Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 review

By: Scott Newman, Photography by: Cristian Brunelli

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Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86

From the archives: How does the Toyota 86 stack up against its predecessor?

Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86 review
Toyota AE86 Sprinter vs 86

 

From Unique Cars issue 339 Jul/Aug 2012

Toyota AE86 vs 86

Toyota has turned back the clock to offer enthusiasts arguably the most exciting car of 2012. How does it stack up to its predecessor?

It’s been so long since Toyota offered a genuinely sporty car, people could be excused for forgetting it ever did ‘sports’ in the first place. Walking past Toyota showrooms has been like contracting narcolepsy – the sea of silver Camrys, beige Aurions and white Priuses offering an instant cure for insomnia.

But rewind 15 years or so and the story was quite different. In its Japanese heartland in particular, Toyota lots were full of stuff to make an enthusiast’s mouth water. The Supra, with its creamy, Porsche-humbling twin-turbo six; the MR2, a mid-engined mini-Ferrari; the Celica GT-Four rally weapon. You could even buy a turbo Starlet!

All this performance hardware was given credibility by the sight of WRC pilots Juha Kankunnen and Didier Auriol flying through forests, or by Toyota pushing Porsche and BMW hard at Le Mans with the exotic GT One. We may have missed out on the juiciest hardware here in Australia, but Neal Bates was the man to beat in Aussie rallying in a Celica GT-Four, at least until pesky Possum Bourne jumped the Tasman in his Subaru.

But with the arrival of the new millenium, everything changed. The Supra was axed in 2002, the Celica in 2006, and no one’s favourite MR2 (the Spyder) died in 2007, during a period when Toyota spent the most and achieved the least in Formula One. Excitement was kaput.

Recently, though, there have been signs of life at the Japanese giant. The ascension of new CEO, Akio Toyoda – grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda – has been the catalyst. A keen racer and A-grade car enthusiast, Toyoda gave the green light to the Lexus LFA supercar and a new, affordable sports car – the Toyota 86.

Intended to put the ‘toy’ back in Toyota, the 86 (pronounced ‘eight-six’) pays homage to Toyota’s sports car back catalogue. The diminutive Sport 800 (Toyota’s first sports car) provided the boxer-engined, rear-drive layout; the breathtakingly beautiful 2000GT was placed in the 86 design studio for styling inspiration, and the AE86 Sprinter donated its soul – a lightweight, affordable coupe with endless scope for modification and the thrill of driving as its raison d’etre.

Given that Sport 800s and 2000GTs are about as thick on the ground as snow in the outback, it’s no surprise that we chose the 86’s namesake and spiritual predecessor as the subject of this ‘Then versus Now’.

It may officially be known as the AE86 Sprinter in Australia, but for Toyota die-hards, it’s the ‘Hachi-Roku’ (eight-six in Japanese). Introduced in 1983, the AE86 kept the rear-drive flame alive as the rest of Toyota’s Corolla range switched to front-wheel drive. It arrived in Australia in mid-’83 and was sold alongside a facelifted KE70 Corolla rear-driver until the front-drive AE80/82 finally went on sale here in April ’85 – two years late.

Local Sprinters were powered by Toyota’s then-new 58kW SOHC 4A-C carb-fed four and made do with rear drum brakes and an open diff, missing out on the 86kW DOHC, fuel-injected 4A-GE, limited-slip diff and (optional) rear discs of the gun Japanese AE86s (fixed-headlight Corolla Levin, pop-up light Sprinter Trueno).

We were never going to find a dead stock Sprinter, and it wouldn’t have been a fair fight if we had. But Geoff Khean’s Sprinter is a neat hybrid of the two specs. An Oz-delivered ’83 model with a mere 79,000km on the clock, it retains the rear drums and open diff, albeit uprated, but under the bonnet is a Jap-spec 4A-GE.

