2017 Toyota 86 Review and Road Test

2017 Toyota 86

We take Toyota’s re-branded funster for a spin

Words by: Adam Allen

IMG_20170103_161431

 

Rest in peace, Scion. Thanks for the memories.

Where Scion is concerned, there will be lingering memories, and not all of them good ones (especially for Toyota.) The brand that was supposed to take the youth market by storm in the early 2000’s landed with a thud. Instead of wowing the younger set with factory customized colored trim pieces and cold air intakes Toyota watched helplessly as the brand’s average consumer age climbed with each passing model year. There were some bright spots- the quirky yet wonderfully boxy Scion xB, the handsome tC and the incredible FR-S (that probably should have been branded a Toyota from the get-go, but we digress.) When Toyota made the decision to euthanize Scion a few months ago, a few models were assimilated into the company’s lineup and you just knew the FR-S was going to be one of them. In its transition, the FR-S was renamed to the 86 and benefited from some front and rear styling tweaks. Although nothing ground breaking, the changes go a long way and really add to the little coupe’s aesthetics.

86 eh? There’s some history there…

The 86 nomenclature will already be familiar to those in other markets,(or those who fed Initial D arcade games a cascade of quarters years ago) as it has been sold under that model name since the car made its debut some time ago. It traces its lineage to the AE86 Corolla, a rear drive sports car that is highly sought after by the drift community. Drifters and tuners alike have always been partial to the car’s simplicity- light weight, rear drive with an engine that begs to be modified for more power. Fitting then, that when Toyota and Subaru got together to make this car they adhered to the time-honored recipe from the AE86 forefather which is basically the same car, just with modern technology, a number of safety kit and an infuriating infotainment system.

Wait a minute…your tester was automatic? Isn’t that, like, some sort of crime?

Card carrying members of the Save the Manuals movement will look at our Oceanic blue 86 with the kind of disdain you’d normally reserve for the most abhorred pariahs in society, and we might have been inclined to agree. Seeing an automatic gear lever instead of a manual one when we unlocked the doors did impart a sinking feeling- we’re spending a week in THIS? we thought glumly. Turns out we couldn’t have been more mistaken. While a plucky sports car like this practically demands a manual gearchange, our slushbox-equipped 86 was a revelation- it didn’t suck, not at all. The 6-speeder in the 86 is smart and snappy, always in the right gear and eager to downshift at the merest twitch of your right foot. Even the paddle shifters on the delightfully tactile steering wheel respond quickly and faithfully to your commands, blipping the throttle nicely on downshifts. Sure, you surrender five horsepower when you check the automatic’s box on the spec sheet, but your butt dyno won’t notice their absence.

How’s the interior?

The cockpit of the 86 is pretty business like- there’s no flourishes or embellishments to distract from the main purpose of this car, which is to provide driving bliss in spades. Everything is laid out in logical fashion, except for the touchscreen infotainment system. It’s much better than the unit that used to do duty in these cars, but it still required us to take our eyes off the road to execute any kind of command. All the other controls operate with the kind of slickness we’ve come to expect from Toyota. The seats are another bright spot- they tread that fine line between bear hugging support and all-day comfortable, something that’s elusive to other cars offering similar thrones (cough, cough, Ford Focus RS.) There are seats behind the driver and passenger, if you can call them that; they’re really just nicely upholstered cargo shelves.

If driving fun is what this car does best, does it deliver?

Other than Mazda’s MX-5, we can’t think of another car on sale today that delivers the kind of back-to-basics enjoyment you get with Toyota’s 86. Other than a two-stage stability control system and anti-lock brakes, the 86 harkens back to the days where you didn’t need turbos or intake sound piped into your car to have fun, just an honest to goodness connection with the machine underneath you. The boxer engine allows for a pleasingly low center of gravity, and you kind of fall into the car when getting in and you sit just forward of the rear axle. The steering is terrific if a smidge light on feedback, and turning the wheel sends the nose of the car darting in the direction of your choice like an apex sniffing bloodhound. The fully independent suspension offers just the right amount of body roll and takes a nice set as you make your way through the corners- actually, this is one of the only cars that’s set up from the factory to deliver giggle inducing oversteer instead of benign understeer that we’ve come to automatically expect from most of the cars we drive. The brakes are strong and are summoned by a perfectly placed pedal with good feel. One of the highlights over the course of our Road Test was driving the 86 in a snowstorm. Now, most folks might shy away from driving a light, rear-wheel drive sports car with minimal ground clearance in such conditions but not us. Toyota installed a great set of winter rubber at all four corners which allowed for a good amount of grip that could be easily and predictably overwhelmed with a touch of the throttle. Sliding the car around proved to be so much fun it was the only time we wished we had a longer commute.

What might go wrong?

Some fans on the 86/Subaru BRZ twins think that 205 horsepower (or 200 with the automatic- surely Toyota could find a way to give those five ponies back to those with automatics) is just enough, but we respectfully disagree. With a chassis this competent and fun to wring out, we think more power would be a most welcome addition under the hood of these cars. While were asking for more, how about a little more space in the interior plus a bigger trunk to actually put stuff in? Or perhaps a tiny bit more sound deadening material to quiet things down on the highway? These aren’t deal breakers, but if some of these flaws were address we’d bet it would make the 86 more compelling to buyers who would use it as their daily driver.

Should I buy a Toyota 86?

Right now, the 86 is the de facto halo sports car in the Toyota portfolio, so fans of the brand who place driver involvement above all else should snap one up immediately. In fact, we wondered aloud on more than once occasion why more people aren’t buying them. All things considered, the 86 felt like a window into Toyota’s rich history of building truly memorable cars: the aforementioned AE86, the Celica and of course, the mighty Supra to name a few. The 86 is somewhat of a paradox, then. It’s an absolute blast to drive, but it shows us what we’re missing from Toyota- cars that were light, simple, and lovingly engineered.  And yet, while the 86 clearly shows what they were capable of building in the past, it also illustrates that there is hope for the future.

 

2017 Toyota 86 — Specifications

  • Price as tested: $32,598
  • Body Type: 2+2 passenger coupe
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/rear-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Engine:  2.0 litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  200 @ 7,000 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 151 @ 6,600 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,270 kg (2,800 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 10.7L/100km (22 mpg)