This car won't truly be appreciated until long after it's gone.
Scion is dead (RIP) but a few of its models live on, including the FR-S, the affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car it co-developed with Subaru. Earlier in the year we test drove the FR-S and were generally pleased by the no-frills high-revving fun it offered. After spending a week with the "new" GT86 we can confirm that not much is new. That’s the bad news. Actually, it's not such bad news. Also, saying "nothing is new" and putting the word new in quotes is a bit harsh. Some stuff is new, although you have to stare really hard to notice.
Toyota did slightly alter the design of the FR-S when it became the GT86 but the changes are subtle. Up front you’ll notice a revised air intake, a new LED headlight design and the deletion of the fog lights. Overall the front end redesign is more a lateral move than anything else, with the headlights standing out above all. If you look closely you’ll see an "86" on them. Around back it’s much the same story with a fresh look for the lights and a revised diffuser design that looks a bit less chunky than its predecessor. Save for the “Toyota” badges you won’t really notice the differences from the FR-S to the GT86 unless you look hard. (Try to avoid looking at those plastic side strakes for too long.)
The lack of design differences from the FR-S to the GT86 isn't a sin. This look has been solid since day one. Like its predecessor, the 2017 GT86 remains the stock image search result for "Japanese sports car." It’s compact, hugs the ground and has a roofline that drops off dangerously right after it clears the driver’s seats. Our only complaint is that the decklid spoiler is a $399 option whereas Subaru throws it in for free. Subaru’s aero bit is also better looking. What we like most about this design is its clarity of purpose. When you look at the GT86 you know it’s meant to be driven. Speaking of driving, Toyota actually did a bit more work under the hood than they did on the exterior. Yes, there's finally more power.
If you opt for the 2.0-liter boxer engine with the short-throw six-speed manual—our tester came spec’d that way—you’ll be rewarded with a slight power bump. The six-speed automatic returns 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque whereas the manual delivers 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft. Hill Start Assist Control is now standard, and we only mention this because it never seemed to work. The Torsen limited-slip differential from the FR-S has been carried over. Toyota said it revised the shock tuning and changed the spring rate but you’d be hard-pressed to detail the differences without driving the two cars back to back. The power bump looks nice on paper but is also hardly noticeable once you hop behind the wheel.
An official 0-60 mph time for the 2017 GT86 isn't out and we don’t have a private drag strip and professional driver at our disposal. The FR-S with a six-speed manual and a slight bit less power made the run in 6.2 seconds which sounds right for the 86. A more powerful engine would make the almost 2,750-pound(ish) coupe more fun off the line. But equally as fun is racing through the rev range. Peak torque is reached at 6,400 rpm and peak horsepower at 7,000 rpm (red line is 7,500 rpm). If you want to feel any sensation of speed the revs have to run. The final drive ratio on the GT86 is shorter than on the FR-S, 4.30:1 vs. 4.10:1. Although you won’t be going very fast, blowing through the gears while the engine whines is still good fun.
You’ll also blow through gas. We averaged 21 mpg highway and 16 mpg city, both figures which aren’t far off from the official split of 17/23/19. But who cares about filling up when you're having fun. Whether in city traffic or on winding roads the GT86 is plain fun to drive. There are no crazy drive modes or settings menus to navigate. The FR-S “Sports” mode is now “Track” mode and you can choose to turn traction control on or off. That’s it. The electronically assisted power steering feels weighty and the tiny steering wheel, now with audio controls, makes you feel like you’re driving an actual sports car as opposed to navigating a speed boat. Driving is about the only thing you’d want to be doing inside the 86.
The cabin is devoid of luxury, with a 6.2-inch touchscreen that plays music and not much else. There’s a wannabe suede material called “Granlux” throughout that stands out against all the plastic. The rear seats are as claustrophobic as ever and exist solely to make the car cheaper to insure and slightly easier to sell. Despite the lack of noticeable newness the 2017 Toyota GT86 remains one of the best budget Japanese sports cars you can buy. It starts at $27,120 (including destination). Yeah, that money buys you a more powerful muscle car, but remember we’re talking RWD Japanese sports cars here. Its only real competitors are the Subaru BRZ and the upcoming Mazda MX-5 RF.
The former is the GT86’s carbon copy in almost every way and the latter will be both less powerful and more expensive. If you’re looking for a modern car to tune on the cheap it’s hard to find a better option.