– Fun handler
– Fair cabin features
– Economical engine
– Nearly useless rear seats
– A bit on the noisy side
– Not as fast as you think
No, it is not the best sports car in the world, as some would have you believe. That needed to be said right off the bat. The Toyota 86 is a lot of things, but it is never going to win any sort of competition. Not a drag race. Not a track race. Not a drift contest. Not even a beauty contest. And yet, it is still an awesome car.
The Toyota 86, while dumbed down compared to the “FT-86” concept shown for the last few years before launch, is still a very attractive car, and we’re glad Toyota chose to make it a proper swoopy sports car instead of an awkward coupe or a boxy hatchback. Of course, the effect is killed by the 16-inch alloys and the unfathomably-stupid dual exhaust tips lifted straight from the Yaris. Upgrade to the top automatic model, and you get 17-inch alloys, cheesy tacked-on body trimmings, and most importantly, nicer LED-encrusted HID headlights. But you still have to live with the Yaris pea-shooters.
We drove both the basic manual and the top automatic, so the differences in the cabin were instantly obvious. The base model gets a decent interior, with lots of hard-plastic surfaces but with enough padded areas on the door sills, dash and armrests to keep us from complaining. Whatever you pay, you won’t get a central armrest though, but moving up to the higher trim levels gives you additional padded surfaces near the knees, shiny door sills and optional leather upholstery, as well as sound-deadening carpet under the boot lid.
The cabin is small, but there’s enough space for most tall people to find a reasonable way to sit in the sporty bucket seats. The back seats are completely useless except for little kids, but the seat-back can fold down to make the boot a whole lot bigger. Even without that, the boot is decently-sized for such a small car, but a small opening and a spare tyre sticking halfway out of the floor cuts down on practicality. Inside the car though, there are more than enough cup-holders and pockets.
Tech-wise, the base model is good value, with a gutless CD/MP3 stereo, USB port, Bluetooth, power windows, front-side airbags and keyless entry, as well as a strong manual a/c. The top model further gets a smart key with starter button, dual-zone a/c, cruise control, nicer gauges with digital readout, and those cool HID headlights.
The 86 is powered by a Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre direct-injection 4-cylinder “boxer” engine, good for 200 hp at 7000 rpm and only 205 Nm of torque at 6600 rpm. Unlike the frantic all-or-nothing Honda VTEC engines, the 86 offers decent initial kick, with a dead midrange, and then again good power at high revs, so it is fairly practical on the streets. But on the 0-100 kph run, we got 9.2 seconds with the 6-speed manual and worn-out tyres in July weather, and also hampered by a 2-3 shift required at 96 kph. With the 6-speed automatic, we managed a little better, 8.8 seconds with better tyres in September weather. Neither time is spectacular, but grippier tyres would’ve helped.
The manual gearbox is slightly notchy, but still enjoyable enough to play with, combined with a mildly-weighted clutch. You’ll always want to drive hard with this thing, which is why we netted 12.5 litres/100 km of fuel burn. With the paddle-shifted automatic, that same sense of urgency is not there, even if it’s a fairly responsive unit, so we managed to bring that number down to a very economical 10 litres/100 km.
The mildly-weighted electric steering is sharp and offers some feedback, but not as much as we’d like. The brakes feel average, but stops well when floored. The base manual came with 205/55 tyres on 16-inch alloys, while the top automatic has 215/45 tyres on 17-inchers. Both cars can turn tightly, the one with the wider tyres obviously better at it, but neither car is anywhere near as grippy as a Honda S2000 or a Porsche Boxster, so tyre-squealing shenanigans start early.
The 86 has a wee bit of body roll, which allows for a mildly tail-happy character that can either be fun or annoying, depending on where you’re driving. Since power is lacking, you have to swing the weight as you go into a corner to really get it sideways. With ESP off, controlling it is another story if you’re not a pro, as you’ll just spin out.
But Toyota has a trick “Sport” mode that allows just enough rear-wheel slide to give you a bit of a rush, before safely killing off the screeching and straightening the car. Of course, with our manual test car’s well-worn tyres, the rear felt loose all the time, even with ESP fully on. On roundabouts, on off-ramps, and even on junctions, the tail kept stepping out a bit. The electronic nannies are excellent at cutting this off, but in the millisecond that the rear steps out on an off-ramp, with a wall on your left and traffic on your right, you quickly lose the confidence to drive fast in traffic, until you learn to compensate for it.
The base 86 offers a surprisingly compliant ride, as its 16-inch wheels allow for thicker tyre sidewalls, and this became more apparent after we experienced the noticeably-harsher ride on the automatic model with 17-inchers. The brakes are decent, but not spectacular. The engine does 3000 rpm at 120 kph, there’s some wind noise and a lot of road noise, so it’s never going to be a relaxing cross-country cruiser.
But then that would be missing the point of this car. The 86 is a return to form for Toyota. There was a time when they built legends like the Supra, the Celica GT4 and the MR2, and yet, they chose to resurrect the name of a Toyota Corolla derivative from the 1980s. But they had absolutely the right ideas when they built the 86. If you can find the space for it away from the eyes of the authorities, it can be a whole lot of fun.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: