Five years following its release and the 2017 Toyota 86 GT continues to stand out like nothing else from the Japanese brand.
This first facelift for the Subaru-built, Toyota-engineered rear-wheel drive coupe is perhaps now more of an oddity than before, too, given its engineering-led changes.
The 86 gets new LED headlights and tail-lights on the outside, but it missed the infotainment and active safety system updates that filter in among other updated Toyotas. Instead it scores a more rigid body, revised suspension settings, a new Track electronic stability control (ESC) mode and a slight increase in power.
It all sounds on-point for a pointy-sharp coupe. But is it all for the better?
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $30,790 (plus on-roads) approx.
Engine/trans: 152kW/212Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual or automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.8 l/100km | Tested: 8.3 l/100km
Jaws dropped when Toyota in 2012 revived the rear-drive compact two-door coupe segment with a $29,990 plus on-road costs sticker for its 86 GT.
The same entry-level model grade tested here now asks $30,790 (plus orc), but it adds a touchscreen audio and reverse-view camera compared with before.
Power from the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated flat four-cylinder engine moves from 147kW to 152kW, and torque from 205Nm to 212Nm, thanks to a new cast-aluminium intake manifold painted Ferrari-red and replacing the previous plastic unit.
Due to noise restrictions the $2300-optional six-speed auto retains the lower outputs, although the manual with the same number of ratios is tested here. It suits the basic – in every sense of the word – philosophy of this sparsely equipped model.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, remote central locking, cloth seats, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input and six speakers
- Options Fitted: none
Depending on the perspective, the interior of the Toyota 86 is either a dour disappointment or a brilliant benchmark for the price.
The only bespoke sports car – as opposed to hot-hatchback – available for the price is the Mazda MX-5 Roadster, in which drivers sit too high on flat seats with steering that lacks reach adjustment. In the Toyota the driver sits low, sinking into the floorpan and ensconced in supportive buckets.
The new leather-trimmed steering wheel – still without audio controls that have only just been added to the $36,490 (plus orc) 86 GTS – is a delight to hold and the front quarter panel ‘hips’ just sneak above the window line so the driver knows exactly where the coupe’s corners are.
Quite simply, the driving position is superb in this compact coupe. It makes a hot hatchback such as a Volkswagen Polo GTI feel as though the driver is perched atop a sponge cake by comparison.
There is precious little legroom and headroom for rear riders, but at least the bench is heavily tilted upwards to aid under-thigh support. For short trips, or kids on longer ones, this is a fine four seater. The boot, too, can fit one large suitcase and a smaller accompaniment, which is more than acceptable.
Unfortunately, the dashboard and surrounding trim has not aged well – although with the price in mind, the 86 GT isn’t too bad.
Without the piano-black and chrome flourishes of the 86 GTS, this entry-level model feels spartan inside.
The tacked-on touchscreen lacks nav (standard on 86 GTS), Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, a digital radio or ToyotaLink internet apps connectivity added to many newer models from the brand. The low-resolution screen and low-rent graphics were passé in 2012 and should have been changed.
Incidentally, Subaru managed to update its BRZ near-twin with the company's StarLink infotainment system and higher-resolution touchscreen – so why not here, given the 86 is made in the same factory?
Manual air-conditioning controls shared with a $14,990 Yaris (climate controls are added to 86 GTS), all-black cloth trim and hard door trims further lower the tone.
That said, the lack of even keyless auto-entry (along with heated and leather-trimmed sports seats further added to 86 GTS) is refreshing in this day and age where more stuff apparently equals greater value.
Toyota would argue that value lies in the engineering and the simple philosophy of rear-drive, manual and light weight; and we can't completely argue with that.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 152kW/212Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol
- Transmission: six-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Enthusiasts who love the concept of a compact rear-wheel drive sports coupe have been begging Toyota to attach a turbocharger to its 86 since day dot, but the company refuses to comply.
To keep the two-door pinned to a circa-$30,000 starting price, and a blank canvas for tuners to then modify, the 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder engine has only been slightly tweaked. The problem isn’t that it needs a turbo, but rather after experiencing the Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre and its 1033kg kerb weight, the 1239kg 86 now looks portly.
A maximum 212Nm isn’t produced until 6400rpm, before 152kW arrives at 7000rpm, and the figures are indicative of where the 86 loves to spend its rime. Around town, it can feel lethargic at low revs, whereas the MX-5 never does to the same degree.
Rewards come via a superbly slick and engaging manual transmission, while the engine is quick to rev and sounds strident doing so – the single-pitch growl continues to be aurally sweeter than its Mazda rival.
Toyota has also performed major work on body rigidity improvements, and suspension and ESC retuning.
The GT now delivers a far smoother ride than before, without losing its utterly fabulous steering response – now enhanced by a smaller steering wheel diameter – and handling crispness. Urban comfort is slightly improved, but rough road control is dramatically enhanced, allowing the 86 to be driven hard over all surfaces.
The brand has retained the 16-inch Yokohama dB decibel tyres from the pre-facelift GT (the GTS gets 17-inch Michelin Primacy HPs), which are not the grippiest units.
They are fine in the dry, but wet weather highlights the GT’s only real dynamic issue. The way the Yokohamas wash out at ultra-low speeds can be alarming, so fitting grippier tyres would be a must. If doing so might affect the chassis’ playful nature, then take heart that the MX-5’s superb Bridgestone Potenza tyres doesn’t spoil it
Its new ESC is less intrusive in its standard mode than in the previous model’s Sport ESC setting, however, while the latter’s Track ESC replacement permits just enough rear-wheel acceleration coming out of corners while retaining an important safety net.
The relationship between engine, transmission, chassis and driver is elite-level and genuinely exquisite. If something like a Polo GTI is a waterslide awash with chlorine and chemical enhancement, then the 86 is like a waterfall among natural springs.
ANCAP rating: N/A
Safety features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and three-stage ESC.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Average nine-month or 15,000km intervals, but at least the Toyota Service Advantage capped price program is cheap, at $180 each for the first four checks/three years’ worth.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Stretch to a BRZ to get a decent infotainment system, or a Polo GTI if speed and practicality are required. The MX-5 is probably most like the 86, with similar bang for buck – it’s more al fresco and slightly less focused.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
All the right ingredients continue to be in the right place with the Toyota 86 GT. This compact coupe still gives new-car buyers a chance to sample exotic steering and chassis flavour for just over $30,000 – and that is something truly special.
There are some reminders of its humble base price, in the lack of equipment, active safety technology and infotainment connectivity, and in its wet weather tyre performance and lack of low-rev urge especially. But there is still nothing in the price range as intimately connected, focused and fluent as the 86 GT.
That this facelift successfully delivers improved ride quality while enhancing its handling is all the more impressive, cementing this as an engineering-led Toyota ideal for keen drivers.