The Toyota 86 (called “eight six,” not “eighty-six”) succeeds as an affordable sports car with all the classic sports-car stuff, in a modern body. Its rear-wheel-drive handling is nimble and its power is not awesome, both of which are classic qualities. It’s simple. Most of all, it’s fun to drive. It’s unchanged for 2019 except for a few new options.
The good-looking 86 was a joint project with Subaru, whose very close sibling is the BRZ. The engine is a Subaru 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder, making 205 horsepower with a six-speed manual gearbox and 200 hp with the six-speed automatic. It only makes 156 pound-feet of torque, so grunt is not its thing; what the engine likes is to be revved to the screaming point, because the power comes on at high rpm.
For 2019, the 86 GT model can be had with optional red-trimmed sport seats as long as the exterior paint isn’t blue, and don’t ask us what Toyota has against blue and red together. There’s also a new TRD Special Edition package with interior and exterior tweaks including graphics and unique 18-inch wheels.
The 86 is EPA-rated at 24 mpg city, 32 highway, and 27 combined with the automatic and 21/28/24 mpg with the manual. The Mazda MX-5 Miata, main rival for the 86, gets 3 more miles per gallon, but it’s lighter and less powerful.
The NHTSA gives the 86 four stars in forward crash protection, and five in rollover; no overall score because those are the only two tests they’ve done so far. The IIHS gives the 86 an â€œAcceptableâ€ rating in the small front overlap test, with â€œGoodâ€ scores in other categories. No active safety equipment is available, but there is a standard rear-view camera, and also standard hill-start assist for cars with a clutch; the convenient hill-start-assist, invented by Subaru, automatically applies the brake to keep the car from rolling backwards when you’re pulling away from a stop on a hill.
Standard equipment on the base 86 includes cloth seats, automatic climate control, manually adjustable seats, a one-piece fold-flat rear seat, keyless entry, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, and sporty touches like aluminum pedals and sleek LED taillights and daytime running lights. In the tech department, there’s a 7.0-inch Pioneer touchscreen for infotainment with Bluetooth connectivity, an auxiliary jack, and USB port. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability are optional.
GT adds dual-zone climate control, upgraded upholstery, a 4.2-inch information display in the gauge cluster, and a rear spoiler.
The new TRD Special Edition adds a black and red interior, unique 18-inch wheels and exterior graphics, and other styling tweaks.
The 86 has excellent proportions, with a long hood, low and wide stance, sloping roof, flared fenders, angular front end and tidy rear end. It’s smoother and better looking than the Subaru BRZ, although when parked next to a Mazda MX-5, it comes off as somewhat vanilla. The TRD Special Edition package adds some pizazz with red and yellow trim.
The spartan cabin is clean and well organized, with everything in an intuitive place and easy to reach, namely the climate and infotainment controls. The gauges are minimalist but complete, showing the information a sports-car enthusiast wants to see. The quality of the materials is good. Like the exterior, the interior lines flow, with metallic trim and faux carbon fiber adding a touch of character. The new optional two-tone red-and-black upholstery with red leather steering wheel contrasts nicely with the simple exterior colors like black, white, and gray.
The front seats are well-bolstered, and there’s enough head and leg room for a tall driver. Technically there is a rear seat with two seatbelts, but only small kids can fit.
The trunk is a small 6.9 cubic feet, but Toyota marketing points out that the 86 can fit two spare tires in back with the rear seats folded flat, for track days. Never mind that, with the modest power of the 86, if you have to replace tires at a track day, then you showed up with worn-out tires in the first place.
The driving dynamics of the Toyota 86 are as good as sports cars get. That was the mission statement for Toyota and Subaru when the engineers sat down to design the car, and they succeeded wonderfully. The tires are not much wider than those of a Toyota Prius, so the car is easy to get loose, which might otherwise be a bad thing, but the 86 is so well-balanced that it’s easy to correct; not only that, but the electronic stability control will do it for you, so that security is always in the back of the driver’s mind.
Who needs big horsepower? The 86 brings so much fun without it.
The steering is very direct, although surprisingly light; we might like a bit more weight, but that’s a small complaint.
We also might like more power. But that’s probably not a fair complaint, because more power would change the character of the car. And the design of the horizontally-opposed engine is one of the things that makes the balance so good, because those engines can be mounted lower and farther back, compared to an inline four-cylinder.
Of course, “boxer” engines can have power, too; that’s what turbochargers are for. Think Subaru WRX, or Porsche. Actually, we’re kind of surprised that Toyota and/or Subaru haven’t offered a big-horsepower version. And come to think of it, we might have predicted they would, back when we wrote our first review of the BRZ. Guess we were wrong. But it’s not over yet.
Anyhow, it’s more torque that we want, not more power. In order to drive the 86 successfully, you have to rev the engine in each gear a lot, and while that can be fun, it also can be work.
Another thing is, the growl of the boxer engine doesn’t please the ears the way a screaming inline-four like the Honda 2000, or even the Mazda MX-5. If you have a car that must be revved, at least it should sound great doing so. There is an optional exhaust (and intake) system that the dealer can install, but we haven’t had a chance to try it. That might change our opinion.
As with any sports car, the 86 is way more fun with the manual transmission, so it’s appropriate that the six-speed is slick.
The available 6-speed automatic has paddle shifters, but it’s slow both upshifting and downshifting. We’re not interested. But others are; about two-thirds of both the 86 and BRZ come with automatics. That’s okay for a powerful sports car with a fast dual-clutch automatic, but in the 86, it just doesn’t work. Not only will the automatic feel that lack of torque even more, it takes all the fun out of the car.
Driving dynamics at the top of the sports-car game. Comfortable well-bolstered front seats. Jump seats in the rear for small kids, that fold flat and allow access to the trunk. Slick six-speed manual transmission. Great exterior styling with a clean and spartan cabin with the right gauges. When you take one for a test drive, put your foot down at low rpm in fourth gear, to see if there’s enough oomph for you.