The Toyota 86 is the coupe that reminded the world that low-cost affordable sports cars are indeed possible, that they can be simple yet involving and chilling in the right situation.
For some though, Toyota hasn't done enough; "It needs more power” some said, “ It's too basic inside” cried others, creating a swell of hope for the updated 2017 model.
Toyota has stuck to its guns with the revised 86 though. There’s a tiny but more power for manual models, but the automatic tested here stays largely unchanged.
Steering wheel audio controls are new, as are some minor trim changes. Underneath, the suspension has been tweaked for even more driver involvement, creating an update that’s for enthusiasts, not for added mass-market appeal
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $38,790 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/205Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.1 l/100km | Tested: 9.2 l/100km
As before, the Toyota 86 range comprises two models, the entry-grade GT and more upmarket GTS. Both are available with a slick six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, but it’s the GTS automatic being tested here.
Upgrading from the GT to the GTS adds bigger brakes, bigger wheels, a rear spoiler, and a few extra toys for the interior, but at its core the two essentially drive the same.
The price climbs by $5700 to accommodate the upgrades, and with an automatic as tested here you’ll need to fork out a further $2300, bringing the total for the 86 GTS automatic to $38,790.
- Standard Equipment: Leather and Alcantara seat trim, sports front seats, steering wheel audio controls, Alcantara dash and door inserts, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, CD player, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Aux and USB inputs, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 237 litre expandable via 50:50 split fold rear seats
Function wins over form with the 86, as the dashboard design is about as simple as they come - a concession to allow easier fitment of roll cages or other aftermarket equipment.
The audio head unit is a simple double DIN design, allowing it to be easily swapped out, and with tiny touchscreen controls, and possibly the most baffling menu layout of any factory-installed (or in this case port-installed) unit the biggest favour you can do yourself is to budget for its immediate replacement with an aftermarket unit.
Toyota has also updated the interior with extra Alcantara trim covering the dash facia and doors, which gives the interior a more upmarket feel, but also stamps out the propensity for buyers to apply their own custom vinyl wrap finishes to parts of the interior.
The new steering wheel, also adds audio and trip computer controls, which purists are sure to baulk at, as well as a slightly smaller rim diameter making the 86 feel even more racey. The 86 GT’s steering wheel is still buttonless for those that would rather keep the 1990’s sportscar feeling alive.
Also new, the instrument cluster on the GTS adds a generous 4.2-inch TFT display tasked with trip computer, lap timer, and ancillary gauge functions as well as a digital speedo which is damn handy considering how impossible to read the analogue speedometer is.
There’s new trim finishes for the seats too, but Toyota has kept the same design front and rear, meaning grippy front pews and tight rear seats that make ideal storage for backpacks or a torture chamber for friends that ride along for more than 10 minutes.
There’s no lid on the centre console, ultimately that’s so as not to intrude on gearshifts, but in the automatic that’s redundant. The big console bucket will hold anything from phones to a KFC ten-piece box, although you might have to remove the smiley-faced cup locater first.
Boot space stays at the same 237 litres, with a space saver spare underneath. The rear seats fold with a 50:50 split, and Toyota reckons there’s room in there for a set of four track day wheels, provided you don’t mind how awkward they are to load.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol - 147kW at 7000rom, 205Nm at 6400-6600rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: 294mm ventilated front discs, 290mm ventilated rear discs
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
The joint Toyota-Subaru development program for the 86 and almost identical BRZ means that the 86 is the only Toyota in recent history to make use of a horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine.
The engine itself comes from Subaru, but the direct injection system is supplied by Toyota. No changes have been made to outputs for the auto version, which are still capped at 147kW and 205Nm.
No, the 86 probably won’t win the traffic light grands prix every time - if go-to-whoah times are all that matter look elsewhere - but it does feel lively once the revs climb, and the induction note piped into the cabin adds some rorty appeal.
Even though an automatic transmission might not be the ultimate in enthusiast appeal, the six-speed unit in the 86 works tidily with the engine. Subtle and easy to drive through town at light throttle, but capable of waking up as demands ride.
The auto’s sport mode also helps things along, holding gears longer and kicking down more eagerly. Even the manual mode defies traditional Toyota programming protocols by doing what it’s told and holding gears to redline.
Changes to the suspension have been concentrated on softer dampers, but firmer springs with the idea being to create a more settled suspension tune to make the rear end more predictable.
Overall it’s still a reasonably soft setup - there’s no rough treatment over patchy road surfaces - and the previous generation’s obvious lean through bends remains with clearly defined weight-shifting depending on brake and throttle inputs.
That setup suits it well though, and is part of the reason why the 86 is so predictable. Unlike something like a Mustang EcoBoost that snaps into sudden oversteer, the 86 creates an open and honest dialogue with the driver about what’s going on at each wheel, and gives fair warning as grip limits are approached, and reasonable control once they’ve been exceeded.
Changes have also been made to the stability control system, the previous Sport setting has made way for a new Track setting, with even looser intervention parameters to allow more bum-out antics in relative safety.
Of course, with origins as an approachable track day or drift weapon, the 86 doesn’t exactly go overboard with refinement so tyre rumble is constantly present, and although there’s some extra sound deadening in the new version it’s no Lexus when it comes to refinement.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The Toyota 86 scored 34.4 out of 37 possible points When tested in 2012, based on tests conducted on the structurally identical Subaru BRZ.
Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, and driver’s knee), multi-mode electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution,
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Service intervals are some of the longest in the Toyota stable, but still short compared to competitors at nine months/15,000km (whichever comes first). Toyota Service Advantage capped price results in a very affordable $180 per service roster for the first three years/60,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Small, affordable, certainly different to look at, and available with a turbo engine if you’d like the extra kick, the Hyundai Veloster might be getting on in years but it’s hardly short on appeal. The only sticking point might be its front-wheel drive layout.
Now available as either a roadster or with a folding hardtop targa roof, the Mazda MX-5 is super light weight and a hoot to drive. Like the 86, the MX-5 concentrates on handling over horsepower, giving it a fairly specific appeal
Pigeons, meet the cat: The Ford Focus ST is about as cheap as hot hatches come, with seating for five, proper hatchback practicality, a real infotainment system, and a somewhat staggering 184kW340Nm 2.0 litre turbo engine - the only downside for some buyers is likely to be the lack of an automatic.
We can’t really mention the 86 without bringing its Subaru-badged twin into the picture. Very similar in most regards, but oddly a dash cheaper with similar specifications, and loaded up with a superior infotainment system.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Changes to the 86 range are only subtle; why fix something that’s not broken? The only problem is, some potential buyers think it isn't fixed properly, that it needs more power or a flasher interior. But that's missing the point of its balance between affordability and simplicity.
Everyday users with no track aspirations will appreciate the new steering wheel buttons and more comprehensive trip computer, those that buy for show are sure to get a kick out of the new LED lighting front and rear.
The auto will never be the purist’s choice, something Toyota clearly acknowledges by not giving it the tiny power upgrade of the manual models. And while it might not be the perfect all-rounder, it still impresses and still delivers decent low cost motoring with an enthusiast vibe.