by Ian Wright
Widely hailed as the return to form for Toyota, the 86 belongs to a small and select group of cars of the modern era that are affordable yet offer a purity in their driving experience. With the absence of Honda's S2000 from the market, the 86 and its Subaru cousin, the BRZ, share turf with the convertible Mazda MX-5 Miata and Fiat 124 Spider, vying for top honors in the affordable rear-wheel-drive thrills category. But unlike the latter rivals, the 86 parades practicality in the form of token rear seats. However, if there's been one bone of contention for the 86 in its life so far, the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated Boxer four-cylinder engine's outputs of 205 horsepower are simply too meager. Is the lack of power really justified by a playful chassis, or is the sports coupe simply an engine away from perfection? We received a Hakone Edition for a few days to find out.
To help keep the 86 fresh before its imminent redesign, the 2020 Toyota 86 adds a special edition which is more of an appearance package than anything else. Dubbed the Hakone Edition, this model gets Hakone Green paint, 17-inch bronze wheels and a black spoiler. Interior trim is also different, with tan and black Alcantara seats. The regular range is also updated, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now standard and a TRD Handling Package added to the options list for manual-equipped and non-Hakone models.
See trim levels and configurations:
The 86 is a handsomely designed vehicle, with a long hood, short trunk, and curvaceous wheel arches. At the front, LED headlights and DRLs give it an aggressive, shark-like appearance, with the rear also featuring LED lighting but in a more rounded style. A twin-exit exhaust sits within a fake diffuser, while all but the base model gain a rear spoiler and LED fog lights too. Standard wheel size is 17 inches, with 18s available on the GT as standard. The Hakone Edition is set apart by its bronze wheels and unique choice of paint. The upper pair also receive front foglights and a rear decklid spoiler.
The 86 is a compact sports car with relatively small dimensions. The overall length is just 166.7 inches, with the wheelbase at 101.2 inches. Width is similarly narrow, measuring just 69.9 inches across. Height is also low, at 52 inches. Curb weight varies slightly depending on trim and transmission, but even the heaviest model, an automatic Hakone, weighs just 2,841 lbs. The lightest is predictably the base model with a manual gearbox, which weighs 2,776 lbs.
A new color called Pavement, a dark gray, has been added to the 86's palette for 2020, replacing 2019's Asphalt. This shade is very similar to the existing Steel, but more vibrant options can be had too. Neptune is a bright blue, with Ablaze a fiery red. Oceanic is an attractive violet shade, while Raven is a solid black. One charged color is the $425 Halo, a plain white. All these colors can be had on any trim with the exception of the Hakone, which is obviously also the only model to be painted in Hakone Green.
All three variations of the 86 in the USA are powered by the same 2.0-liter boxer four-pot, with either a close-ratio six-speed manual or a shiftable automatic with the same number of cogs. Models equipped with the manual transmission have a maximum of 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, but the autos are restricted slightly and see both figures drop by five. With a relatively light body and no forced induction to help motivate the 86 (at least until the boosted replacement comes in the new decade), the 86 is not much of a drag racer. It manages the sprint from 0 to 60 mph in around 6.2 seconds in some independent tests and has a top speed of 145 mph. While this may seem paltry compared to just about anything with performance ambitions, the 86 is all about the corners. Only available as a rear-wheel-drive model, the small sports car is designed to be easy to manage and fun to abuse, not too scary to take to work nor too loud to start before the birds have started chirping. Toyota and Subaru worked together to design a car that is approachable, fun, and usable every day, and that's exactly what the 86 still is.
The 86 is currently only available with a Subaru-developed Boxer motor. The 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine comes with your choice of either a standard six-speed manual or an automatic, with the manual offering up to 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. The manual derivative is a short-throw close-ratio setup and is designed to be engaging, fun, and easy to shift - exactly what you want from a car that you buy for driving pleasure, while on the auto, you can shift yourself too, and rev-matching occurs on the way down. You also get track, sport, and snow driving modes.
If you want to find out if a car is truly any good, remove power from the equation. Power can be a crutch, and it can overshadow the chassis dynamics of a car. However, for even a low powered car, the engine still needs to be a good one. Unfortunately, it's not just a lack of power that lets the Subaru designed and built 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine down; it's in how that power is delivered. There's a noticeable dip in torque around midway through the rev range that can be felt on an uphill run. However, its saving grace is in how delightfully responsive it is. That responsiveness is then highlighted by the drivetrain and available transmissions, particularly the short-throw manual version that allows for satisfying, snappy shifts, matched to a well-balanced clutch.
Getting onto a twisty road is where the sheer delight of the Toyota 86 shines through. It has one of the finest examples of positive steering feel on the market, and, mechanically, Toyota's quick-ratio steering is sharp and precise. Working with the taut chassis, the combination makes sure changes in direction are quick and as smooth as the driver can input them. Even with heavy hands on the wheel, the frame stays flat through corners and eats up transitions into the next curve. The chassis balance is neutral and ensures that when driven on the edge, understeer comes before oversteer. When the oversteer comes, it's a progressive and controllable shift as you feel the back tires sliding out. For the enthusiastic driver, long controllable slides are easily attainable while performing a back road ballet.
