If orange is the new black, then perhaps the 2017 Toyota 86 Limited Edition really is the fashionable third member of this affordable rear-wheel drive sports coupe line-up.
Exclusively and solely available with this 60-unit 86 LE, the Solar Orange exterior colour is – to be kind – at least more appealing than the hue of a certain president’s quiff, but either way keen drivers should love this new model’s mechanical changes.
A duo of under-body alterations take centre stage, with firmer Sachs suspension sitting above larger Brembo brakes, all behind new 10-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels.
Fashion certainly hurts the wallet, though – at $41,490 plus on-road costs the 86 LE sits well above the $30,790 (plus orc) 86 GT and $36,490 (plus orc) 86 GTS.
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $41,490 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 152kW/212Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.8 l/100km | Tested: 8.4 l/100km
What else does $4500 buy over the 86 GTS beyond bigger brakes, sportier suspension and new wheels? Well, several small changes, as it turns out.
Thankfully the 86 GTS already starts from a higher base than the sparse 86 GT, with keyless auto-entry, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation and even seat heating with leather/Alcantara trim covering more than just the basics.
Look closely and the 86 LE’s suede dashboard trim with orange stitching lifts the ambience in what is otherwise a cabin dominated by darker tones and textures, and there’s a new infotainment system lifted from Toyota’s C-HR small SUV.
Infotainment is a GT and GTS sorepoint, and while the 86 LE still fails to offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring connectivity or a decent voice control system, the high-resolution screen and more tactile buttons prove a small but important improvement that helps lift its value claim.
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather/Alcantara trim with front seat heating, cruise control and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
- Infotainment: 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite navigation, USB input and six speakers.
- Options Fitted: None
Toyota’s 86 – and its Subaru BRZ twin – are now a half-decade old, having emerged in 2012.
While expectations in refinement and technology have shifted dramatically since then, and neither have boosted their performance in those respects, nobody has challenged this duo of sports coupes in areas of far greater importance to drivers.
Quite simply, the driving position of the 86 LE is spot-on for a sporty vehicle. The driver sinks deep into the tub of this two-door, in the same way that a Porsche Cayman positions a person low with legs stretched straight.
Seat comfort and support is excellent, too, despite the lack of electric adjustment that might be expected for the price.
Last year’s mid-life facelift for the 86 also reduced the size of the leather-wrapped steering wheel for a sportier feel. Another change replaced the orange digital speedometer with a small, colour display that now also shows a cornering G-forces meter and power/torque production graph among other functions.
Both moves speak volumes about the priorities with this Toyota: what’s ahead of the driver is key.
That said, the new touchscreen means a buyer no longer has to rip out the infotainment unit, as would be recommended in others 86s given the cheap graphics, fiddly screen icons and chintzy buttons of the unit used in those model grades.
The 86 LE’s is no state-of-the-art system, but it’s intuitive and functional, and now comes with a duo of USB ports, plus easy menu layering when flicking between iPod albums and tracks, for example. The navigation shows traffic issues, and an owner can download a ToyotaLink app for other internet connectivity capability.
Together with chrome doorhandles, nicer dashboard finishes, and the extra equipment, and the 86 LE feels $10K more impressive than the 86 GT inside. It also better gels with the small rear seating that is at least usable for carting kids around, and a decent-sized boot, becoming a more complete proposition than before.
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
In addition to the driver-oriented interior tweaks introduced with the facelifted 86, Toyota also improved the body rigidity of its coupe while softening its suspension to lift ride quality in particular. A stronger body meant its dynamic performance could be retained while shielding occupants from some of the pre-facelift model’s jostling.
The changes actually worked, too. The 86 now flows better over bumpy country roads, while it moves around its driver in a more harmonious, Mazda MX-5-like way.
All of this is front of mind as the 86 LE is approached, because the addition of firmer Sachs damping would seem to undo the benefits wrought by the above changes.
Thankfully, though, there’s no need to place the chiropractor on standby. Sachs clearly knows what it’s doing, because the suspension of this Limited Edition doesn’t have limited appeal.
In the same way that a Renault Megane RS or even a Porsche 911 GT3 manages to avoid any impact harshness or abruptness, the 86 LE navigates around such downfalls while adding a sizeable extra dose of control.
The 86 LE is never too hard, but it feels tighter than the 86 GT or GTS particularly when changing direction quickly. The latter regular production models are renowned for being a fun drive as they can quickly engage a slide, whether on turn-in to a corner or using the throttle to exit out of them.
The 86 LE prioritises only the latter. The way a driver can dig deep – then deeper, then deeper – into left- and right-angle bends would have a regular 86 GT or GTS bullying its tyres into submission. There’s less bodyroll, but no less fun.
It takes the pressure off the modest Michelin Primacy HP tyres, while being more faithful to driver input. Combined with brilliant Brembo brakes (from 294mm to 326mm front, and 290mm to 316mm rear) and the near-flawless creaminess of the sharp steering, and this Toyota is more seriously dynamic than ever.
When driven enthusiastically, the higher limits of the chassis also take the glare off the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. With just 212Nm of torque at 6400rpm, and 152kW at 7000rpm, the 86 LE is a peaky performer that demands being kept on the boil.
Thankfully the six-speed manual is a delight and the engine revs until 7800rpm, at which point it starts making a sweetly strident, single-pitch sound.
Tellingly, more power was never required during enthusiastic driving. When cruising the countryside two gears often need to be dropped for even minor hills, however, while around town the 1200kg-plus kerb weight conspires with the peaky outputs to deliver some driveability shortfalls.
Clearly the 86 LE makes no great transformation to become a better daily driver. But as an unapologetic, affordable driver’s car, it’s more unmatched than ever.
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
A Golf GTI is faster, roomier and more luxurious than an 86 by a factor of five, but it fails to connect with its driver to the same degree as this Toyota, and its steering and dynamics aren’t (quite) as fabulous and fun respectively.
The near-twin BRZ, meanwhile, is cheaper but less well-equipped, and its equivalent Sports Edition with Sachs dampers is sold out.
Prior to the arrival of this Limited Edition the MX-5 GT Roadster would have been called equally fun and almost as focused. But in the latter department, this Limited Edition has raised the game.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Finding a four-and-a-half-star rating has proven elusive for both the 86 and its rivals. Until now only a 2.0-litre MX-5 Roadster achieved that standard – the 1.5-litre being slightly off-the-pace in a straight line, and the MX-5 RF hard-top a fraction too pricey.
The soft-top Mazda with the bigger engine proved a sweet spot that also stopped its near-twin, the Abarth 124 Spider, from achieving that score – as well as questioning the value of the slower, heavier 86 and BRZ line-ups.
But the 86 Limited Edition changes that. By ramping up the braking and dynamic focus, it leverages an already highly accomplished sports coupe into a more serious league without impacting its comfort or fun factor.
The changes are small, but they are ultimately noticeable and worthwhile. To the absolutist, Brembo brakes and Sachs dampers will be worth it regardless of the extra outlay. They are also enough to add an extra half-star to the Toyota 86’s scorecard.
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