By on October 5, 2013

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(Everyone please welcome Speed:Sport:Life alumnus and Cayman owner John Kucek to these pages. Upon hearing that John was going to the famous Burgerkingring, I asked him to get me a review of a car not available here. Strictly speaking, he did what I asked him to do. Frankly speaking, if he comes back next time with a review of a Toyota iQ or any other badge-engineered cars we’re firing him! — JB)

“Get me a couple of forbidden-fruit car reviews”. Jack’s words were still ringing in my ears as I gingerly walked up to a rental counter in Dusseldorf a few weeks later. I knew what this particular outfit had to offer, having been here almost three years earlier to the day on another Nordschleife-bound excursion, and it was good stuff. Imagine numerous E92 M3 Coupes, with the Competition Package even, lining the airport garage tower stalls. There was an Aston V12 Vantage standing on display in the terminal, the circular kiosk next to it touting its availability “from 169 Euros a day”. At least, I think that was the gist. It could have been 169 Euros per hour, but since most of my comprehension of the German language has been cobbled together from watching Inglourious Basterds on repeat, I might have been wrong on that count. Either way, the fact that a run-of-the-mill rental counter in Germany even offers such metal bodes well for my reservation, a “Premium” class upgrade that promised a new BMW 1er, VW GTI, Mercedes-Benz A-Klasse or similar.

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“Or similar” apparently translates in German to “or vaguely reminiscent of”, because the cars available to me when we arrived weren’t the newly released Mk7 GTI, A45 AMG and M135i I had been crossing my fingers for, but instead an Audi A3 1.4TFSI, or a *gulp* Toyota GT86. I suppose you could call the A3 forbidden fruit since we’re without a current-generation A3 for the time being, and even when one does arrive stateside, it’ll be in sedan form only, the Sportback shape of the first-generation car apparently now verboten on these shores. But the Toyota? Sure, the badge on the back might be forbidden here, but any fanboy with fifteen minutes and an eBay account can make the swap from Scion to Toyota happen. So, I was left with two car choices that were more fruity than forbidden. Still, I was here to conquer the Nurburgring: I couldn’t do it in a FWD car. It had to be something properly driven, something that could kill you if you really tried – although the ‘ring can do that to you all by itself if you aren’t careful.

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And therein lies its appeal, its mystique. This track still has an air of danger to it, as former stop on the Formula 1 calendar (before the modern GP track was built next door) that killed or maimed so many greats and continues to do the same to tourist drivers and riders year after year. I left most of those details out when selling the side trip to my girlfriend, since if I stood any chance at all of visiting the place with her in the car, it had to at least seem like a fun day out. It is still quite possible to die in the “Green Hell”, but you usually need to be lacking either common sense or two driven wheels (perhaps both) to do it – most of the casualties here during the Touristenfahren public drives are motorcycle riders. In fact, we witnessed one such accident on our second day there – a bike nosed into the Armco at speed after a time-trial-prepped BMW E36 wagon got out of shape, leaving fluids on the track and nowhere for the rider behind him to go. Poor fellow left the circuit in an ADAC air ambulance, and as is often the case with accident reports on the ‘ring, the public was left in the dark as to his outcome. It’s estimated that a dozen or so folks lose their lives to the Nordschleife each year, translating to more than one per month during open season. It’s possible that what we witnessed was one such unlucky soul taking his very last lap.

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You can’t have any of that in your head as you’re circling the track, however, because there’s far too much going on to even begin processing grim statistics. What in-car videos and images completely fail to capture is the staggering elevation changes that take place over a single lap. They say the track rises and falls nearly a thousand feet between start and finish, putting to shame any roller coaster extant. Such is the sensation you get when you’re driving the place – you’re strapped into a roller coaster that is controlled directly by the size of your manhood. Also, there are other drivers ahead, behind, and – often- directly next to you enduring their own roller coaster rides. Most of the time, they’re lunatic Germans in modified GT3 RSs, M3s and Renaults that give exactly zero fucks about the racing line or passing you in a safe manner. They just want to get past you post-haste, so that when they download the lap video from their GoPro later, they’ll find they were that much closer to the factory’s published time for their car.

