Payne: Porsche maestro meets Toyota student
Porsche vs. Toyota? What’s next, Payne, Thor vs. Underdog? Bear with me, dear reader, there is method to my madness.
Fifty years after the glorious 1960s, we are living the Second Golden Age of performance. Corvette Z06, Ford GT, Jaguar F-Type, Ferrari 488, Audi R8, BMW M4. It’s an egalitarian Golden Age, too.
Just as the ’60s heralded the arrival of the pony car — the everyman’s sport coupe — so has Golden Age 2 brought Easter eggs for every class of car enthusiast. Even in the pony aisle you can find a $26,000 Mustang and $64,000 Mustang GT350R shopped by disparate customers who would never share the same social calendar.
Once upon a time you could also get a beginner’s Porsche — the standard of sports car excellence — without breaking the bank. A 1970 Porsche 914, say, or the used, 1987 Porsche 924S I put training wheels on as a 20-something. But with Porsche 911s starting at an eye-watering $90K, those days are in the rearview mirror.
Or are they? Say hello to the Porsche with the Japanese accent.
On paper, the $27K Toyota 86 (or BRZ if you want it with a Subie badge) is an entry level competitor to Mazda’s iconic, $25K MX-5 Miata. But the Miata is a tiny, two-seat, kick-in-the-pants roadster. The Toyota — my favorite entry-level sports car since the 924S/944 — is made from different stuff. Porsche DNA stuff.
With a horizontally-opposed piston, flat-4 engine, 2+2 seating, balanced handling, and simple, aero shape, the front-engine Toyota follows in the footsteps of the rear-engine, Stuttgart maestro with its flat-6 engine, 2+2 seating, balanced handling, and bullet-shaped bod. The 86 is a junior 911. A tiger cub. LeBron in high school.
And like $30 million for LeBron all grown up, our comparison begs the question: What do you get for the 911 GTS’ $100K premium over the 86?
I took both athletes straight to Hell (Michigan, that is) to find out.
The 86 is a rebadged Scion FR-S that has found a home in Toyota’s barn after the youth brand went belly up. My $129,560 Porsche GTS is priced a la carte with upcharges for everything from heated seats to rear axle steering. The 86 carries over from Scion which means it comes at once price: $27,870. The eager sports car isn’t interested in haggling with you — it just wants to be driven.
I need a giant shoe horn to get into Mazda’s Miata, but Toyota and Porsche are easy fits with low-slung seats and ample headroom. Both cars focus the driver on aggression. Like the Porsche, the Toyota’s 7,500 RPM-redlined tachometer dominates the instrument panel — flanked by a 160 mph speedo and gas gauge.
The Porsche brings more gauges — “MORE” will become a consistent theme here — for a total of four flanking the center tach. Data like 200-mph speedo, tire pressures, oil temps are all here so your attention isn’t diverted from the asphalt you are rapidly gulping. I inserted the key on the Porsche’s left dash — just like LeMans racers once did as they slid into the cockpit. Porsche leads Toyota in overall LeMans wins, 19-0, so the Japanese make has some heritage work to do.
At the heart of these rear-wheel-drive athletes are “flat” engines — so-called because of low center-of-gravity, horizontally-opposed cylinder chambers. In fact, the 86 has the lowest CG in the business (along with the battery-laden Tesla Model S) — nearly an inch below the 911.
Driving with traffic on Racetrack-96 — er, Interstate 96 — toward Hell, the 911’s turbocharged, 3.0-liter flat-6 is the smoother drivetrain. I miss the normally-aspirated six’s rasp — muffled by efficient, twin turbos — but nail the engine over 4-grand and that familiar flat-6 wail is still there.
On the drive I assessed interior ergonomics. The Porsche’s gorgeous leather and suede seats shame the cloth-attired 86, but the Toyota shines with useful console storage space and cup holders. Porsche’s center console sleeve is festooned with performance buttons, leaving the cupholder duties to two flimsy pop-outs above the glove box.
My tall Arizona iced tea sat perched precariously in one — which I quickly drained lest tea coat the interior at the first temptation to pull Gs.
That tempting came as I departed I-96 at the Exit 148A cloverleaf.
Settling the car with a brake dab, I hit the 180-degree clover like a slot car. No matter how hard I pushed the throttle, the car wanted more G-loads. More, more, more.
The playful Toyota attacked the cloverleaf just as eagerly, its firm suspension also easily controlled. But the 86 shares narrow tires with Toyota’s Prius, where the Porsche’s Pirelli P-Zeroes are wide as a semi-truck. So 86 and I danced through the 180, the tires screaming at the limit. It would foreshadow the twisted, three-dimensional curves of Hell’s sensational, wooded Glenbrook and Hankerd roads.
Like two zoo cats let loose on the Serengeti — lunging, turning, roaring — these sports cars were in their natural element.
It’s a domain that rewards the Porsche’s most telling advantage: The drivetrain.
While the Toyota’s 6-speed automatic is smooth on the highway, it strains to coax power from the 86’s tepid, 200-horse four. To keep revs up off turns, I put the car in manual and flipped the steering-wheel paddles between 3rd and 4th.
Mated to 450 horsepower (40 more than the 911S), the GTS’ dual-clutch, 7-speed PDK tranny is engineering from the gods.
The 911 devoured Hell’s roads, often at speeds 20 mph above the plenty-quick Toyota. So smart were upshifts and downshifts that I never bothered with its paddles. These are computer game speeds with corners rushing up so quickly I thanked the 14.5-inch front Brembos for their superhero stopping power.
On trafficked, two-lane Pinckney Road back toward I-96, the 911 kept on giving.
At just 2,811 pounds, the Toyota executed dotted-line passes adeptly, the flat-4 screaming in my ears. The Porsche’s electronic PDK supercharged the experience with its steering-wheel-mounted, Sport Response button. Think Formula One’s push-to-pass function.
Luffing along in 7th gear in SPORT mode, I pressed the button and — WAUUUGGGHH! — the engine instantly down-shifted to 3rd gear, revs spiking to 6000 RPM. I was past a line of traffic before I could murmur: OMG.
Is it worth $100K? If you’ve got it. But if not, buy a Toyota 86. Because in the Second Golden Era, everything shines.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” Sat. noon-1 p.m. on 910 AM Superstation.
2017 Porsche 911 GTS
Rear-engine, rear-wheel drive,
four-passenger sports car
3.0-liter , twin-turbo flat-6 cylinder
7-speed manual; 7-speed, dual-clutch
$119,000 base($129,560 GTS Coupe as
450 horsepower, 405 pound-feet torque
0-60 mph, 3.5 sec. (mnfctr.); top speed:
EPA mpg est. 20 city/26 highway/23
combined (automatic as tested)
Slot-car handling; Sport Response button
Flimsy cupholders; no console storage
Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★
2017 Toyota 86
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive,
four-passenger sports car
2.0-liter flat-4 cylinder
6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic
$27,870 (automatic a tested)
200 horsepower, 151 pound-feet torque
(automatic as tested)
0-60 mph, 7.7 sec. (Car and Driver);
top speed: 126 mph
EPA mpg est. 24 city/32 highway/27
combined (automatic as tested)
Nimble handling; great sports car starter kit
Narrow tires; lack of low-end grunt despite