In its first month of US sales earlier this year in May, the Toyota 86 (Scion FR-S) sold in exactly 86 examples. A little manipulation for marketing’s sake, maybe, but there was no holding back the next month with launch fever finding more than 2,600 new homes for 86s, before the monthly sales settled to a nice, round 1,430 average. This thing is a knock-out. When it was launched in the UAE there was a waiting list as the first batch of cars were accounted for, fresh off the boat. The 86 is not just hype.
And as great a sportscar as it is, this award is not warranted just because of the 86’s dynamic strengths: a revvy 2.0-litre boxer engine that calls for top-end power and a bouncing red needle for maximum results; a slick six-speed manual gearbox with short throws and a precise clutch pedal; ideal weight distribution coupled to a low centre of gravity; rear-wheel drive and Marie-biscuit low-grip (high-fun) tyres; telepathic steering.
More than even its immediately apparent sportscar traits, the 86 is our Car of the Year because it gives us hope. It’s proof that manufacturers need to stop organising focus groups, and instead just handpick a dozen of their bright young engineers (with an old dude watching over them, just so, you know, they don’t get carried away with a 12-litre W16), who also happen to like cars very much, and then put them in a room together, and just let them build a car they themselves would actually buy.
The greatest cars of all time were either results of a single genius mind (Issigonis, Chapman, Porsche, Arkus-Duntov, Shelby…), or a single purpose. For the 86, its entire purpose is putting a huge smile on your face for less than Dh100K. This car has shaken up an entire industry that just so happens to be one of the world’s most important economic sectors.
Every other manufacturer has stood up and taken notice — suddenly, they’re all left in the dark, after this startling discovery that, hey, whaddaya know, car enthusiasts really, really want to spend their money on car-enthusiast cars. What will Nissan do now? Bring back the Silvia. How will Honda grab its share of this lucrative pie? Bring back the S2000.
Mazda wants to resurrect the RX-7 and replace the MX-5. Chevrolet is parading around a cheap, rear-wheel drive coupé concept. Alfa Romeo and Fiat both want affordable four-cylinder roadsters. Audi might be going back-to-basics with the TT. There’s talk of a four-pot Porsche. Renault is resurrecting its storied Alpina brand together with Caterham. Ford of Europe is asking for a new rear-wheel drive coupé. But the 86 got there first and for that, we thank you, Toyota.