Parked side by side, it’s clear why Toyota used the 2000GT for styling inspiration, and not the AE86. The Sprinter is all square edges and totally bereft of adornment, apart from a body crease along its side, whereas the 86 is designed to within an inch of its life – all swoops, curves and creases. There are 2000GT styling cues everywhere – the double-bubble roof, the crisply defined guards, the door shut-line, the side window shape and the low, sloping bonnet.

That ultra-low bonnet line was only achieved thanks to collaboration with Subaru (Toyota owns 18 percent of Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries). The Subaru-developed 1998cc flat-four is mounted so low in the engine bay that, if you crouch in front of the car with the bonnet open, you’ll see that the top of the engine is below the top of the headlights.

Toyota’s goal of 200ps (147kW) was impossible with a 2.0-litre naturally-

aspirated flat-four, said Subaru, but the addition of Toyota’s D-4S direct-injection system and a quick chat to Takamitsu Okamoto, the man behind the LFA’s screaming F1-inspired V10, yielded the desired result – 100ps (73.6kW) per litre from the perfectly-square (cutely, the 86’s bore and stroke both measure 86mm...) FA20 boxer engine.

Anyone expecting a WRX-like burble from the 86mm exhaust pipes (yes, really) will be sadly disappointed, however. The engine sounds best from the driver’s seat thanks to intake acoustics being piped into the cabin, but the note never approaches seductive.

Seven-or-so seconds from 0-100km/h isn’t exactly slow, but the 86’s smooth, linear power delivery means it perhaps feels slower than it is – there’s no turbo-fed mid-range or VTEC-like top-end kick to add accelerative rush. As technically impressive as the FA20 is, it’s no 4A-GE, or Celica 2ZZ-GE either.

Khean’s Sprinter fires into life with the turn of a key … and instantly dies again. "There’s no cold start, so you’ll have to hold some revs on it," Geoff tells me. I settle for blipping the throttle, racecar-style, until the engine’s warmed through enough to hold a steady idle. A slightly sticky throttle pedal makes the initial getaway tricky, but we’re soon on the move, the whole car buzzing with the energy provided by the eager, mildly modified 1.6 (exhaust and cam).

The original 16-valve 4A-GE reached Australia in the AE80-series Corolla (86kW) and AW11 MR2 (88kW), while the 100kW version arrived with the AE90-series Corolla in June ’89. Japan also received the supercharged 4A-GZE in 1986 and a 20-valve version in 1991. The 1587cc lump has a raw character that the newer engine can’t match – it’s raucous and uncultured and goes slightly mental past 5000rpm. The tachometer is stock Aussie Sprinter and redlines at 6000rpm, but ignore that (and your bleeding ears – Geoff’s car is LOUD!) and the Hachi-Roku hurtles down the road, revving all the way to a dizzy 7700rpm.

The AE86’s driving position is excellent. The wheel is close, the gearshift just a hand’s span away, and the perfectly-placed pedals make heel-toe downshifts a cinch. The manual steering (3.3 turns lock-to-lock) is quite light and a bit vague at straight-ahead, but accuracy improves with steering angle, allowing you to lean on the 185/60R14 front tyres, the front-end hopping a little as it understeers in slower corners.

Coil-over-shod Jap imports are usually stiffer than a week-old corpse, but thanks to tuning by Melbourne outfit Shockworks, Khean’s Sprinter gives the driver confidence to push without fear of being vaulted into the trees at the first sign of a bump. It’s brilliant fun, and it’s not hard to see why young Japanese enthusiasts remain smitten with the AE86 and its legend.

One of those enthusiasts, Keiichi Tsuchiya, is now racing royalty in Japan, and as synonymous with the AE86 as our own Peter Brock is with the Commodore. During races, he cornered like a puppy on lino, his Sprinter’s rear-end flailing wildly behind the front. These sideways exploits earned him the title ‘Drift King’.

Probably much to Geoff’s relief, imitating Tsuchiya is difficult in our feature car, as the open diff means power is spun away by the inside rear wheel when traction is breached. With an LSD (it’s on the cards), Geoff’s AE86 would be even more of a riot – a fact reinforced by jumping into the 86.