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I didn’t bother to look up the factory time for a Toyota GT86. Maybe there isn’t one – lap timers probably don’t count that high. But honestly, it wouldn’t matter anyway – we’re not going for outright speed here. As a retired racer once told me, there’s no sense in trying to be fastest at a track day – there’s always somebody faster. The best approach is to try to improve a little bit every time I go out, and while I’m at it, glean some driving impressions and try not to die. Obviously, the not-dying part worked out surprisingly well, despite the best attempts of ze Germans. In terms of driving impressions, I walked away from the FRSGT86 feeling enthused, as well as slightly melancholic.

I had a BRZ press car for a week earlier this year and absolutely loved it. On the street, it felt truly keyed in – every control reacting to your input intuitively, instantly. I had the chance to autocross it as well, and despite the laughably bad OEM tires, I still posted close to the fastest time of the day – at a Corvette club event, mind you. The Hoosier-shod-Z06 drivers were none too amused. From the rental counter in Dusseldorf to the village of Nurburg, a route which takes you over a mix of autobahn and hilly country roads for the better part of two hours, the impression behind the wheel of the GT86 was much the same. As it should, considering it’s a carbon copy of the BRZ. Nice steering, easily-modulated brakes, crisp throttle response, precise shifter. By now, I’m looking forward to a few laps.
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The track is packed on this late summer Friday afternoon. DTM is at the Grand Prix track this weekend, so the whole village is busting at the seams. Coupled with the region’s waning annual warm season, now every keen driver within a day’s drive has come out to enjoy a few laps, or watch others doing the same. Having secured four laps on a Ring card, the only thing standing between us and destiny is a thin automated gate arm. Card swiped, gate arm up, we’re off. Flooring it down the main straight under the bridge toward Tiergarten, I’m reminded of the unavoidable truth that I hadn’t been confronted with on the street: the Toyobaru twins are slow. Pissy slow if you’re on a racetrack. I’m getting passed by everything from warm hatches to 5-series estates, which I’ll assume were not diesel just for the sake of my GT86’s pride. But by the first series of real corners near Haffenbach, I’ve already put that out of my mind. I’m instead focusing on keeping the Toyota’s slithery tail in line, since any unexpected drift antics can put me either into one of the perilously close Armco barriers, or worse, into another driver or rider. I decide to keep the ESP on, but in the looser-reined Sport mode, hoping it’ll prevent any major slides without simultaneously overcooking the brakes.
It overcooks the brakes. By about the four-minute mark on track, an area of raucous downhill bends, the brakes are starting to stink and the tires are ready to give up the ghost.

You already knew this, but if you’re planning on tracking a FRS/BRZ, upgraded tires and brakes aren’t recommended, they’re required. Unfortunately, I had no such options for this excursion. Better nurse it through the next uphill section and stay right – way right – on track. At least it’s a good way to take in the scenery, which is, it must be said, pretty spectacular. After a short breather from any heavy braking zones, the GT86 has regained some of its composure and I decide to press it a little harder. The next section is my favorite, a snaking portion between Karussell I and Dottinger Hohe, the last miles of bends before you’re spat back out onto the main straight to count your blessings and give your car a healthy pat on the dash. Through this section, the GT86 is on point – it lets you trim your line with the slightest whiff of throttle lift, and if you misjudge the corner exit a bit, it eats up the curbs in stride. Still, more power and more grip would go a long way toward furthering the enjoyment.

