either of the two grades: 86 or GT86.
Our test car was based on the entry-level version but opt for the GT and you also have extra luxury items like different dashboard trim, dual-zone climate air conditioning and keyless entry/start.
The powertrain is the same regardless of which model you choose, though.