Toyota 86 GT Solar Orange Limited Rental Review : Seeing Japan in a New Light

By mutasim, 11 December 2023
The 86 sits waiting for Mu'tasim at the Omoren office
The 86 sits waiting for Mu'tasim at the Omoren office

Toyota 86 GT Solar Orange Limited Rental Review : Seeing Japan in a New Light

Chiba, Japan – The crisp autumn air reinvigorated my now-worn spirit as I stepped out of the commuter train and onto the cold concrete platform steps of Unga Station.

It had been an excruciatingly long journey from downtown Tokyo by rail, and running on an empty stomach the entire day certainly did not help matters.

A quick stop for refreshments at the local Lawson later, and I was back on track, practically dashing past residences and shops.

The destination? Omoshiro Rentacar. The objective? To get behind the wheel of a Toyota 86 and experience Japan in a new light – from a driver’s perspective, in a driver’s car.

I’d been told some years ago about the existence of this company by some petrolhead peers looking to drive their dream car in Japan, and it completely changed my perceptions about renting a car over there.

Could you really get your hands on something more exciting than a Daihatsu kei box while touring this beautiful nation?

The author last rented a R32 GT-R from Omoren
The author last rented a R32 GT-R from Omoren

Headquartered in the outskirts of Chiba Prefecture with 11 other satellite offices located in other regions across the country, Omoshiro Rentacar (also known as Omoren) is home to dozens of specialty cars that are guaranteed to make the enthusiast’s heart go warm and fuzzy.

Want to putter around in the countryside in an S2000? Go ahead, they have a few of them lying around.

Want to explore the infamous C1 Route on the Shutoko expressway system in a GT-R? By all means; they have several iterations of Godzilla on hand just waiting to be unleashed – I should know, I last rented a R32 GT-R from this same outfit.

The possibilities are endless, and because their rates are relatively grounded in reality, you’ll likely take several business days deciding on which car to go for. 

Omoren allows you to select various rental periods – six hours, nine hours, a full day, overnight (between 6:00PM to 11:00AM the next day), and additional day bookings.

Furthermore, most of the vehicles listed are not subjected to mileage caps, making it incredibly enticing for folks planning on a road trip to the far ends of Japan in their favourite car.

Still, this is a rental service after all, so your expectations should be tempered.

After dutifully crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s in its tiny office hut and sitting through a lengthy safety briefing, it was finally time to embark on my little grand tour around the Land of the Rising Sun for the next 24 hours.

Greeting me right outside was the 86 itself, done up in a searing shade of orange – a not-so-subtle hint of its special nature. You see, this is no ordinary ‘Yota.

It’s called the Solar Orange Limited, and unlike the bog standard spec, this comes with the aforementioned paint job, plus exclusive upholstery upgrades such as orange contrast stitching and Alcantara bits, plus a subtle black spoiler on the bootlid.

Power comes in the form of a 2.0-litre 4U-GSE flat-four engine engineered by Subaru’s boffins, with an output of 205hp and 205Nm sent to the rear wheels.

Hardly breaking news in today’s context, but then again, the 86 was never designed for brute power.

Former Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who actively pushed for the model’s revival, was famous for saying he wanted to make Toyotas “fun to drive again”, prioritising spirited handling characteristics over horsepower figures.

Which then explains why the carmaker opted for a Boxer engine (due to its lower centre of gravity) over a straight-four, and settled for a near-perfect 53:47 weight distribution.

The particular unit I had in hand was even equipped with performance dampers from SACHS, exclusive 10-spoke alloy wheels, and uprated Brembo brakes; all part of the optional High Performance Package.

This theoretically meant that the 86 would be perfect for some proper hooning (within the confines of Japanese traffic laws, of course), which I then proceeded to test out on my drive back to Tokyo, via the Ibaraki Prefecture.

As expected, there were some minor yet annoying issues I spotted upon rolling out of Omoren’s facilities. For a car that’s not even old enough to enrol in Primary 1, many of the hard plastics in the cabin were already creaking.

The steering wheel itself was already showing heavy signs of use, with the urethane rim almost devoid of any grippy texture. Also, the front bumper had clearly been resprayed.

After some reassurance from the friendly staff that the car was mechanically sound, I pressed on, with the Boxer engine humming smoothly and confidently in the background.

In a bid to escape those pesky ETC toll gates – and by extension, their exorbitant fees – I opted to drive through small towns and backroads.

And there, I started to understand why some journalists absolutely love it, and why others deride it just as much.

Heavy traffic and narrow roads seem to be the 86’s worst enemies, especially with the notchy and clunky sensations that accompanied each shift between gears.

The stiff suspension setup was also not the best over uneven tarmac, as the cabin was shaken-up quite vigorously.

My first few kilometres in the car felt more akin to being on a rattly bumboat ride, which had me rethinking my life choices, as opposed to enjoying every fleeting moment in the sleek sportscar.

But as they say, it’s not all bad, especially after you get into the beat of things. Upon entering the more exciting sections of roads near Tsukuba with hairpin turns and elevation changes, the 86’s quirks started to make a lot more sense, and in turn, it became a lot more enjoyable to drive.

Changing gears simply felt natural and wonderfully precise as I squeezed every drop out of the Boxer engine, the NA soundtrack providing some soulful background vocals against Seiko Matsuda’s 80s hits that were playing through the sound system.

Chuck the wheel into a corner and the agile Toyota responds immediately and faithfully, clipping apex after apex with ease.

Give it enough throttle, and its rear begins to slide out playfully thanks to those skinny Prius tyres.

And to Omoren’s credit, the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres were fresh, so worries of the car skidding completely out of control were immediately alleviated.

You won’t be the next Takumi Fujiwara (Omoshiro’s agreement terms made sure of that), but the 86’s excellent cornering capabilities and sideways-friendly personality are undisputed. It really has to be experienced to be believed.

And because it’s so responsive, it’s very easy to mitigate oversteer, and I managed to catch it on more than one occasion while driving spiritedly, thus avoiding ending up on Japan’s equivalent of Beh Chia Lor.

As I finally entered the vast Tokyo expressway network and began cruising towards the famous Daikoku Futo Parking Area (PA), I also came to realise why the 86 is such an enjoyable car, unlike its technology-filled contemporaries.

Being inside the 86 is like travelling back in time, but in all the right ways. There’s no obnoxious dashboard-wide screen or vodka bar-like mood lighting to assault my senses, nor are there intrusive driving aids and active safety features to distract me from a pure driving experience.

From the physical switchgear to the perfect driver-centric seating position, this 86 feels analogue and tactile; more of an extension of my body, and less of a generic machine on four wheels.

Nevermind that the steering wheel has seen better days, or that parts of the cabin seem to be worn out from hard use. The car satisfies all my needs in the driving department, and that’s what really matters.

Dropping down several gears and slowly rolling into Daikoku PA proper, the 86 managed to attract plenty of stares and even nods of approval from locals.

This was no Prancing Horse from Modena or a bahnstormer from Stuttgart; it barely clocks 7.6secs in a century sprint.

And yet, it commands a level of respect that simply cannot be bought, as it comfortably made itself at home next to other spruced up rides in attendance.

It’s one of the last remaining “pure” sportscars from the modern era, and those in-the-know know it.

Will it ever reach the iconic status similar to that enjoyed by its AE86 ancestor? It's hard to say.

But you can bet your bottom-yen that this will forever be cemented as one of the best analogue driving cars out there, stirring the driver’s soul as it dances fluidly from one hairpin after another.

STORY / PHOTOS Muhammad Mu'tasim

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