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Perhaps the GT86’s only fault is the sheer accessibility of its limits. That might not sound like a bad thing, and on the street, it probably isn’t. But for someone that intends to really get the most out of the thing by taking it to track days and using it to hone their own driving craft, the Toyobaru twins come off as being a bit one-dimensional. In order to really use the car safely, you’ve got to fit better, stickier rubber – and by the time you do that, the stock car’s lovely adjustability all but goes out the window. Then, instead of sliding around, balancing on the edge of grip and feeding every nuance back to the driver, it’ll just grip and go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have enough nearly enough go to match the grip.
They’re a bit of a double-edged Hanzo then, these cars. On the street, they tempt you with tail-happiness and sensory feedback, begging to be unleashed on a track – and when you finally have one on a track, you’ll wish you had left it on the street. I’m sure the vast majority of FRS/BRZ/GT86 owners will be perfectly happy enjoying their cars’ nuances within the confines of public roads, and in that setting, I truly enjoyed what the car had to offer. But for those looking to stretch their vehicles a bit further, to use it as a tool to access greater performance and develop their own skill at the same time, there are better options out there for the money – both in the used market, and new. I’d suggest checking out Jack’s R&T piece last month for precisely the two I would prefer.

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36 Comments on “Nurburgring Diaries, Part I: 2013 Toyota GT86...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Interesting, so better tires, better brakes, and a turbo? I’m not obsessed with these as some people are, have turbo kits been released? A chassis that good deserves more power.

    • 0 avatar
      Noble713

      Yes, there are many turbo kits. One of the better ones, IMO, is from FA20Club: $3500 gets you 270whp with no fuel system mods required @ 5-7psi.

      There are also supercharger kits in roughly the same price range.

  • avatar

    I thought the hype for the Toyobaru86 was over once everyone realized the specs were accurate.

  • avatar
    carguy

    That conclusion makes perfect sense. The Toyobaru is meant to be a fun drive in everyday traffic but not designed for maximum speed on the track. Those two traits are, in fact, somewhat mutually exclusive as the high levels of grip that make a good track car don’t allow much fun on a daily drive without some seriously irresponsible behavior.

    For those that want tire smoke and brag-worthy performance specs – looks elsewhere. If you always wanted a Miata coupe or wished that BMW would remake the E30 M3 then the Toyobaru is perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      A Miata coupe and an E30 M3 won’t smoke the brakes in the first few minutes.

      The key to the Toyobaru is to realize that the version you want is coming in 2015. Subaru and Toyota will likely both have uprated versions with real brakes, real tires, and more horsepower.

      I actually think they were smart, from a marketing perspective, to start out slow, then dial up the car over time.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      But if I were to get a car to play on the track, I would rather put up with a Viper on the street than put up with the Toyobaru on the track.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    “Such is the sensation you get when you’re driving the place – you’re strapped into a roller coaster that is controlled directly by the size of your manhood.”

    Pretty much separates the writers from the bloggers. Well done.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I’ve seen these stupid FRS things so much in all of the automotive press’s that I’ve lost all interest in them, I actually applauded the man who rubbed doggy doo all over another one on the street (on the windshield, don’t wanna scratch that ultra sporty paint job).

    I get it though, they’re vaguely fun because Toyota put Prius tires on them and they have a low center of gravity, yay, whatever. Go buy an MX-5 if you want a fun lightweight RWD.

    FRS’s are becoming the Panthers of sports cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Demiurge

      I’m not sure what a German tank has in common with FR-S, but I tried MX-5 and it was smaller, less comfortable and less protected (roof) than the FR-S I eventually bought. FR-S is not vaguely fun because of the tires, it’s fun because it handles damn good and is a light RWD car with good ergonomics.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Ford Panther platform, well documented here at TTAC.

        I’m not sure when 2600-2800 really became “light”, but I would think that a reasonable “meaty”, responsive engine would be a part of the fun factor too, even Camrys handle “good” these days.

        • 0 avatar
          Demiurge

          I think it became light when all other ‘sporty’ cars became much heavier. Do you know any other RWD coupes with equal or less weight? I think MX-5 pretty much covers it.

          The engine is responsive. It can pull the car forward with a small throttle blip. It has the exactly the same 0-60 in 6.6s time as MX-5. It’s enough to let you feel how good it handles, and I don’t need the throttle when I take ramps at 60mph.

