The forecast called for rain all week. I couldn't have been more excited.
This was not a car I was driving, exactly. This Toyota GR86 was an opportunity, or maybe better framed as some kind of lens. I saw things through it.
What was always a desolate mall I drove past became suddenly inviting. Maybe there was a big back parking lot. Maybe it was empty. Maybe you couldn't see it from the road. Maybe I could drive there, quietly, during off hours, and shift into first, or second, my left foot so abrupt with the clutch, my right foot working to be calm but also deliberate, rear tires spinning but not overly so, just past the limit of traction, just, and not far far and away. The car sliding, gracefully, in tidy donuts, tight and narrow, then wider and wider. That first transition, feeling the weight of the car, energy unloaded with the gas pedal. With and without; as much affected by its application as its cessation. Stepping off of the accelerator so that the car may move, switch its direction, re-center itself from the rear axis to the front, then squeezing back on the gas. A spin. A spin again. A spin again and again until it is caught, a little figure eight, something informative about the soul of a car.
I am a miner digging, convinced that there is a gem in this car. I look at the outside of this Toyota, and see qualities hiding beneath its sheet metal. The low hood: a boxer engine is there. The tin top roof: there is space there, back seats and a trunk with room enough together for a full set of wheels and tires for when you drive to your own track day, no trailer needed.
I swear I see something more; that there is a sports car driver in this car, me, behind the wheel, controlling powerslides and judging corner entry speeds out in the country. I see this car, even parked perfectly still in a garage, and I hear all four tires just barely howling. The car glows like it has its headlights on.
But are these real qualities? Am I imagining them, projecting them? Is this a sports car or just a sporty coupe that looks like one? Is there really gold in them thar hills?
After all, this isn't really the most powerful car. You get 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, this 2.4-liter FA24 engine a big step up from the 2.0-liter FA20 in older 86s, with a healthier punch in the middle of the rev range. I will admit that you do feel the difference, or at least I thought I did, my last time in a BRZ before this being nearly a decade back. It's still down on power compared to a Hyundai Elantra N, or some of the other sport compacts.
It's also perhaps less durable than you would hope, given that you would be buying a new Toyota for your enthusiast driving rather than pulling some old Alfa Romeo out of the Bring a Trailer front page, or whatever. We've seen a few of these Toyobarus very visually fail on track days, though Subaru has been adamant that these are not statistically significant failures. For its part, Toyota has been covering these failures, all part of a bit of a tortured web at this point. There has been some new discussion suggesting these FA24 engines have oil starvation issues, but shops have been saying that, if anything, these engine failures are the fault of easily-rectified service blunders. It's nothing that would disqualify me, myself, from owning one.
The GR86's weight is competitive for this day and age, in that it starts with a two and not a three. Depending on the trim, you'll be about a tank of gas over 2800 lbs. It doesn't exactly convey a terrific sense of lightness, though, not in the way a Mazda MX-5 does.
I could go on to grouse that the GR86 doesn’t move under you like a vintage Porsche 911, talking to you from the tires up the struts and through the chassis to a chatty steering wheel, or that the engine doesn't crack open your skull with the alacrity of a supercar. But strangely, it does compel you in a similar way into drives of wild speed and parking lot shenanigans. Your eyes narrow in the same way on a dangerous back road and your pulse quickens and your shoulders tighten with the same urgency. It awakens that same spirit.
Everything else that is lacking—the quickness of the steering, the tightness of the suspension, the punch of the engine—these are things you start tallying in your mind, things that you yourself will change. It's a set of tires, a set of shocks, an ECU tune and a Nameless exhaust away from the GR86 as it exists in your mind. The GR86 that it creates in your mind. The GR86 vision with which it shrouds your eyes and clouds your mind.
How happy I was doing those donuts in the rain. How happy I was, even, driving around and hunting for those empty lots, those quiet routes not even on Google Street View. I thought I was looking at things differently through the GR86. I thought the world looked different through its windshield. It was I who was changing, though. It was changing me. Transforming me into a different person, one often darting out to escape into a little drive. More selfish. More gleeful.
It has a bewitching quality, the GR86, one that turns a plain coupe into something extraordinary, parking lots into playgrounds, dark and rainy weeks into ones filled with joy.
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