The 2017 Toyota 86 (called Eight Six) used to be the Scion FR-S, until last year when Toyota shut down the Scion brand. With rear-wheel drive, a tight, balanced chassis, and an absence of excessive mass, the Toyota 86 is one of the most entertaining cars available with a Toyota badge. And it’s probably not an exaggeration to claim it is more fun to drive from an enthusiast’s standpoint than most of the cars on the road, partly because its agility and performance can be enjoyed without being socially irresponsible.
For 2017, Toyota 86 features slightly altered styling, revised suspension settings, a bit more power, and upgraded interior materials. The changes are intended to make it prettier, more comfortable, quicker, and give it better grip at the rear wheels in corners.
Designed by Toyota and built by Subaru (whose version is called the BR-Z), the re-badged 86 hasn’t lost its intention to be a true sports car that’s affordable and user-friendly. It’s nimble and spirited on country roads, while being comfortable and convenient around town.
The 86 is powered by the Subaru 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, with Toyota direct injection and port injection. It makes 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque that isn’t very strong at low revs, so the 86 needs to be wound up. Redline is just fine with this sporty mill.
The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, with an available paddle-shifting 6-speed automatic, but we think the automatic defeats the purpose of this car.
The fuel mileage isn’t too hot for a car this light and modestly powered, EPA rated at 21/28 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined city and highway miles per gallon. That’s only 3 miles per gallon better than the 455-horsepower Corvette, and 2 mpg WORSE on the highway. With the automatic it gets 27 mpg Combined, but the boredom isn’t worth the savings.
The NHTSA gives the 86 four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for rollover. There’s no overall score, but the Scion FR-S got five stars.
Toyota 86 ($26,000) standard equipment includes cloth seats with manual adjustment, fold-flat rear seat, cruise control, adjustable steering wheel with leather trim, aluminum pedals, Bluetooth, keyless entry, rearview camera, eight-speaker Pioneer HD radio with touchscreen, LED taillamps, and 17-inch alloy wheels on skinny 215/45 Michelin summer tires. Six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, limited-slip differential, traction control, and hill start assist are also standard.
The only option is a Display Audio system with navigation, iTunes tagging and Pandora capability. However there are dealer accessories, including wheel locks, floor mats, lowering springs, forged wheels, bigger anti-roll bars, strut braces, TRD exhaust, TRD air filter with cold air intake, bigger brakes, and a rear spoiler.
The Toyota 86 has classic proportions of a long hood and short tail, with a modern aero look. The roof sweeps up and dives down in a graceful arc that meets the rear fenders and stubby deck. It’s long, low, and sleek, yet something seems missing that keeps it from being as stylish as it could be. Maybe it’s the simple surfaces with no real sculpting.
The 86 is different from its parent Scion FR-S, with its wider and more complex grille, with LED headlamps, driving lights, and turn signals. Flared front fenders bulge upward, with new gills that create a vortex to improve airflow. At the rear, there’s a fresh bumper, LED taillamps, and a diffuser with one more slat to improve downforce. The alloy wheels with twisted spokes are also a change from the Scion.
The cabin is basic, handsome, and built well. It’s consistent with the car’s design ethic of form following function. The upholstery is one-tone and the gauges are located squarely in front of the driver. The diameter of the steering wheel is about one inch smaller than it was in the Scion, for a sportier feel.
Trim-wise, the plastic bits flow in clean lines with carbon-look accents, while the dash and door panels feature synthetic suede with silver stitching.
The front seats are excellent, comfortable and well-bolstered with good hip room. There’s enough headroom in front drivers taller than six feet. The rear bench seat is for kids, and folds flat for packages. The trunk is large; Subaru likes to say it can hold enough for a track day: four wheels with tires and a toolbox.
You can’t clearly hear the exhaust note in the cabin, even though it’s piped in. Wind and road noise takes over at 70 miles per hour.
The Toyota 86 isn’t about power or straight-line speed, which is a good thing. The 2.0-liter engine is not a turbo (so far), so the zero-to-sixty time of about 6.7 seconds is not exactly neck-snapping. Still, it’s quick enough for fun, especially considering that cornering is what the car is meant for. More specifically, tossing it around corners.
The boxer engine is mounted low and rearward, for good balance. We got seat time in a model with the available lowering springs, lighter alloy wheels, stiffer rear anti-roll bar, and TRD exhaust system, but we didn’t feel much overall improvement. The lowered suspension reduced lean in corners, but it wasn’t that much to start with; and it bounced more over bumps. But we liked the wheels and exhaust system. And if you’re really into drifting the car around corners, you’ll want that bigger rear sway bar.
The electric power steering is precise, well-weighted and quick, but it doesn’t have much feel, making it not very communicative. The rear tires are low rolling resistance, a bit harder, so they don’t have a lot of grip, part of Toyota’s plan to make the 86 fun to toss in slow corners. But they don’t break away at the limit, they just hang there. So the more you toss the car, the more confident you become in it. It feels light and nimble, and is very neutral.
What makes the 86 exceptional is that this aggressive driving isn’t something you can do with a higher-powered or bigger car. A Mustang is well balanced too, but if you try this on the street with a Mustang, you’re risking too much.
Still, the Toyota 86 is less tail-happy than the Subaru BR-Z. The chassis is a bit stiffer, the shocks and springs are stiffer in front to sharpen turn-in and softer in the rear to give more grip to the rear end in corners. Meanwhile, the Sport mode has been changed to Track, to allow the car to drift a bit more before the stability control saves things. What this all means is that it’s a bit harder to pitch the 86 into a drift, but a bit easier to control it when you do.
The high powerband of the engine is more fun with the manual transmission. It’s happiest up there at 5000 rpm. It’s easy enough to keep it there with the paddle-shifting automatic, but it gets a bit monotonous flipping those paddles all the time. The lack of torque at low rpm is more frustrating in the automatic.
The brakes offer good feel and slow down the car well enough, and in half a dozen hard laps on the track there was no fade. And while we’re on the track, a discordant note: don’t be fooled by all the reviews that toss around the word tossable. On the track, in faster curves where you ease the steering wheel instead of throwing it, the 86 still understeers.
The modest power is matched to the goal of this well-engineered and affordable sports car, but if lack of oomph is a dealbreaker, wait for the turbo. You won’t find a car that’s easier to play with, in the twisties. Go for the manual 6-speed gearbox.
Sam Moses wrote this review, with staff reports by The Car Connection.