First things first: The Toyota 86 is simply known as, well, the Toyota 86. It goes by that name in Japan so JDM fanatics shouldn't have a hard time remembering it. In Europe, however, it's known as the GT86, while in the United States, it's marketed as the Scion FR-S (the reason for which the Chief wrote about a few weeks ago.)
Now, no other modern car right now has been as highly anticipated as the Toyota 86 (especially in the Philippines), and we can think of a number of valid reasons why this is so.
For one thing, the last time Toyota had a competent sports car was in 2007, in the form of the third-generation MR2 Spyder--or MR-S, as it was known in Japan.
Another factor going for the 86 is that despite the general public's perception of Toyota as a manufacturer of bland vehicles, the Japanese carmaker actually has a rich history steeped in motorsports: World Rally Championship in the '80s and the '90s; Formula 1 from 2002 to 2009; and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2007.
The 86's introduction to the local market would also be the first time a rear-wheel-drive Toyota sports coupe will be sold locally since the fourth-generation E70 Corolla.
And then, of course, there's the association with its spiritual predecessor, the AE86 Toyota Sprinter Trueno, the original Hachi-Roku, the car driven by the protagonist in the popular Japanese anime and manga series Initial D.
Luckily for us, we were invited by Toyota Motor Philippines to join its "86 Sightings Motorcade" two weeks ago, as five units of the sports car drove around the metro as a lead-up to the model's launch later this month. As such, we were witnesses to just how highly anticipated the 86 is in the real world.
Even before the five 86s drove out of Lexus Manila's parking lot, motorists who were just passing by would stop and get out of their cars to snap a few photos of the 86 fleet. These people ranged from a group of Mini Cooper club members on their way to a car show to a lone Nissan GT-R owner who couldn't fight the urge to take photos of a car that cost a fraction of his own ride.
As soon as the motorcade rolled out of Lexus Manila and passed by the adjacent Mercato Centrale, the people who happened to be outside the weekend market and chanced upon the convoy were quick to whip out their cellphones or digital cameras to take photos. This scenario repeated itself throughout the day whenever the five 86s passed through areas where throngs of people gathered. One car we encountered even had the front-seat passenger gamely thrusting his entire torso out of the sunroof just so he could get a good photo of the 86.
Part of the weekend motorcade's schedule involved dropping by a couple of Toyota dealerships, and it was there that the 86s received a reception worthy of a rock star.
At Toyota Shaw Ortigas, the five 86s got a boisterous welcome and were quickly fawned over by the sales personnel and the mechanics. One executive we talked to even divulged that San Miguel Corporation president and noted gearhead Ramon Ang had already placed an order for the 86.
The same reception was bestowed upon the 86s at Toyota Commonwealth. Funnily enough, adding to the festivities was a Flores de Mayo procession along Commonwealth Avenue.
The convoy then cruised past Trinoma and the Timog Avenue-Tomas Morato area where, again, the five 86s earned the rapt attention of the passersby.
Following a quick bathroom break, we were given the keyfob to one of the 86 units.
On the road, the 86 is insulated from the undulations and potholes. Ride is a tad firm but that's expected of a sports car. Besides, it's forgivable and livable. Throttle response is also instantaneous, with only a quick blip required to have your torso pressed onto the seat back by the laws of physics. Having said that, while the 86 is a true sports car, it's not about 0-to-100kph sprints or top speed runs; it's about how it handles through corners. Thanks to its aggressive suspension setup that capitalizes on the car's low center of gravity, body roll when taking a turn bravely is practically nonexistent.
It was when we drove through the Greenhills Shopping Center come dinner time that the 86 was truly in its element. As we parked, a handful of individuals greeted the car and its drivers with a barrage of questions. How is it like to drive? How much will it be sold for? When will it be sold? We left the answering to Toyota's knowledgeable marketing whizzes as we partook of a much-needed meal.
With our hunger pangs appeased, we stepped inside the 86s again as the motorcade proceeded to Resorts World Manila for a couple of drive-bys in front of the Newport Mall before we headed back to Bonifacio Global City. At Burgos Circle, we caught Circuit Showdown founder and proud AE86 Toyota Sprinter Trueno owner Enzo Pastor gazing at the five 86s as we passed him. We called his attention and he called out to us, saying he wanted to see the interior of the 86. But since our schedule was dictated by TMP, we could only smile back and shrug our shoulders in helplessness.
After we parked the 86s at Lexus Manila at the stroke of midnight and said goodbye to the cars and to the staff of TMP, the only thought that crossed our minds was where to find the P1.55- to P1.875-million needed to buy a unit of this latest Toyota model. Because if we had that kind of money on us right then and there, we would've begged TMP to take it immediately just so we could bring one unit home already. It's that special of a car, really, and we look forward to getting to know it so intimately that we could actually announce on Facebook that we're "in a relationship" with it.
Photos by Igor Maminta