          Even Camry handles ‘good’? Not only is it obvious you never test drove the FR-S, you’re making an absurd comparison even by the armchair forum ‘documentaries’ standards.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Yea, the Honda S2000 immediately comes to mind, not in production anymore but it weighs about the same as an FRS and has better weight distribution, it also has a better engine. Probably cheaper too.

            0-60s 6 seconds huh? Yay, about every sports car does that these days. When I say “meaty” I don’t mean an engine that has good stats, I mean one that can move the car effectively across the rpm range.

            Clearly it isn’t that “meaty” if lightly tuned Cobalts and Neons are quicker on a track, and they’re FF economy cars.

            I’ve driven enough modern FF rentals to know that if an Avenger handles decently, about anything modern will.

          • 0 avatar
            JuniperBug

            1) S2000 isn’t in production anymore, so it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t conform to today’s crash standards. Standards go up, cars get heavier. That’s the way it goes. The Miata, which is often pointed out as an example as a car staying pure to its mission, has gone from around 2300 lbs in 2005 to over 2600 today, for example, and as has been said, is pretty much as light as it gets for a sports car you can buy with reasonable money off a showroom floor today. In that context, yes, the FR-S is a light car.

            2) You’re smoking crack if you believe a new S2000 ever cost $25,000, even before adjusting for inflation. A quick Google search reveals to me they were retailing for around $35k a few years ago, and when they were brand new, people were paying up to $10k on top of that. If you’re talking about used, that’s a stupid apples-to-oranges comparison.

            Be honest, Ryoku: you drive your parents’ family sedan, don’t you? Because from the way you post, it doesn’t sound like you have much experience with sports cars other than reading spec sheets. Drive a sports car on a curvy road or track, and if you have a soul, you won’t worry about 0-60 nearly as much anymore. For reference: I went from a 3.4s motorcycle to a 7.8s sports car, and I find plenty of ways to have fun with it, including being able to bump the limiter at full throttle without worrying about losing my lisence. If you’re used to video games, consider it like getting through traffic in “Hard” mode. Acceleration is nice, but it’s far from everything, and 0-60 in under 7 seconds can be lots of fun in a light, nimble car. Sure, it’s not much if you need bragging rights, but then you can always just stick a sock in your pants and save thousands of dollars, too.

          • 0 avatar
            Demiurge

            Nice reply :D I would also add that S2000 also doesn’t have a roof which is almost a requirement for New England all-year use, I’d say.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            I can relate to what Ryoku75 is saying. Before I learned the finer details of driving at the limit, anything that went fast in a straight line was fun and anything with enough roll stiffness seemed to corner good enough.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            And for the record, I thought that a proper sports car had to be reasonably quick, practicality and safety be darned, its all about the thrill.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Yes a well taken care of used S2000 is a stupid apples to oranges comparison, I’m glad to see that argument simply brushed aside.

            If YOU had a soul, perhaps you’d understand that a car doesn’t have to be brand new to be fun to drive, sometimes the best cars have a few miles on the odometer, sometimes you need to lift the hood once in a while.

            But, if you’re going to make assumptions about me and blow away reasonable comparisons, fine, glad to see that FRS fans have such vast intellect.

          • 0 avatar
            JuniperBug

            I brushed the used-vs-new argument aside because a used car is a different animal than a new one. I can just as easily say that in a few years the FR-S will be a $15k dollar car, but a new car is a new car. A ’93 NSX is a greater car than an S2000, too, but to me that’s just not relevant to this discussion.

            Of the five vehicles I’ve owned, only one was less than 10 years old, by the way (a Honda VFR that I bought new off the showroom floor), and only 2 of them took longer than 4s to do 0-60. When it comes to used performance bargains, I get it, but I also get that you can’t pretend that an old car can be compared apples-to-apples to a new one. After all, if we took your argument of “all that matters is thrills and speed for the money, safety be damned” argument to its logical end, all cars would be pointless anyway, and we’d all be riding sports motorcycles. But you’re not, are you?

            Your young age and inexperience are showing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but one day you’re going to grow up a little and see things a little less one-dimensionally. I know I did.

