High performance – Toyota 86 GS TRD

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Apart from its classic front engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, another nice thing about the new Toyota 86 is that it can be ordered as a relatively basic car or loaded up with modifications, depending on your budget. This highly anticipated 2+2 compact coupe is available in two versions, the 86 S and the 86 GS, and each can be further specified with one of three Toyota Racing Development trim levels – TRD Aero with an aerodynamic kit, TRD Sport which adds on a few more items like a front strut brace, high-performance front brake pads and 18-inch alloy wheels, and the $30,000 TRD Performance package.

This means the price difference between an entry-level Toyota 86 S and the top-of-the-line Toyota 86 GS TRD Performance is almost $40,000. But for that money, the latter will feel like a totally different car. The TRD Performance upgrade includes the TRD Aero and TRD Sport aesthetic bits mentioned, plus a couple more goodies that actually improve the 86 GS’s dynamics. There is the stiffer and lower TRD Performance suspension, thanks to a new set of coil springs and dampers, as well as a rear diffuser and quad tail pipes that boost engine output. On paper, there is no change to maximum power and Toyota declines to comment further on this, but the new exhaust system is likely to add at least five to 10 horses to the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine.

More excitingly, the TRD Performance package makes the Toyota 86 GS sound completely different with a louder and angrier exhaust. The car also feels more aggressive with a sharper steering. Compared with the S version, the GS gets more standard equipment. These include keyless entry, an engine push start button, a digital speedometer in the centrally located tachometer, and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles for the six-speed automatic transmission. But the most important add-on is the limited slip differential (LSD) for the rear axle.

The LSD distributes torque in a corner to facilitate “turn in” by virtually eliminating understeer, thus allowing the car to change direction more quickly.

The 86’s suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones behind. It is set up to encourage tail-happy behaviour and the LSD only makes things easier.

Floor the gas pedal in a sharp turn and you can feel the rear end of the 86 GS straining to break away. Shift down to a lower gear, add a slick surface and it becomes a certainty. And this is before VSC, vehicle stability control, is turned off.

But lift off the accelerator and the car immediately becomes docile again. It is so much fun trying to get this low-slung Toyota to go sideways. In the driver-focused cabin, one sits very low holding a steering wheel that is the smallest to be found in a Toyota.

There are no distracting multi-function controls on the steering and anti-reflective materials have been chosen for the interior trim. The cabin doesn’t look high-end but it is functional. With its good balance (front/rear weight distribution is 53:47) and low kerb weight (just under 1,300 kg), the 86 GS Auto is a highly engaging car. This is no ordinary Toyota. – The Business Times