As if the absurdly hyperbolic headline “The day the world changed” wasn’t enough of a tip-off , the hype machine for the Toyobaru twins has officially reached its zenith, with Wheels magazine’s Peter Robinson declaring the Japanese-spec Toyota 86 to be superior to the Porsche Cayman.
Reading Robinson’s article, it’s as if I’d experienced a different car than the two FR-S’ I’d already driven. Robinson rhetorically muses on whether the transmission is “…the best manual gearchange ever” (Not a chance) and praises the Toyobaru’s steering as being better than the Cayman’s. If you want to feel like you’re driving Polyphony Digital’s approximation of what a Miata feels like, then yes, it’s wonderful. Reading the rest of the article, you’d think that this car could cure cancer, re-ignite the spark in your floundering marriage and make your hairline stop receding.
When I wrote my first article on the hype surrounding this car, I was partly dismayed because I was prepared to go and buy one, with my own money – not as some corporate (or freebie) long-term tester. The reviews I’d read beforehand led me to believe that this was the one we had all been waiting for, the affordable sports car that would set the competition on fire and usher in a new era of focused, rear-drive machines that a punk like me could realistically afford. I tempered my expectations, hoping it was merely a blast to drive, rather than the Second Coming of Christ, but even then, the experience left something to be desired.
Make no mistake; it’s a good car. We need cars like this, badly. It really is light, nimble and engaging, it looks sharp and it’s priced accessibly. And yet, I couldn’t really connect with the car. I began to empathize with the reviewers who felt that the original Lexus LS400 was a well-made simulacrum of a European luxury sedan, but without the essential intangibles that make the car a superlative experience rather than just “good”.
Some people seem to think that I have a particular axe to grind with this car, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My issue is that the breathless praise of the Toyobaru is harmful to the car itself. The Toyobaru has numerous flaws that keep it from being truly great, but there’s no honor in obscuring them. The engine is a dud, there are instances of embarrassing corner-cutting evident in places that most people don’t look and the dynamics of the car feel more digital than analog – something that may be unavoidable in this era, but it remains a sore spot as long as the MX-5, with its hydraulic steering, frenetic I4 engine and unassailable manual gearbox exists in its current form. Even Randy Pobst, in his recent Motor Trend comparo, felt that the twins lagged behind the MX-5 in subjective driving pleasure.
From that vantage point, comparing it to a Cayman is asinine. The Cayman is better in every single respect, period. It’s also exponentially more expensive, built to a much higher standard and therefore, should be better. Robinson’s insistence to the contrary is disingenuous, and no amount of “everyone has their own opinion” is going to convince me otherwise. It’s a blatant falsehood, like assertions that the Hyundai Equus is superior to the Lexus LS. Both are fine vehicles, but one is simply better than the other, and I can’t ignore it. Would I go and buy the Equus to save some money and get an almost-as-capable car? You bet. But I wouldn’t delude myself into thinking I bought a superior car. Instead I’d be satisfied with the value proposition and the anonymity, and leave it at that. Nobody is cross-shopping the Toyobaru and the Cayman the same way – the car is a stepping stone to Porsche ownership, one that’s been sorely missed in the market. Why pretend otherwise? I’m perfectly content with accepting the Toyobaru on that premise, with all the compromises it entails. But trying to portray it as a “giant killer” or whatever hyperbolic turn-of-phrase is en vogue right now will only induce eye-rolls and lead to unmet expectations. Lest we forget the Camaro and how opinions changed once the rose-tinted glasses came off a year later.
Fanboyism always plays out the same way. Lacking any concrete or meaningful pursuits to identify with, people hitch their emotional and even spiritual well-being to manufactured brands and entities. They invest themselves in them with literally a religious fervor, and any attack on their chosen entity is taken as blasphemy. Movie critics are getting death threats over poor reviews of the newest Batman flick, and auto journalists are unwilling to give a sober analysis of this car, save for the lads at Evo magazine. Nonwithstanding all the insinuations about being blackballed, my experience has shown me that few journalists (but many readers) are willing to stand up and say “The Emperor has no clothes” when a car doesn’t live up to the hype.
The Toyobaru, at least, isn’t naked.
Postscript: I’ve seen comments on various forums alleging this review was bought and paid for – I promise you, dear reader, it’s not. This is the work of an overly enthusiastic journalist who is either using hyperbole as a literary crutch, or is so self-deluded that they have the gall to run this story without a hint of irony.