About four years ago I pulled into a parking lot in front of a restaurant in Pretoria and as I got out I heard a patron say: “Wow, check that Ferrari.”
I did not correct them, despite the fact that my car was about 25-times cheaper than anything available from the Italian brand and it had a large Toyota badge on the front and rear.
You can forgive a non-car person for mistaking a Toyota 86 for something a lot faster, more expensive, and more luxurious, however, because it tries its best to look the part.
The fact that my second-hand 86 – a 2014 High model with a manual box – was in red was another contributing factor.
Another social perk of owning an 86 is that other 86 drivers wave at you when you drive past. Or they flash their lights or nod their heads at intersections.
People also leave slips of paper in the thin gap between your driver’s door and window, stating they run a Toyota 86 WhatsApp group and that you should join.
Why do we wave at each other?
Why do strangers invite you to WhatsApp groups?
Because there is a common thread among us.
We took our money and bought a car which is not particularly fast, not very practical, does not carry much prestige, and is horribly expensive to insure.
We bought a car which gives us a small break from normal life.
What you don’t get
The Toyota 86 is a small car.
It has two doors and two proper racing-style seats. There are small fabric-covered buckets at the back which are called seats in the brochure, but I would not advise you go around offering people a lift.
These back seats do fold flat, though, and link to the boot – which means you can drive around with food shopping or a small, flat-packed TV unit.
Laundry baskets, kitchen chairs, and large cushions will not fit.
It is not economical by modern standards, and uses over 10-litres per 100km with normal driving.
Normal driving in an 86 involves shifting from second, to third, to fourth at 7,000rpm each time at least once a week to ensure the engine is working properly.
You will also run several burnies at a stop street or set of robots after taking ownership of your car – right up to the point where you have to replace your tyres and discover that four Michelins cost R10,000.
The ride height is low, which means sloping driveways and large speed humps are dangerous to cross. Parking on a pavement is also not happening.
You battle to reach gate intercoms from the driver’s seat, cops like to pull you over before realising their SAPS bakkie is worth more than your ride, potholes or large stones are a mortal threat, and the suspension is stiff – so you feel the road underneath you and all the bumps it has grown.
Topping it off, the 86 runs a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, naturally-aspirated Boxer engine.
This produces 147kW when the revs are high, but in a straight line from a standing start – especially when you live in Joburg at altitude – the car is not fast.
See that VW Polo GTI? Don’t race it – it will beat you.
What you do get
In exchange for the list of things you do not get, the 86 gives you a small handful of moments which you cannot find in another car at its price.
Its exhausts grumble when you start it, and they start to sing when you reach 4,000rpm.
How fast you go around a corner is dictated by how brave you are, not from fear of the car sliding – and your body is sucked down to the road along with the car as you accelerate out.
You put your foot flat on the accelerator after shifting from fourth to third, and the 86 shouts back. It is angry that it has been so long since you last fully punched it.
Every cent you pay is for this feeling.
There are not 15 different driver settings, either, or a range of fancy sensors telling you how many Gs you are pulling or what the type pressures are.
It is analogue on the inside. Simple and uncluttered.
The car is also beautiful.
This is not a throw-away romantic line stolen from an Alfa Romeo review – the 86 is beautiful.
Its hips which flare over the back wheels; the small, sunken lines at the front of the bonnet which run away from the badge; the 17-inch mags with thin rubber wrapped around them; and the low roof which requires you to have a haircut before getting in.
I park my 86, walk away a metre or two, and turn around and stare at it for several minutes at least once a month.
It looks like a car which does not care what you say about it or write about it. It knows what it is and what it can do.
The badge does not matter, the straight line speed does not matter, and the numbers do not matter.
It is a car whose only goal is to be driven by people who like driving, and who want to feel the road beneath them.
It’s not expensive. It’s not cheap
Unfortunately, I cannot end this review poetically – we have to discuss the numbers.
It turns out the numbers do matter.
A new 2020 Toyota 86 is priced at R644,800 and comes with a 4-services/60,000km service plan.
Service intervals are 1-year/15,000km, and the standard warranty is 3-years/100,000km.
You can buy a second-hand 86 for much cheaper than this, though, and if you shop around and negotiate a 2012/2013 model with under 60,000kms on the clock can be had for around R225,000.
Service plans and warranty extensions are available from Toyota, and I am on my second extension for the service plan.
Two things you need to be made aware of are tyres and insurance.
The 86 runs on 215/45 R17 tyres, which are expensive if you like good rubber.
Insurance for the car is also much higher than cars with a similar value.
My 2014 model with 68,000km on the clock comes in at R2,300 per month in premiums for comprehensive cover from a mainstream insurer.
I like to think that my premiums help cover other 86 drivers who have to park on the street at night or had to claim because they reversed into a pole.
After all, us WhatsApp group members must stick together.