The price for its back road abilities comes with things people will be happy to sacrifice in the name of sheer driving fun. There's little in the way of driver aids for negotiating morning and evening traffic, and minimal sound deadening to help keep the chassis light leads to the 86 letting in some undesirable road noise. Ride quality is an area you would expect a car that handles so well to suffer, but, while the ride is firm, it doesn't stray too close to the border of being harsh.
The six-speed automatic variant of the Toyota 86 is naturally the more economical of the two, with EPA estimates of 24/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. The manual version fares considerably worse, with figures of 21/28/24 mpg on the same cycles. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is much better in this regard, returning figures of 26/35/30 mpg with an auto and 26/34/29 mpg with a manual. Each variant of the Toyota 86 comes with a 13.2-gallon gas tank, which translates to an estimated mixed range of 356 miles with the auto and 317 miles with the stick.
Predictably, given the Toyota 86's core competency, we spent a healthy amount of our week with the little sports car on mountain roads in California. Yet, even with the manual transmission option on our tester, we ended the week with an overall average of 22.2 mpg, just 1.8 mpg less than the EPA's combined estimate.
The Toyota 86's interior is nothing particularly lavish. In fact, it's a rather bland place to be, with numerous hard plastics, some of which masquerade as brushed aluminum. On the plus side, everything is ergonomic and the driving position is spot-on, but you have to upgrade from the base model to get heated seats or dual-zone climate control. A newly-standard seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a welcome inclusion, but it's not particularly intuitive. Overall, it's quite obvious that time and money spent honing the chassis were stolen from the interior design's allocation.
The interior of Toyota's 86 is set up for the driver. The front seats are comfortable, and snug, with enough bolstering to keep driver and passenger in place when things get enthusiastic. For two people up front, it is snug but not enough for them to be bashing elbows. The driving position is as close to perfect as we've seen, and with enough adjustability that taller people can get their perfect position. The steering wheel has a wonderfully small diameter to it, and the dash gauges are bright and easy to read.
At first glance, the rear seats are almost laughably small, but, in reality, they are just about usable for rear passengers if the need truly arises. With just 29.9-inches of legroom in the back, nobody is going to be comfortable for long. However, it quickly becomes a useful storage area for gym bags, weekend bags, or laptop cases that roadsters like the MX-5 or Fiat 124 suffer from not having. The rear seats become their most useful when folded down though, giving plenty of cargo space for a weekend's luggage for a couple, or a set of wheels and tires for a track day.
The base model comes standard with a faux suede called Granlux, helping offset the black fabric and wash of plastics, while the steering wheel is trimmed in leather. The GT model adds a leather e-brake handle and shift boot, with the seats also earning leather, in either black or red, and Granlux trimming. The top-tier model, the Hakone Edition, is unique, with a mix of black Alcantara and tan leather, and despite metallic pedals adding some sporty traits to the cabin, the overall ambiance is one of being in a Tupperware container. Lots of plastic and dull colors surround you, with only the seats in this top model offering some real contrast. At least the dash also gets some Alcantara.
The Toyota 86 is a car that may disappoint in terms of its materials, but cargo capacity is surprisingly good. The trunk can hold an impressive 6.9 cubic feet of volume with the rear seats up. While this may seem like a small figure, the Miata, a similarly priced sports car, only manages 4.6 cubes. For longer items, the seatbacks fold down to expand storage space, which is good when you consider that the rear seats are all but useless for people anyway.
The cabin is less accommodating, with just a pair of small door pockets and a center console storage tray that doubles as space for removable cupholders. Fortunately, those small rear seats can carry surplus items.
Each Toyota 86 comes with a few basic features, including hill start assist, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry, and cruise control. The base model features air conditioning with the GT and Hakone Edition upgrading to dual-zone automatic climate control. These higher trims also earn a smart key, heated mirrors, and push-button start, as well as a 4.2-inch TFT information display and heated seats. A rearview camera is legally required and has been included, but the focus here is on the driving experience, with an advanced stability control system that includes brake assist and a track mode. Auto models also get a snow mode for the transmission.
The 86's seven-inch screen feels like an afterthought in its placement, but we forgive that considering the dedication that went into the chassis and dynamics. The screen and interface are perfectly serviceable, and the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard is a welcome one. Our biggest gripe is the lack of a physical back or home button, which would be useful after going down some rabbit holes in the on-screen menus.
The eight-speaker Clari-Fi system is a strong one for sound and standard through the 86's trim levels. Overall, The infotainment is basic, but the important basics are covered.
The Toyota 86 has proved to be a sports car with superior reliability; there have been no recalls since 2017 in the US, when it was subject to two problems. One was for a spare tire that may be incorrectly inflated and another was for an ignition tunnel that allowed the key to be removed when the vehicle was not in Park on automatic models.
In terms of warranty, in the USA the Toyota 86 is covered by a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. Corrosion perforation is covered for five years as well, and complimentary maintenance is included for two years or 25,000 miles.
