It’s utterly refreshing to come across cars that remind us why we drive in a spirited manner in legal settings, cars that scare and excite us in the same beautiful way. Let me throw it back. A mate had a Toyota Run-X RSi with full verve, a performance air intake, and a short shifter. I found Allan Van Rooyen’s love for the Toyota brand to be quite brave, since our group of friends were heavily into another brand. He knew how to extract the acclaimed VVT power from his RSi. Heck, he would keep up with us on long distance trips and still boast about better fuel consumption. The car is still around after countless years of beatings at high revs.

That RSi’s naturally aspirated 1.8-litre motor made 141kW in standard form, from which he later extracted more power through after-market modifications. A true legend. Much later another mate – Nithaam Fakier – acquired the famed 86, which was more into stance than performance. It was quite a winner in his circles. That was my first encounter with the 86. Fakier was followed by an old high school friend Mbuyiselo, who copped a hot red one just for its looks; the only one ekasi. The 86 never excited me one bit; it looked fast but dololo excitement, despite all the ingredients that made it earn legendary status. I never even bothered to ask for drives from both gents. That 147kW and 205Nm to the rear wheels never excited me, perhaps both owners were to blame for my lack of interest.

Almost 10 years later Toyota has gone back to the drawing board with info from the current 86 owners, sales patterns, and Gazoo Racing expertise. This now equates to something spine-tingling and grin-inducing. The new GR86 is one of three halo models under the Gazoo Racing products portfolio in Mzansi, the other pair being the drop dead gorgeous Supra GR and the insanely famous Yaris GR.

The new GR86 is a well-endowed in looks. That sloping roof line which further enhances its coupe stance, black mirror caps, extended side sills, a huge grille with fang-like sills in black plastic, LED lights, and the rear end are the most striking parts. The oval chrome tailpipes look promising, but don’t provide much aural pleasure. Our unit also had optional 18-inch multi spoke alloy wheels in black to add to its street cred.

The interior flow is simply awesome. The improvements from the predecessor are glaring, including that Alcantara look and feel. Toyota’s “ultrasuede” feels great to touch, those hugely supportive sports seats, a well laid out centre console with a 20.3cm touch screen infotainment system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity. There is a sense of occasion mixed with purposeful presence with this interior. The manual unit seems quite straight forward with specifications, while the automatic gets a few more safety driving aids that are not so intrusive.

The newcomer benefits from a bigger engine in the form of a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre flat/ boxer petrol engine, which is 400cc upgrade from its former self. It reaps huge gains in power, 174kW of power and 250Nm of torque, 27kW and 45Nm more than the predecessor respectively. The same 6-speed manual transmission – crisp, short throw – and improved automatic gearbox, send power to a limited slip differential at the rear. It also has a very balanced 53/47 front /rear weight distribution split. Toyota says the 0 – 100km/h sprints range from 6.4 to 6.8 seconds, with the manual derivative being the quicker of the two. This is also evident with the top speeds at 226km/h for the manual and 216km/h for the automatic.

But this car is not about high speed indulgence really. Rather it is about how it rips the inner driver out of you and engages with the natural mechanics of gravity and pure driver enjoyment. The engine’s linear delivery was a beautiful shocker to my system; a naturally aspirated car with such sharp throttle inputs is thoroughly refreshing to say the least. Each input with gusto to the other side of 7 000 revolutions rewarded me with intense sensation of gratitude for such a ride.

The 250Nm of torque is availed from 3 700rpm, which then makes sense how this car accelerates much better than its predecessor. Steering feel is direct with the front end grip that is near perfect should one place it correctly on the apex. Minimal nose lift on hard pull offs means you are constantly aware of what the front end is doing. Dial it up and the handling is brilliant through sharp corners, even though a sense of caution needs to always be shown as this GR86 is proven to wag her tail when provoked hard enough.

Out on the open road the GR86 was much more rewarding, that chassis and suspension was mad made in a place where people understood varying road conditions, sports cars that handle bumps like that almost don’t exist or do so with the aid of air suspensions and many electronics doing a million calculations to better cushion you. The motor enjoys being wrung the same way could I wide throttle it like a diesel engine with high torque figure. The result was sublime ride in managing long sweeps and mild direction changes. Both gearboxes are good. However, the manual has a sense of urgency and feel that just can’t be matched in fun terms. Possibly the only thing missing is a rev matching change down feature.

This GR86 manual reminds me of the heyday sports cars. This GR86 does sound great from inside though, thanks to a speaker mounted inside the dash which now enhances the engine note.

It’s magnificent! The smaller boot space, and cramped cabin are just about the only flaws I came away with. Even though I am of average height, I could feel that I needed a tad more space.

In the era of SUVs and New Energy Vehicles, the GR86 is the people’s fighter in the drivers’ car segment.

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