Years ago The Garage posted a popular series titled ‘Forgotten Sporty Cars’. Popular with our readers, the series featured several sporty cars from the 70’s and 80’s, a time when affordable sporty cars were sold by nearly every major manufacturer. As the 90’s came to a close, the breed was pretty much extinct. Generation X’ers were starting their families, and Gen Y kids were the first sign of a trend of a younger generation that showed a sort of ambivalence towards the automobile. Still, the auto enthusiast was not dead, and the memory of the rear drive Corolla GT-S of the 80’s still burns.
In an obvious move to save money in design, engineering, and build costs, Toyota teamed up with Subaru. Four years ago when the car went on sale, there was the Subaru BRZ, the Toyota 86, and the Scion FR-S. In North America, Toyota had a bit of an image problem-it’s average buyer was the oldest of any Asian automaker, and so younger buyers perceived Toyotas as older people’s cars. Scion was created to lure younger buyers into the fold. Not going as well as planned, 2016 marked the end of Scion. North America now gets the 86 for 2017, but Toyota did a little more than just replace badges-there’s a slight boost in power, revised gearing, suspension tuning, and front and rear fascias.
Coming down the road, pretty much any car enthusiast will recognize what’s coming at them in the 86, but that’s about it. You may have noticed a near total lack of advertising for the 86, which is understandable. With such a small buyer base, you can hardly blame Toyota for not putting up the money for 86 commercials during primetime on major networks. Keeping that in mind, it was hardly surprising no matter where I went, most people had no clue what exactly I was driving.
As a front engine, rear wheel drive 2+2 sports coupe, the 86 retains classic proportions for the recipe-long hood, stout cabin, short deck. Even though Toyota claims its own iconic ’67 2000GT (you can notice if you look at it right), there is absolutely nothing retro about the 86 despite the nod to the past. Thoroughly modern, but I feel the car’s timeless proportions will have the 86 still looking handsome for years to come. We mentioned for ’17 the 86 received revised front and rear fascias. The new, wider mouth up offers a more aggressive look that suits the car’s purpose well. If you really want your 86 to look the business, then you will definitely want the optional 17″ wheels (shown above) and the TRD lowering spring kit.
If I had to describe the 86’s interior in one word, that would be focused. This is a simple, no frills cabin, and by 2017 standards, shockingly Spartan. What you do get are comfortable, supportive seats, a steering wheel that is a delight to hold and a stubby shifter that falls right to hand. The driver faces a clear, simple gauge cluster with a large tach front and center. It becomes immediately clear that the mission is to keep you planted in your seat (leather isn’t even available as an option), undistracted, and if was going to add unnecessary weight, Toyota left it out. That is the 86’s mission, and with such limited options, Toyota will not let you deviate from it. Not surprisingly, the back seat is place you would never ask a friend to sit in, and trunk space is good for a long weekend getaway for two but that’s about it. But again, for pure focus, the 86 really has no peer.
Under the hood, the 86 is powered by a 2.0L boxer four rated at 205hp. Buyers can choose between a six speed manual or six speed automatic. If offered the choice, I’d advocate for a manual in any car, but none moreso than an 86. I drove an FR-S with an automatic, and thought it was ok, but I failed to see what all the hubbub was about. Living with the 86 with the manual, I finally saw the light. To appreciate what the 86 has to offer, you NEED the manual. If a medical condition prevents you from using three pedals, that’s fine. If you can’t drive stick but want an 86, well, you need to find yourself a $500 Corolla and teach yourself.
There are plenty of people who whine that Toyota hasn’t offered a more powerful, turbocharged version. I am not one of those people. Oh, sure, it’s easier to go faster if you just add horsepower. But a good, smart driver can drive fast with the 205hp Toyota gives you. That is the challenge the 86 presents to you, and using every bit of those 205 ponies makes the 86 so engaging and rewarding to drive. Even so, the 86 easily zips up onramps, and keeping your foot in it on sweeping onramps hardly challenges the car’s grip, and is a joy. Handling, as you guessed, is sensational, helped further with perfectly weighted steering. Even with our car’s lowering kit, the 86’s ride was firm and controlled, but never jarring (however a passenger who’s spent the last 30 years in Honda sedans was shocked at the firmness). Our test car had the optional TRD exhaust system. The sound is menacing, and a riot to listen to as you run around town or a blast in the twisties. Long trips? Not so much. After an easy, 90 minute stint on the highway cruising in 6th gear, I was so weary of the noise I was glad to be out of the car.
The Toyota 86 comes standard with rear back up camera, LED headlights, 8 speaker Pioneer audio with 7″ touchscreen, A/C, and power windows, mirrors and locks. Options on our car included special paint, Matte Grey 17″ wheels, TRD exhaust, all weather floor mats, and TRD lowering kit and sway bar. Including destination, our car totaled $31,544USD.
If you haven’t caught on by now, the 86 is not a car for everyone. In an era where nearly every aspect of the modern car is electronically controlled, the 86 offers what is possibly the clearest, most undistilled driving experience available from any new car. Nearly conspicuous by their absence are many modern creature comforts we’ve become used to, and even ardent driving enthusiasts might find that off-putting for a car to live with daily. But to a small group of buyers, that doesn’t matter; they might argue it’s a selling point. What they get in return is an exceptional driving experience it. If you missed the purity and simplicity of the Datsun 240Z of the 70’s or the Corolla GTS of the 80’s, now is your chance to experience it yourself.