6 January 2023

Canberra's road to the heavens in the new 86 is a driver's dream

| James Coleman
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Toyota GR86

The 2023 Toyota GR86 at Black Mountain. Photos: James Coleman.

What is the quietest tourist attraction in Canberra?

I’ve borrowed Toyota’s new GR86 from Canberra Toyota in Phillip for the shutdown period and need some sort of iconic location for the photo shoot. As Canberra is teeming with visitors eager to see all the city has to offer before the shutters fall for Christmas Day, this is proving to be quite a challenge. But one remains – Telstra Tower.

And sure enough, after a winding, 812-metre climb to the summit of Black Mountain, the sun that finally decided to come out for summer is beating down on empty concrete pavers, only interrupted by about two other cars and an occasional jogger.

And skid marks. Lots of skid marks. Though I should clarify from the get-go that they were already here.

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Certainly, a few years ago, it would have looked different.

Telstra Tower used to draw crowds for its novel revolving restaurant before that closed in 2013 due to “maintenance issues” and Canberrans and their touristy friends contented themselves with the highest view of the city.

I, for one, have vivid memories of watching on with awe as a friend dropped his used tissue from the topmost balcony, at least before his father’s swift hand of justice prevented him from littering again.

But then Telstra shut the tower in July 2021 for upgrades, and despite putting out a call for suggestions, it seems ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr still doesn’t know what to do with it (flying fox, anyone?)

So back to the car. It’s the second generation of a team effort by Toyota and Subaru to bin their cardigans and create a cheap and cheerful two-door sports car. Toyota scored the 86 and Subaru the BRZ, both of which soon gathered a reputation for their innate ability to easily drift at speeds under 40 km/h. That, and aftermarket exhaust pipes the size of small submarines.

The duo clearly hit a spot within the target market, which is why we can be glad that in an age of same-ol’ EVs and concern about the number of phone charge ports and drink holders, a true car for the enthusiast still exists.

“Or does it?” the critics will interject. Because while the new 86’s lithe, muscular silhouette might wear the GR badges from Toyota’s new Gazoo Racing motorsport division, it also comes with the option of an automatic transmission.

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OK, not what you were expecting, but calm down.

As far as automatics in sports cars go, this one’s a good ‘un – smooth and eager when you demand more from the accelerator. A ‘Sport’ mode also helps by letting the engine sing nearly to the redline before changing gears. And there are always the (quite enormous) paddle shifters on the steering wheel so you can take matters in your own hands.

After the 86/BRZ release, the second thing every buyer said after “yay” was “it needs more power”. The boffins listened and have enlarged the four-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine to 2.4 litres. It might not be the turbocharger some hoped for, but power output for the 1.3 tonne Toyota is now 173 kW – 21 more than the last one – and all through the rear wheels.

Before we get bogged down in what may or may not have happened at the top of Black Mountain at this point, let’s move inside.

Prices have hiked by several thousand dollars on the outgoing model, such that the premium GTS model now starts at $45,390. This gets you aluminium pedals, leather and suede-like Alcantara trim and heated seats, along with bigger and blacker 18-inch wheels. One rung down is the GT at $43,240.

The eight-inch infotainment touch-screen is disappointingly ill-equipped though – there’s no satellite navigation as standard and for some reason, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto was disabled on my example (maybe because Toyota’s engineers were simply too busy underneath, tinkering with everything from the dampers to the engine mounts).

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With a 0-100 km/h time of 6.8 seconds, the GR86 won’t exactly reorganise your innards, but that’s not the point. There is plenty of forward force to have me descending Black Mountain within the speed limit while wearing a stupid smirk.

Noting the car’s famed aptitude for drifting, I have to say I approached the GR86 with some measure of fear. However, it didn’t take long for this to be washed away by its epic grip on the bitumen. It’s not a loose canon by any stretch – it’s a very precise instrument – but with an ever-niggling feeling that if you were to, say, hold down the ‘Track’ button and turn off the traction control, it could … you know.

What a way to spend Christmas Eve.

Toyota GR86

The factory exhausts won’t be big enough for some. Photo: James Coleman.

2023 Toyota GR86 GTS

  • $45,390 (plus driveaway costs)
  • 2.4-litre boxer four-cylinder petrol engine, 173 kW / 250 Nm
  • 6-speed automatic or manual transmission, rear-wheel drive (RWD)
  • 0-100 km/h in 6.8 seconds
  • 8.7 litres per 100 km combined-cycle fuel usage
  • Not yet safety-tested by ANCAP

Visit Canberra Toyota for more information.

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