THE Toyota 86 has a very different DNA to its spiritual forebear, the AE86 Sprinter, if you ask me.
What would I know? I own one – a 1984 Trueno GT-APEX with the revered 1.6-litre inline-4 4A-GE, the engine Toyota built that very closely resembled the legendary Ford Cosworth BDA 1.6-litre inline-4 of the time.
With the same bore and stroke (81 x 77mm) and similar head designs, both engines, in race trim, would produce similar outputs at similar rpms.
In road trim, in this car, thanks to 16 valves, twin cams and EFI, you’re talking 96kW at 6600rpm. Not too shabby for 1984. And it’s the spirit of this engine the new Toyota 86 can’t quite live up to. The most underwhelming thing about the new generation 86 (and Subaru BRZ) is exactly that, its 2.0-litre FA20 boxer-four engine.
Don’t get us wrong, with 152kW/212Nm it more than does the job, but in a more functional than emotional manner. The sound in particular will hardly raise the hairs on the back of your neck. That is, unlike the 4A-GE. A good 50 per cent of why this car is the cult classic that it is has to do with the engine.
Its power delivery is linear, the throttle responsive, and the noise magic all the way to its 7300rpm redline. With a little sports exhaust and pod filter, this is an engine that sounds like it’s revving about 1000rpm harder than it should be – in a good way. It is a truly legendary naturally-aspirated donk.
Of course, the little AE86 isn’t going to win many drag races because despite its screaming atmo engine making it feel fast, a new Toyota 86 would smoke it in a straight line. And the new 86 itself is hardly your first choice for the Friday night drags. Should Toyota have used an inline-4 in its new 86 instead of the boxer?
Well, that’s a question more for Subaru, whose responsibilities included the engine. And with no existing inline-4 in its range, it wasn’t about to go develop one for a relatively low-volume project. Plus, with a more upright engine, the new 86 and BRZ would be very different cars; the front would presumably need a total re-style in lieu of ditching the low, scalloped-out bonnet.
And part of the 86 and BRZ’s sublime front end surely has much to do with the boxer engine’s lower centre of gravity. If it’s the engine that an AE86 owner would find most underwhelming about a new 86, they’ll be blown away by the chassis. The AE86 is a surprisingly agile car with a lightness and willingness to its handling unexpected for its age.
And, of course, the legendary oversteer is more fact than myth, the AE86 flowing into friendly roll oversteer when pushed into fast corners, which you can drive out of with the throttle easily, the 4A-GE revving its head off in the process. This is a very fun car.
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The same handling compliments can be given to the 86 and BRZ – and it’s the strand that most strongly connects new to old. With lithe and eager handling, fantastic steering and an obvious rear-drive character, the 86 will have you hunting down corners. As has been much publicised.
Like the DNA of two parents into one child, perhaps it was just unlucky the Toyota 86 ended up with the Subaru engine. The soul of the AE86 lives on in the seat and steering wheel of the new 86, just not the accelerator pedal. Or tail pipe.
Fuel this month: 9.6l/100km
Distance this month: 866km
Liked: AE86-like handling and fun
Disliked: Engine doesn’t howl like a 4A-GE