We’ve all seen the slow-mo distruction videos of cars sliding in the American winter on YouTube, but if you can get your car onto a groomed frozen lake, prepare to transcend to another realm of pleasure.
We were lucky enough to do just that last week, with Toyota giving us the chance to visit Sweden to see if the 86’s brilliance translates onto a surface that’s almost impossible to walk on.
Lake Åresjön in Åre (pronunciation: Aww-de), is about halfway up the country from Stockholm and is covered by about three feet of ice at this time of year.
With everything but the ABS turned off, we were led onto a guitar-shaped course in Toyota’s little rear-driver. The name of the game was to maintain a constant drift all the way around, with the top and bottom sweepers linked by inverted sweepers to encourage two transitions per side.
That’s a whole lotta sideways, but pretty much everything you know about inducing a slide on asphalt needs to be forgotten. Anything bar the gentlest steering inputs will see you understeering into a snow bank.
The snow tires’ surprising grip meant that decent constant wheelspin was needed to keep the rear end controllable, to the point where second gear was needed to maintain enough wheel speed. The Torsen diff helped, too, keeping both wheels spinning together.
Second gear turned out to be the magic formula in general, and I was able to just leave it there with no clutch or handbrake, just steering and throttle inputs.
Compacted snow banks are best avoided with plastic bumpers, but the odd touch didn’t hurt and certainly helped us stay pointed in the right direction. A bit like bumper bowling.
It’s quite Zen when you finally manage to string a whole lap together without spinning. Gently caressing the steering wheel and throttle, you actually start pondering things like what you’re going to have for dinner, or whether the instructor ever takes his HiLux out for a play on the ice.
At this point, we graduated to the long course. About 2 miles in length, it was narrower, bumpier and somehow had taller snow banks.
Easing into it by leaving all traction aids on, this was indeed a step backwards in entertainment, but proof of how well-calibrated traction and stability control can tame even the most hilarious of conditions. Not ideal on this particular occasion, but mighty handy every other time.
The next step was to turn the traction control off, but leave the stability control on. I highly recommend giving this a go if you ever get the chance, as it gives you plenty of wheelspin in straight line, but grabs individual wheels to pull you back if there’s any sideways movement. A great demonstration of what stability control does, but nowhere near as fun as with it all switched off.
To be honest, there’s little in this life that will match it for entertainment, particularly at the long circuit’s higher speeds. You feel like you’re as on-edge as Rauno Aaltonen in the Rally Finland, even though you’re probably barely doing 30 mph.
If you don’t believe in heaven, it’s time to reconsider.