For over a decade, like it or not, Toyota has been the voice of reason in the Japanese automotive world and since the late 90’s, hardly any fun sport car was released with a Toyota logo on it. Gone the Toyota Supra, forgotten the Toyota Celica… But then a few years ago, out of nowhere, came the LF-A an amazing Super Car that blew our mind and ears thanks to its astonishing V10. Sure, this was an incredibly expensive car and was released as a Lexus but it was a sign that Toyota was back in the game and was serious about it. So, it is then no surprise that after so many years ignoring the segment of fun and yet affordable sports car, the FT-86 was unveiled.
Toyota did a great job with the design of the FT-86. Well yet, proportioned and aggressive elegant, “love at first sight” would probably describe best our feelings when we first saw it at the Tokyo Motor Show. When you enter the car though, the design slightly disappoints by the quality of the materials employed. There is definitely a cheap feeling about it and while the FT-86 looks more expensive than actually is from the outside, no mistake possible when you sit in it: it is an affordable sport car. Anxious to turn the engine on?
Let us look at the specifications, before taking this baby for a spin. The FT-86 is powered by a 2. liter, naturally-aspirated 4 cylinders boxer engine which delivers 200 HP at 7,000rpm. Perhaps not an impressive figure, but could already be a lot on a car that only weighs 1210kg.
When idling and at low RPM, the engine note is far from melodic, sounding perhaps more like a food blender than anything else. Its tricky short-straw gear box also left us frustrated, especially when hitting 2nd and 3rd (the mechanic later indicated that this particular model might have suffered from people not knowing how to drive a stick – 99% of the cars being sold in Japan being automatic). So, despite its look, the FT-86 did not impress us… until we had a chance to hit the road , as you may have guessed! Indeed, everything that was first disappointing just vanished as our right foot started to get heavier and when the road finally opened-up in front of us. Once you start hammering down on one of these little country side road or mountain road you will finally have the chance to meet the real FT-86 , even though granted the FT-86 is still underpowered to be the road devil you dream of on the highway! First and foremost the FT-86 is glued to the road. We did not have such feeling on a RWD car like this since the Lotus Exige S, and unlike many other small coupé – say for instance the Mazda Roadster or 370Z – the FT-86 is very forgivable. Push it a little further and you feel the back end point the front back exactly where you want it as well as responding well to a really aggressive driving style. Being used to drive more “powerful” cars, we journalists, expect Sport Cars to behave in a certain manner at high speed. Surprisingly, the FT-86 have forced us to reconsider our driving habit : fun can also be reached at low speed! If you push it too hard Toyota’s stability control will always be there for you allowing the average driver to explore their limits far easier than any other cars currently on sale, Fitted with 215/45 R17 Michelin Green X tires like your average Prius, the FT-86 in 2nd gear will slide nicely and still be under control at every tight corner you will throw at it, and. Ready to got a bit further? Then turn on the FT-86 “VSC Sports” mode on that will lessens the impact of the TCS and Stability control systems allowing the driver a little more freedom when cornering and much more fun! Still not enough? Well guess what you will be able to fully get rid of all these electronic nannies by pressing and holding the VCS and VCS Sports buttons simultaneously for 3 seconds. The entire safety net is switched off, allowing total freedom to slide the vehicle.
So, here it is, the FT-86 is an entire novel car, designed for drivers, a car that will entertain you, regardless of your skills, and without throwing a lot of cash out of the window or smashing the first wall you meet in a curve. Naturally the FT-86 will never out perform an LF-A or 358 Italia, nor its engine melody will carry you away but the FT-86 does one thing extremely well: entertain you ! Now is this car for everyone? Well not really since the FT-86 is far from being really practical, the rear seats are only there for show or if you happen to have midgets for friends. No really the FT-86 is either made for people with no family or for people who already own a car and wants to have a fun car to drive during the weekend on track days or around mountain roads. So if you have the money but not the family or the time and money for a 2nd car and want to sharpen your driving skill, well the FT-86 is MADE FOR YOU !