2014 Toyota 86
The first sign of old age is the time it takes to get into, and out of, a sports car. It's measured in minutes, not seconds. The second sign is when you really think the automatic gearbox makes sense.
Fact is, we're all getting older. Some look it more than others and the sadness is that while the exterior starts to wrinkle and sag, the thinking bit in our head is still aged about 22. And 22-year olds like sports car.
Enter the Toyota 86 – a car made by people accused of wearing cardigans and secretly harbouring pillow cases embroidered with the styling of the latest Camry. The 86 – and its Subaru clone, the BRZ – are civilised sports cars so far from the Camry you'd never expect a relationship.
Cheapish to buy, really cheap to maintain and full of sensible things like cup holders, starter buttons and seven airbags, the 86 will – for better or for worse – bring out the 22 year old in you.
Just don't expect your body to catch up.
The start price of $29,990 is the reason why almost 11,000 Australians have bought one of these cars since June 2012. The GTS automatic here is $39,290 plus the Aero Package - deep front spoiler, side skirts and a giant "handle" spoiler on the boot lid - adds $3000. The GTS auto is $3300 more than the GTS manual, is 0.6 second slower to 100km/h, 41kg heavier and yet more economical.
Standard kit is very good and includes a reverse camera (a recent upgrade – see breakout), sat-nav, alcantara seat inserts, heated seats, 17-inch alloys and a six-speaker audio. Servicing is nine monthly but Toyota's capped-price program means it costs only $680 for three years. Resale is one of the best around at 65 per cent retention after three years.
The simplicity of the styling is one of its attributes. It contains no excesses, just space for an engine mounted behind the front axle line, room for two people (the rear seats are impractical) and a boot sufficient for a weekend away.
It's built by Subaru (note the numerous body panels stamped Subaru) with good quality levels and the GTS's cabin is neat, attractive and comfortable. The Aero kit is outrageous and should be returned to its third-world country origin. The boot is only 218 litres – about half that of a Golf – but suits the coupe market.
The 86 uses a 2-litre Subaru engine (without a turbo) mated to a Lexus six-speed auto (manual models use the same box as a Mazda MX-5) and drive only to the rear wheels. Power is up on a Subaru equivalent thanks to a redesigned combustion chamber and a two-mode fuel injection.
It's a simple package with the accent on driver control and handling rather than engine power. Steering is electric-assist and brakes are four-wheel ventilated discs.
This is a five-star crash-rated car with seven airbags (a lot given this is ostensibly a two seater), a suite of electronic brake aids, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, auto-on headlights with washers, a yet a spare wheel is optional.
All your senses confirm this is a sports coupe. It is low, has a near-vertical steering wheel, the seats are form-fitting and visibility is reasonable to the front, barely sufficient to the rear.
The engine is raspy but eager and the automatic masks its weak low-speed torque (which peaks at an impossibly high 6400rpm). But it feels light, steers perfectly into the corner and the ride, though firm, feels taut and controlled.
It's only when the throttle is stamped that it feels breathless. Its 8.2 second time for 0-100km/h is only average. Manual-mode works best and automatic throttle blip brings a smile. But Australia's traffic control is strict and, seriously, there are few places where a true sports car can be opened up. The GTS auto is a better commuter and is more economical than the manual model.
Purists vote for the manual model but the auto is a better urban fit. Aero kit is awful.