          • 0 avatar
            DC Bruce

            Re: 0-60 times. I would say that, on most public roads, a 0-60 time any faster than the mid-5 second range is pretty much useless. Where you’re really going to notice the difference between a 4-something second 0-60 car and a 5-something second 0-60 car is how hard it accelerates from 80 or 90 mph. A sub 5 second 0-60 car is going to accelerate hard, even from 100 mph.

            So my point is, assuming that you’re not wanting to accelerate hard from speeds over 80 mph (and no sane person on a public road is likely to be doing that), the additional delta-vee that your fast car is capable remains unused.

            The reason one buys an ’86′ instead of a V-6 Camry has very little to do with how quickly either car will reach 60 mph, and a lot to do with what happens under those speeds in braking turning, etc.

            If you want cheap straight line thrills, buy a V-6 Mustang. The engine sounds great and pulls hard all the way up the rev range. It’s got plenty of delta-vee.

            However, start throwing it around corners, and it feels like the (relatively) large and heavy car that it is. Not that it can’t do it, and do it very well; but the whole exercise feels like “work” in a way that it doesn’t in a lighter car.

            And, BTW, for a coupe, I think the ’86′ is pretty darn light, in today’s terms.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Juniper:

            You’re one to talk about “growing up” when your last posts have been less about cars and more about “Lets make wild accusations about Ryoku to make me look better!”.

            I’ll just leave this discussion at that, DC explained things well enough for me.

          • 0 avatar
            azmtbkr81

            It looks like the 2015 Mustang is shaping up to be car the best FRS/BRZ ever. I’ve been resisting the temptation to trade my Mazda 3 in for a V6 Mustang w/ track package, hopefully the wait will be worth it.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Keep resisting! I’ll take Jack’s word that the V6 mayhem is an awesome performance value, but I think half the point of owning a mustang is the V8 soundtrack.

            If I were in the market for a mustang, it would have to be a GT.

  • avatar

    From what I’ve been reading, a Turbo mod really kills the responsiveness the car has with regards to the throttle pedal. While you may gain something from the in the long run, it takes a bit of the fun factor out of the car. On the street, of course.

  • avatar

    Jack’s R&T piece last month – link is broken.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    I’m getting the impression people are trying to find ways to either like, or not like this car, only I am not sure which it is. Here the focus was driving on track and the conclusion was it is better suited to the street, while a recent R&T update on their long term car which was focussed on street driving said it was better suited to the track and was just no fun on the street.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Ha, the dork in me would like to know if you 1) were able to buy insurance coverage for track use and 2) did you violate the rental conditions of the orange-color-loving big German rental car agency that rented you the car?

    Saw one of these last time I was in Cologne a few weeks back. I didn’t get a chance to ask which class they’re in. Glad to know its the one I usually choose. Kinda hoping next time I will get a chance to take one for a whirl. I’d like a few days in one of these to see how I like it. Could be fun in the countryside….though I have it in my brain Autobahn would not be so great in this thing.

    Would love to take a lap on the Nuerburgring….but if I’m not insured I’m simply not going to do it.

    • 0 avatar

      When I went to the orange folks recently and asked for a “sports car” the class included the VW Scirocco (sp?) and the Peugeot RCZ so I was surprised when I was given a bright red Toyota GT86. The rate is very reasonable and a whole lot less than the DB9 I had from them. I would be in the market for a car like the GT86 but found the interior too depressing for words.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    You make lapping that track with the public sound terrifying, particularly “Most of the time, they’re lunatic Germans in modified GT3 RSs, M3s and Renaults that give exactly zero f*cks about the racing line or passing you in a safe manner.”

    Good read though. The link to Jack’s R&T piece isn’t working. You can get there by editing the URL though. It’s appending the R&T URL to the TTAC URL, rather than jumping to R&T.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, there were some words on this page, but that Martini-striped 911 completely got 100000% of my attention.

    Holy crap, that’s gorgeous.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Do the Euro versions of this car have a wider track or different offset on the wheels? In the pictures this is a very good looking GT86, and it appears that the wheels sit out just a bit farther than the US ones I see on the street.


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