WHEN THE TOYOTA 86 LAUNCHED IN 2012 IT TOOK THE MARKET BY STORM: rear-wheel-drive, a slick coupe bodystyle, brilliant handling and an unmatched $29,990 plus on-road costs – it surprised everyone.
Four years later, the 2017 Toyota 86 makes its international debut and we put it through its paces at Japan’s Fuji Speedway. We’ll see it here in November – the first major facelift of the current generation model – and it will have its Subaru BRZ near-twin hot on its heels.
We don’t yet know what the new one will cost, exactly how it will be specified for the Australian market, or whether it can maintain its standing as one of the most popular sports coupes in the country.
But as for changes to the car itself, there are plenty …
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $30,000 (plus on-roads) approx.
Engine/trans: 152kW/212Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
Externally, the MY17 Toyota 86 looks little changed. There’s a new front bumper and grille design, fresh all-LED headlights and tail-lights and a new style of 17-inch alloy wheel for the flagship GTS.
The entry GT misses the GTS’s Alcantara-look trim, its standard audio controls on a smaller steering wheel and the 4.1-inch colour TFT display showing a G-force meter, power and torque graphs and other pieces.
Behind the new cladding lies an uprated engine: the 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder rising by a nominal 4kW/7Nm to 152kW/212Nm.
Body rigidity has also been increased and there are softer dampers but with harder front springs and a new Track mode for the stability control. These are some of the many little changes that promise to make a greater whole.
- Standard equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, air-conditioning, part-leather seats, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and trip computer controls
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, six speakers and (on GTS) satellite navigation
The biggest disappointment inside the 2017 86 is confirmation that Australia will not get new infotainment systems to replace the dated 6.1-inch colour touchscreen of the existing model, which is a 2012 time-warp.
More worryingly for Toyota, Subaru has shown pictures of its facelifted BRZ, which shows off the company’s Starlink infotainment system featuring bright graphics and Pandora internet radio connectivity that the 86 can’t compete with.
Toyota hasn’t changed the plastics quality of the 86, which remains hard in parts such as the door trims and soft in other areas such as the main dashboard.
However, trim quality has improved thanks to what the Japanese brand calls a ‘Grand Luxe’ material draped across the top of the doors and instrument binnacle, on the main part of the seats and across the dashboard – complete with ‘86’ stitching on the passenger side.
A new, smaller steering wheel on both GT and GTS feels better than ever in the hands, and, in the latter model, the buttons mounted on it access the new functions in the trip computer screen, which is a fine high-resolution addition.
Seats remain unchanged, and they’re as snug as ever with a ‘legs forward’ driving position and a transmission shifter that falls neatly to hand. As before, there isn’t a whole lot of rear legroom for a duo of back riders, with a seat base there that remains tilted sharply upwards.
This is no versatile five-door hot-hatchback and there are of course compromises to be made for the swoopy coupe styling.
One thing that will change from MY17 86 is the deletion of a full-size spare tyre because less than one percent of Australians chose the luggage space-eating proper spare option. The boot remains decently sizeable without it.
Local equipment levels still need to be finalised, but expect the $5000 surcharge from the GT to GTS to still buy sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, part leather and larger 17-inch wheels.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 152kW/212Nm (manual) 2.0 litre four-cylinder 'boxer' petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
To get a feel for the changes to the updated 86, Toyota let us loose on the short circuit of Fuji Speedway, which lies in the shadow of Mount Fuji in Japan’s south. Frankly, the full circuit is best left for tearaway sports cars; the short circuit is fine for testing the mettle of the new 86.
Thankfully, we were also able to test the 2012 86 GTS manual against its 2017 equivalent, as well as the new GT manual and auto, and GTS auto, for 16 laps back-to-back. Plenty enough to get some good first impressions, then.
It’s difficult to pick the extra power in the 1200kg-plus coupe.
A red-coloured cast aluminium intake manifold replaces the plastic unit still used on automatic versions – due to noise restrictions apparently – while manual variants also score redesigned pistons. The aim is to improve low-down response, which was an 86 sore point (but the revisions are difficult to quantify in a racetrack environment).
Peak torque is now produced 200rpm earlier, from 6200rpm to 6600rpm, which is still peaky for a little four-cylinder engine and not far off maximum power that continues to be delivered at 7000rpm.
The Subaru-based ‘boxer’ four-cylinder still greets the top end of the tachometer with a single-pitch shrill shriek, and feels brisk rather than outright fast.
More sizeable change comes in the form of a stiffer body, with 50 percent-thicker under bonnet bracing, 40 percent increase in C-pillar spot welds and new rear suspension mounting plate twice the previous thickness, all increasing rigidity.
The rear spring-rates have been backed-off by 15 percent, the diameter of the rear anti-roll bar has been decreased by 1mm (to 14mm) and the dampers have been softened all round in the quest for a better ride.
Front springs though have been tightened by 10 percent to increase front-end point.
The results are dramatic. The 86 still tips into corners thanks to the beautifully weighted steering and agile front-end architecture. However now the rear-end moves around to a greater degree, helping the nose point in really tight bends and endowing the new car with a wonderfully playful feel.
Get on the throttle and the new Track mode is lenient with the stability control, and much more subtle in its interventions. This is in stark contrast to the Sport mode it replaces that was also lenient, but then intervened too abruptly and with less finess.
It all feels more like Mazda’s newer MX-5, and if the 86 can nail its improved ride quality brief on the road, then it really is a home run. This is the most natural, fluent, composed and fun version of the rear-drive Toyota coupe yet…
ANCAP rating: ANCAP awarded the original 86 a 5-star rating in 2013, Toyota Australia is yet to confirm if re-testing will occur when the updated model arrives.
Safety features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and three-stage ESC.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Mazda’s MX-5 may not be a coupe, but it remains a ‘front and centre’ rival. The BRZ will change in November too, but it is pricier, while the Golf GTI tempts buyers with five-door practicality, but, front-wheel-drive, is much less fun.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Call this a provisional racetrack rating for the new Toyota 86, but also one that calls into question why the interior and infotainment systems haven’t been updated to a greater degree. Here, the compact coupe is still feeling its age.
As testament to the original model’s fabulous chassis, however, the MY17 86 simply goes from strength to strength on a racetrack.
A more supple and composed suspension teamed with more intelligent stability control calibration, is exactly what this car needed to fend off a certain highly-regarded Japanese roadster foe.
That test – and a full on-road verdict – will have to wait until the new GT and GTS versions land on local soil in November.
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