You have to give Toyota credit. After all, with home runs like the RAV4 (best-selling SUV in America) Camry (best-selling car in America 18 out of 19 years) Tacoma (best-selling mid-size pickup), they really don’t have to go out and sell sports cars. But they do. In fact, this year they’ve got not one, but two, the 86, and the all-new Supra.
OK, you can argue the big T doesn’t go it alone – the 86 is a cooperative effort with Subaru that markets its near twin the BR-Z, and the Supra shares a great deal with the new BMW Z4. Still, they care enough to bring sporting vehicles to the likes of us.
And the 86 really appeals to us for two reasons. 1 – it’s an excellent sports car, and 2 – it’s quite affordable. But the 86 and Subie BRZ have been around awhile, are they still good?
Great to Look At
Toyota did a refresh when the Scion brand died (moment of silence) and the FR-S became the 86. There are mixed reviews on the front end. Some liked the curvier, more aggressive look. Others felt it was swoopy for swoopy’s sake, complicating the simple design. The overall look still appeals; a tight, snug fitting coupe body that sits low and wide. It looks purpose built for driving fun.
And if you like the overall lines, you’re sure to like the special Hakone Edition like our tester. Hakone you say? Two hours southwest of Tokyo lies one of the great driving roads in the world, the Hakone Turnpike, that Toyota is paying tribute to.
That tribute comes in a stylish way, with handsome Hakone Green paint sitting on top of unique 17” alloy wheels, finished off with a black rear spoiler. While there are a lot of BRZ’s FR-S’s and 86’s out there, the Green really helps it stand out.
And despite the fact there are a couple of the corporate Toyota logos on the vehicle, we had several people ask us what it was. The rich green and bronze wheels make it look much more expensive – people thought our low-slung sports car was some sort of exotic.
Special Inside Too
The Hakone’s interior shows a bigger change, and it’s all good. Open the door and you’ll be greeted by a pair of tan and black Alcantara seats, a delightful contrast to the green exterior, that look sporty and help brighten up the dark interior.
A tan Toyota 86 logo is embroidered on the dashboard, while the steering wheel, parking brake and shift boot get cool contrasting tan stitching. Black stitching on the door trim, knee pad and meter visor give an added upscale air.
Which is nice, because the 86 usually trades more on function than flash. You sit low and perfectly placed in those comfy buckets, with the shift lever an easy reach. Legroom is exceptionally good up front, letting even taller drivers stretch out in ways Miata owners could only dream of.
This is pure common-sense design, with a large 7.0-inch touchscreen including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus a USB for easy access.
Underneath that, simple to use climate controls knobs, with five veddy British toggle switches to access the basics of the A/C system. All good. This is a small vehicle though, and there are some compromises with storage cubbies and the like. There isn’t much. But this is a car for driving – the cupholders work fine, and you’ll find places to stow what you need, or don’t bring them.
Speaking of not bringing, there is a rear seat, but this is tiny. Maybe for a small dog or very small child, but realistically it’s a two-seater. Better news is that the rear seats fold down and there’s a nicely sized pass through from the trunk. Toyota has said this would give you room enough to bring and extra set of tires and a jack to the track. Nice!
While the Hakone is named after a famous driving road, the model doesn’t get any performance modifications, which is ok with us. The 86 is a ball to drive.
The engine is pure Subaru, a horizontally opposed “Boxer” engine that sits low in the chassis bringing the center of gravity down for exceptional handling. Bucking the turbo trend, this normally aspirated engine pumps out a strong 205 hp and 156 lb.-ft of torque. (If you go with the auto, it drops to 200 and 151, respectively).
You’ll hear differing opinions on this motor. Some want more power or more smoothness. But we love it – it’s rorty and a little rough, but it loves to rev and sounds terrific, especially as it gets above 4500 rpm. 0-60 mph comes up in about 6 seconds, which makes it quick, but not so fast that you can only enjoy it on a racetrack.
The last couple of 86’s we’ve tested had automatic transmissions, and we were very impressed how well they worked – very sporting with quick responsive shifts, and the longer legs make it quieter at freeway speeds. We started thinking if we owned one, we’d go auto.
Until we drove the stick. This is one of the best stick shifts in any car. The lever is perfectly positioned, the throws are light and direct, with just a little bit of notchiness. It’s easy to drive smoothly in traffic, and great fun to shift hard and fast when the road opens up.
With that boxer engine sitting low and back in the chassis, the 86 changes lanes with the lightest touch on the wheel – nearly telepathic. The precision and feel are wonderful too, making it easy to place the little Toyota exactly where you want it. Great for the autocrosser or track day, but equally enjoyable on your favorite twisty road.
These are not exceptionally wide tires, and if you turn off the traction control, the car is happy to slide its tail out. With the traction control on, the grip level is impressive, and in perfect balance with the power.
The ride quality is excellent too, supple enough for the daily commute, but firm enough to stay flat in the corners. Brake feel, no surprise, is also superb, very controllable and the pedal gives you volumes of information, making it easy balance the car on the limit. Or to slow down in a hurry if you need to.
This is amazing engineering. With the 86, you have a car a new driver could go out and have fun without getting into trouble, and yet a seasoned sports car enthusiast would love it as well.
What Price Perfection?
Did we mention amazing engineering? Well let’s not forget Toyota (and Subaru) did all this at an amazingly affordable price. The 86 starts at $26,985 with manual transmission. ($27,705 with automatic). It also includes Toyota’s Star Safety System, and they even throw in complimentary maintenance for the first two years.
A noteworthy option on manual transmission models is the TRD Handling Package which adds Sachs shocks, Brembo brakes, and 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport tires. Yours for a reasonable $2,320. Basically, you’d be ready for the track, but you might find it a bit harsh on the street. Decide what you want to do with your 86 and go for it.
You can’t get the TRD package on the Hakone, but as we mentioned, it’s a special car with its unique paint, and stylish interior. The Hakone starts at $29,870 and with no available options and $955 for delivery, we came in at $30,825.
Which is a bargain. If you go for a Miata, a well-equipped Miata RF hardtop will run you a pricey $35,925. You will get the open-air roadster experience, but you’ll lose the interior space and carrying ability. The Subaru BRZ tS comes in at $32,395, so the 86 is actually a bit of a bargain compared to its sibling as well.
By the end of our week testing we’re usually happy to return our test vehicle and look forward to what’s next. But we didn’t feel that way with the 86. They had to pry the keys out of our hands.
If you want an incredibly fun, livable, and affordable sports car – nothing beats the amazing Toyota 86!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.