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Toyota 86 GT Long-Term Review – Update 9

When I bought my Toyota 86 GT I didn’t think I’d keep it for six years and 100,000km, but here we are…

QUITE A FEW TIMES over the last few years I’ve thought about selling the 86. After all, I’ve driven it a lot – it’s my daily driver if I don’t have anything on test, it’s done trackdays at Winton, Broadford, Phillip Island, Bathurst, Calder Park and Sandown, not to mention hill climb courses. I’ve drifted it, competed in dirt-road khanacrosses, used it to practice stunt driving, done the weekly shopping and ferried kids here, there and everywhere.

I now think I’ll never sell the 86 and that’s because it is an all-round brilliant car, one of the finest I’ve owned or driven.

That’s a big call, so let me explain. I love the design, and by that I mean the structural, mechanical design, not the looks, although I do think it is easy on the eye. Design features which appeal to me; it’s a rear-drive car, so that’s more fun that a front-drive (hate me later, I also own a front-drive racecar), and you can drift a rear-drive, especially with a decent Torsen limited-slip diff like the 86. It’s got four-ish seats, so two kids can more or less fit in, or extra luggage. There’s enough space for four of its own tyres, plus room for bags and tools…try that in an MX-5! The handling is fantastic, and there’s a world of mods out there.

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And no matter what other exotica I have in my driveway, I find hardly anything measures up to the sheer public-road driving pleasure the 86 can deliver. It’s got that old-world mid-’90s feel yet wrapped in a modern, 5-star safety body and design. Frankly, the car is hard to fault from a practical, driving enthusiast perspective which is exactly my world. And yet for all that, there’s another 86 attribute which really seals the deal, and is a big reason why I suspect the 86 will be in my driveway for a long while to come.

I am talking about reliability. You see, no matter how good a car is, how perfectly it handles, how beautiful it looks, how capable it is…if it isn’t reliable, then you can’t truly enjoy it.

For me, reliability in an enthusiast car is the bedrock of love, like trust in your life partner. If your car has faults which require unexpected time and money to fix, or you consistently have holidays ruined or long-awaited events ruined because of the car…well, that’s not a vehicle I can have in my life. It’s bad enough when it’s a daily driver, but if you have set aside a weekend for a motorsport event and the car lets you down, then that’s a lot of time wasted.

So I’m happy to say my Toyota 86 has been reliable, incredibly reliable. Amazingly, in the 100,000km of ownership and six years it hasn’t cost me an unscheduled cent. That’s actually astonishing, given it’s done so many hard track laps. Yes, the car has wanted for nothing, with servicing ahead of schedule by a motorsports shop who really understand Japanese performance cars, but even so, the fact it’s so reliable is a huge testament to Toyota’s commitment to their ideal. What I mean by that is anyone can make a sports car which looks good and handles well, but a motorsports car must do that, and be utterly reliable at the same time – not overheat its transmission, throw ECU codes or otherwise disintegrate after a few laps. Only now is fourth gear starting to crunch a little, and there’s an odd ECU code under very specific circumstances.

I believe the 86 is, six years after its release, still unique. Nothing else can match its handling, rear-drive fun or daily-drive practicality at this price point, and it’s even got a manual transmission, unlike increasingly large numbers of sportscars.

Pretty much everything else in the 86’s price bracket is all-wheel-drive, or front-drive, like the Fiesta ST I ragged around the ‘Ring. The only two realistic rear-drive competitors are the MX-5 which is too small to be practical, and the Mustang which while even more practical than the 86 is considerably more expensive to buy and run, doesn’t handle as well and doesn’t have the motorsports focus of the 86.

That’s the first six years. Will I still own an 86 after 12 years and 200,000km? Unless something better comes along, or I get tired of life, the answer looks like being yes.

Tyre Tests

I run two tyres on the 86 now, street and track. The street tyres are Cooper RS3-G1, and they’re brilliant. Dry grip is definitely better than the standard Michelins, but wet grip is a new world apart. While I use them as a street tyre, I have run them on track and am pleased with the handling and especially the wear, which was very little after three events. Track grip is good, recording a 1.44 around Winton. They are also bi-directional, so easily swapped left to right, a useful attribute for a street tyre. I think I’ll continue to run these as I can’t really see a disadvantage, especially for the price.

I’ve also found my preferred track tyre, the Yokohama AD08R which has gained a loyal following for good grip, durable wear and consistent handling. This is a much more track-oriented tyre – designed for higher speeds, higher temperatures and directional grip – so it offers more traction and is more expensive than say the RS3-G1, and it requires more tyre pressure care. But, it will be a 2-4 seconds a lap faster than a street tyre (1.42 at Winton), so if that’s what you want, I highly recommend it. You can run these tyres on the road and I did up until I copped a puncture, but I’d recommend saving them for the track and using cheaper ones for your daily driving. 

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!