Lat­eral think­ing

Never mind drift­ing — en­duro rac­ing hones a clev­erer cor­ner-carver

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF

A HIGH-pitched howl re­ver­ber­ates around the Fuji Speed­way short cir­cuit as Kei­ichi Tsuchiya, bet­ter known in Ja­pan as the “Drift King” — sees how well the lat­est Toy­ota 86 can slide around a track.

It is fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory for Tsuchiya, whose reg­u­lar drive is a 1986 AE86 Sprinter Trueno, the spir­i­tual pre­de­ces­sor to the Toy­ota 86/Subaru BRZ. The coupe launched in 2012, like its fore­bear, has a cult fol­low­ing as an af­ford­able sports car with an em­pha­sis on han­dling over straight-line hus­tle.

Tsuchiya’s be­hind the (now smaller) steer­ing wheel be­cause af­ter four years the 86 has earned a midlife up­date and it amounts to more than the typ­i­cal front and rear bumper re­vi­sions. The most sig­nif­i­cant changes are con­cealed un­der the body­work and have been adopted from the 86 race car that took part in the Nur­bur­gring 24-hour race.

Chief en­gi­neer Tet­suya Tada says the big­gest dif­fer­ences are in the chas­sis, sus­pen­sion and elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol. The race team stiff­ened the chas­sis then soft­ened the sus­pen­sion to im­prove cor­ner­ing grip.

The same prin­ci­ples have been ap­plied to the up­dated road ver­sion and trans­late into a bet­ter han­dling car that also rides over the bumps with more com­pli­ance than the old car.

Ex­tra welds around the front struts and roof pil­lars min­imise body flex. Adding 1mm to the di­am­e­ter of the rear sta­biliser bar en­abled the en­gi­neers to re­duce the rear sus­pen­sion stiff­ness by 15 per cent.

Tada says the two-stage sta­bil­ity con­trol, which re­places the pre­vi­ous model’s Sports mode with a less in­tru­sive Track set­ting, en­dows con­sid­er­able gains in cor­ner­ing abil­ity. As the soft­ware in­ter­venes rather later, he cau­tions, that set­ting shouldn’t be used on the road.

He also ex­plains that the au­to­matic ver­sion couldn’t ben­e­fit from the small but worth­while power up­dates on the man­ual car. The ex­tra oomph from re­vis­ing the in­take and ex­haust man­i­folds caused the auto oc­ca­sion­ally to kick­down and ex­ceed noise lim­its.

Aus­tralia will con­tinue to take GT and GTS vari­ants of the 86 but Toy­ota Aus­tralia’s Steve Cough­lan says it is too early to set pric­ing, given the up­dated model won’t go on sale un­til Novem­ber. The cur­rent model starts below $30,000 but the $35,990 GTS is the best­seller.

The up­dated GT will pick up the car­bon-fi­bre dash inserts now found on the GTS, along with a smaller steer­ing wheel (an­other sug­ges­tion from the race team) and LED lamps.

The GTS will have mi­cro­suede inserts on the top of the door pan­els and the in­stru­ment bin­na­cle. It looks and feels cool and Toy­ota says it helps the driver by re­duc­ing reflections. A multi-in­stru­ment dis­play with dig­i­tal speedo can show G-force data, stop­watch, lap timer and fuel re­main­ing.


Drift­ing is out but oth­er­wise the only in­struc­tion be­fore we hit the Fuji Speed­way short course is “go as hard as you like but don’t bin the cars, we need them to­mor­row”.

Toy­ota is also con­fi­dent enough in the new car’s abil­i­ties to have in­cluded a cur­rent GTspec model as a bench­mark.

Smart move. A series of back-to-back laps shows ac­cel­er­a­tion may not have changed ap­pre­cia­bly but the 86’s abil­ity to hus­tle through turns — al­ready a strong point — has been no­tably el­e­vated.

The new car turns in with more precision, has bet­ter bal­ance mid-cor­ner and can put the power down ear­lier on cor­ner exit. That’s be­cause the rear end now rolls and squats just enough to keep the rub­ber on the road rather than try­ing to skip around the turn.

Track mode per­mits enough rear-end slide to help drive the car on the throt­tle with­out the sta­bil­ity con­trol in­ter­ven­ing. The same couldn’t be said of the cur­rent car’s Sports mode, which in com­par­i­son kicks in ear­lier and cuts power much more abruptly.

The up­dated ve­hi­cle also rolls over rip­ple strips with less vi­bra­tion, which should mean a smoother ride on pub­lic roads.


A good thing done bet­ter, the 86 con­tin­ues to re­fine the af­ford­able sports car seg­ment.

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