2019 Toyota 86 GT – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

Someone said a bad thing. They said driving is on the way out. That people would rather Uber or Lyft than own a car of their own. That sports cars will be the first to go.

Someone has not been in a Toyota 86.

The Toyota 86 could be the ambassador for all things that car lovers love. And a little bit of time behind the wheel could convert a lot of skeptics too. Let the propaganda begin!

Sports Car Ancestry.com

The 86 is beautifully-designed. Time flies in auto-dom. When the 2013 FR-S appeared, it was a sensation – a real sports car, with looks that had people comparing it to the low-slung Porsche Cayman, and hinting at all sorts of rare small-bore exotica like the Renault Alpine, Simca Abarth, and others.

And if the Scion brand is unfamiliar – or you’re driving around looking for one – Toyota brought them into the fold, and now they all carry the Snappy Tom logo – without any real detriment to the products.

Toyota had their own ancestry.com membership to lean on. The silhouette reminds of the Toyota 2000GT, and you’ll hear models tossed around with everything from the tiny S800 sports car to the mind-bending LFA Supercar. They would probably find some Celica DNA in there, too.

Anyway, the design has aged exceptionally well. Our tester still turned heads in SoCal, where modded and huge-wheeled FR-S and BRZ are de rigueur. (Or, is that Sube du jour….) Somebody at Toyota is having fun with paint names. Along with our Ablaze (red) tester, you can go for the new Neptune (blue), Asphalt (charcoal), Steel (gray) or Halo (white).


For those in the know, you could tell our tester was the GT model by its exclusive rear wing with aerodynamic end plates. A nice touch, and not overdone.

Space Capsule

With its compact exterior dimensions, you might expect tight quarters, but the 86 is surprisingly spacious. Well, for those in front. The seats are sporty, with good but not overly-aggressive bolsters, and notably long lower cushions that make it a treat for taller drivers. A bonus being a GT trim, we also got leather bolsters, Granlux suede-like inserts, and silver contrast stitching.

That’s just the beginning, with a nice, low seating position that feels like you’re in a low-slung exotic. The view of the curving front fenders gives added fuel to that fantasy. The steering wheel is perfectly placed, the shift lever – ours, an automatic – falls right to hand. This is position perfection.

There’s also excellent sports car instrumentation, with a nice 9,000 rpm tach dead center, and a 160-mph speedometer to the left. That’s a lot of numbers in a relatively small face, so we truly appreciated the tachometer’s digital speedo readout. Quicker and easier to read.

To the right of the tach, is a 4.2-inch TFT display, which is a nice piece of kit. Along with an “86” logo on start up, you can cycle through a variety of cool info from regular stuff like fuel consumption, outside temp, to more driver-useful stuff like oil/coolant temp, to really focused data like stopwatch/ lap timer, hp/torque curve, even an instantaneous and historical g-force friction circle with digital readout. It’s the kind of display we’d expect on a Nissan GT-R, but on a budget sports car – fantastic.

In the center console is a nicely-sized 7-inch touchscreen, with a good sounding 8-speaker audio system. Standard Bluetooth connectivity, navigation and voice recognition feel like modern tech, but the lack of Apple CarPlay, and fidgety smaller buttons feel a little like a leftover from the Scion era.

That would be our only complaint with the interior. And with our upscale GT trim, our 86 felt anything but budget. There’s pushbutton ignition, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a faux suede-fest of feel good textures with “Granlux” on the door panels, armrests, instrument cluster hood – even a stitched “86” logo embroidered on the passenger side of the instrument panel.

While there is a back seat, it’s more of a concept than something you’d want to try wedge people into. We can’t be haters though – that 2+2 concept gives added stretch-out room for those in front, and you can flip down the single-piece rear seat, and have a nice area to carry a jack and wheels/tires if going to the track or autocross is your thing.

Autocross should be your thing.

Why? Well the 86 is a ball to drive.

 While Toyota has been on a tear lately, making just about everything fun to drive – even the Camry, the 86 is old school, front engine, rear wheel drive.

That front engine comes courtesy of Subaru – the 86 and Subie BRZ twins were co-developed by Toyota and Subaru. Using a Sube engine is a good choice in a front-engine sports car – the horizontally-opposed “boxer” 4-cylinder sits low in the chassis for a low center of gravity, and a allows for a low hood line.

You’ll hear interesting discussions about this engine. Some say it’s a little too rough. Some want more power. We think it’s perfectly suited here. 205 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque is plenty in a lightweight car. It makes good noises and has a nice pull to the redline. And with a standard Torsen Limited Slip – racer quality stuff – you get put all that power down, in straights and corners.

And here’s a surprise, our tester had an automatic – and we loved it. This is an enthusiast’s auto that shifts quickly, responds immediately to the throttle, and in Sport mode really snaps off the shifts. It makes for a quick, invigorating drive.

You even get a couple added goodies – the tranny “blips” the throttle on downshifts – not only helping to smooth the shift and balance the chassis, it sounds cool, too. And the auto’s gearing brings the rpms down at highway speeds for more livable long trips. We even managed over 30 mpg despite our best attempts drive the 86 like rev-happy machine it is.

If you want a sports car, but need an auto, this is a great choice.

That’s just the start of the fun – that low boxer engine and light overall weight make for a delightfully balanced chassis. The steering is ultra-quick and there’s no slop, and there’s no lean in turns. Point and shoot. And despite smallish tires, grip is very good too. This is a pure sports car fun. You can even turn off the traction control and hang out the tail in excellent drift form. Best done on a track or autocross, though.

Emphasis on Affordable

The best part is you can put a Toyota 86 in your driveway without braking the bank.

The basic 86 starts at $27,225, and it features everything we talked about here, save an upgraded audio system, and some of the extra lux goodies we mentioned above.

Stepping up to the GT model will cost you $29,355, and we think it’s worth it. You get all the sports car goodness, but little things like pushbutton ignition, dual-zone ac, heated seats, plush interior makes for a much nice day-to-day experience. Odds are you’ll keep your 86 for a long time – those extras would be nice to have.

There’s also a new TRD Special Edition model, and it sounds tempting. Adding to the GT features,  you get a nice selection of performance gear, including 18-inch split-spoke alloy wheels, a special exhaust system, upgraded Brembo brakes, and a specially-tuned sport suspension. It’s offered exclusively in black, and it is a significant jump in price, at $32,470.

Competition is limited. There’s always the Miata, one comparable to our GT – but a convertible – would be $31,855. If you want the same only different, you can opt for a Fiat 124 (Miata sibling) or the Subaru BRZ (86 Sibling). Other than those, maybe a comparable 370Z – but that would be nudging $40,000.  We’ll call the 86 a great value.

We’re car guys. We loved our time in the Toyota 86 GT. Sports car goodness, nice premium touches, good looking, and it puts a big smile on your face every time you drive.

What a great world it would be if everyone drove a Toyota 86!