You sit much lower in the new coupe, but the driving position is equally as spot-on, enchanced by superb seats. Vision isn’t as good as in the AE86, but the view out front is better – the bulging front wings being a constant reminder that you’re driving something a bit special.

Initial progress can be almost frustrating – the 86’s steering is incredibly direct, the gearbox has its own rhythm, and torque appears to be notable by its absence, but it doesn’t take long to realise there’s genuine magic in the way the 86 drives.

Toyota’s aim was to make the driver the hero and it has absolutely nailed it. Grip levels on the skinny 205/55R16 eco-spec tyres are not high at either end, but the 86 responds beautifully to your inputs and the better you drive it, the better it becomes.

The standard Torsen LSD (on all models bar the base GT automatic) means that where the AE86 scrappily wheelspins away excess power, the new 86’s rear tyres smoothly begin to describe a wider arc than the fronts. In the process, the 86’s rear-drive layout gives you options that no front-drive car can – back off the throttle and the rear will regain traction, hold it steady for a subtle slide or, in the wet at least, add more power for lurid oversteer angles.

If there’s a better motoring experience than a Toyota 86 on a twisty, slippery road, I’m not sure I’ve yet experienced it. You become an integral part of the car’s central nervous system, like something out of one of those weird Japanese Anime movies. Everything involved in controlling the car – the wonderful electrically-assisted steering, the progressive brakes, the firm but controlled damping – feels painstakingly engineered; the kind of thing Porsche does so well.

Even if the new 86 turned out to be merely okay, Toyota’s ‘fun first, numbers last’ approach would still deserve congratulation. That it’s created something wonderful, however, is truly cause for celebration. When it was announced at the 86 launch that prices would start at $29,990 for the GT manual (the car tested here – the top-spec GTS six-speed auto is $37,990), eyebrows were raised and grins exchanged. Once we’d driven it, the only question became: What colour do you want yours in?

So does the new car’s excellence leave the AE86 overwhelmed? Not a chance. The AE86 provided the spiritual blueprint for the 86, and that screaming 4A-GE engine – an unexpected highlight – can teach the newcomer a thing or two about excitement. It’s still a cracking drive now, one year away from its 30th birthday.

Both Toyotas make you want to go for a drive for the hell of it (yes, folks, Toyotas!) and, in an increasingly front-drive world, each is a wonderful reminder of the purity of rear-wheel drive. But the real star here is the new 86. It’s more than the sum of its parts and is a guaranteed instant classic. Respect.


I OWN ONE

"I’ve always liked underdogs," says Geoff Khean, explaining what drew him to the Toyota Sprinter. "I’ve always been a Mini fan; they handle so good but they’re quite slow, and [it’s] the same thing with these. They’re not the fastest cars but in the right hands, they keep up with a lot of other things."

Despite already driving a Sprinter when he spotted our feature car for sale, Geoff was unable to stop himself purchasing a second AE86, which soon became one again with the sale of his previous car.

"I bought it practically like it is. It already came with the [BMW four-pot front] brakes and the motor. I just added a few things like the T-series rear-end and the suspension. It’s only got about 79,000km on it so it’s kinda bad to drive it, but it’s my daily driver – I just like driving it!" – SN


SPECIFICATIONS

1983 Toyota AE86 Sprinter

 

Engine: 1587cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v

Power: 86kW @ 6600rpm

Torque: 142Nm @ 5200rpm

Weight: 970kg

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

0-100km/h: 8.5sec

Top Speed: 200km/h

Price: $11,200 (1983)


 

2012 Toyota 86 GT

Engine: 1998cc flat 4, DOHC, 16v

Power: 147kW @ 7000rpm

Torque: 205Nm @ 6400-6600rpm

Weight: 1222kg

Gearbox: 6-speed manual

0-100km/h: 7.6sec (claimed)

Top Speed: 226km/h (claimed)

Price: $29,990

 

 

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