Sports cars are seldom bought for their safety reputations and are seldom evaluated. The 86 has been reviewed, even if partially, with the NHTSA awarding a four-star rating for frontal crash and five for rollover protection. The IIHS, meanwhile, awarded the best results of Good in tests, but the driver's side small front overlap scored only Acceptable. With almost no advanced driver aids, the Toyota falls behind what the rest of the industry offers in this price bracket.
The Toyota 86, regardless of trim, comes equipped with all the available safety features that the model offers. However, these aren't particularly expansive, with the features limited to a rearview camera, hill start assist, stability control, traction control, brake assist, anti-lock brakes, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Six airbags are also included: dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags. Features like blind spot monitoring or parking sensors are conspicuously absent.
The newest Toyota 86 is an excellent car, despite not having the ideal engine, which would make it a perfect sports car. Still, it's an absolute joy to drive whether cruising a mountain pass, hammering a back road, or hanging out with friends for a track day. As a daily driver, it's surprisingly pleasant and functional to live with. The only wrinkle is the engine, and we would much prefer to see one of Toyota's lively four cylinders under the hood, turbocharged or not. We wouldn't let that wrinkle get in the way of recommending the 86 wholeheartedly, though. There are more lavish alternatives like the MX-5 Miata, but simply put, the 86's flaws are forgivable for the sublime chassis and driving dynamics it proffers.
The Toyota 86's price starts at $27,060 for the base model, excluding a $955 destination and handling fee. Opting for the automatic transmission adds $720 to the base MSRP. The 86 GT starts from $29,910, while the Hakone Edition is a little cheaper at $29,870. Fully loaded with add-ons like navigation, upgraded brake pads, a TRD exhaust system, and a TRD wheels, you can bring the 86 to a cost of around $40,000.
The Toyota 86 model lineup is comprised of three variants: 86, 86 GT, and 86 Hakone Edition. All three variants are powered by a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated boxer with 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque when fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox. Each has the option of a six-speed auto, but power and torque both drop by five units. Regardless, all models send power to the rear wheels.
The base model is fitted with 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, running lights, and taillights, and has a fabric and faux suede interior that features a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The 86 GT adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, heated mirrors, a small rear spoiler, and 18-inch wheels. You also gain dual-zone automatic climate control and a 4.2-inch TFT driver display. This model also gains access to a TRD Handling Package with upgraded dampers, Brembo brakes, and stickier Michelin tires, but you can spec this on the base variant as well.
The 86 Hakone Edition is similar to the GT, but without access to the TRD Handling Package. It also is only available in a single color scheme, with green exterior paint and a mix of tan and black leather and Alcantara. The wheels are also specific to the special edition: bronze 17-inch multispoke wheels.
The TRD Handling Package is definitely worth considering if you intend using your 86 for more spirited driving or track work. For $1,270 on the GT, this package adds Sachs dampers and upgraded Brembo brakes measuring 12.8 inches in front and 12.4 inches in the rear. You also get a TRD badge thrown in. The package is also available on the base model, adding the larger wheels and improved tires, but costs $2,320 here. Other standalone options you may wish to consider include a center armrest for $199 and navigation for $900. Standalone TRD 18-inch wheels in a unique design can also be added for $1,036, while a TRD performance exhaust costs $1,100 and a TRD sway bar kit costs $550.
For novice or expert drivers alike, the base model is a terrific choice. The Hakone Edition was our review car for a week, and it's a curious choice in that it doesn't come with the TRD package or even the option to equip it. But, it's also a testament to the fact that the 86 doesn't need the TRD package to be enjoyed as intended.
The GT trim will suit those that want a little more in the way of creature comforts and where we land for a general recommendation. For the hardcore driving enthusiast that wants something out of the box that they won't feel the need to upgrade later, the GT trim with the TRD Handling Package is a great choice if there are track days in the car's future.
The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are all but identical beneath the skin, with both being powered by the same 2.0-liter boxer motor. However, while the 86 loses some power with an auto, the Subaru manages to keep outputs identical. On the surface, telling them apart is almost as tricky. The BRZ has different bumpers front and rear, and its own wheel design, but the really big difference comes with the price. The Subaru BRZ was the cheaper of the two, but for 2020, the Toyota is actually almost $2,000 cheaper. With an infotainment system that is now on par with that of the Scooby, offering smartphone integration for the new model year, the Toyota 86 is a more rounded option than ever before and can't be faulted against its twin. The choice here will come down to which color options you prefer, or which brand tickles your fancy more. For us, saving on the base price means more money for tires and track days, so we'd opt for the Toyota here.
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the most iconic and brilliant sports cars ever made, blending cheap thrills with style. Its 2.0-liter inline-four is less powerful than the mill found in the Toyota 86, producing only 181 hp and 151 lb-ft, but curb weight is almost 440 pounds lighter. With smaller wheels and a tighter turning circle, the iconic Miata is arguably more comfortable and more capable than anything in its price bracket. It's not perfect, though, as it seats half the people that the Toyota would, and its trunk is a minuscule 4.6 cubic feet. Nevertheless, it's a much more road-friendly car, offering options like blind spot monitoring and lane-departure warning. The 86 may be bigger and more practical, but the MX-5 is more of a car and, despite its price, feels far more premium. The answer, for us, is still Miata.
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