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2017 Toyota 86 First Drive: Don’t F&*K With A Good Thing

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Remember the 70’s Toyota tag line, “you asked for it, you got it, Toyota”.  Scion is dead. The enthusiast’s favorite car from that brand, however, lives on. It is now branded, like everywhere else in the world, as the Toyota 86.

In the process of rebranding the car, it also receives a number of mid-cycle updates to go along with the new branding.  So, the questions are, have the changes improved it, or, have Toyota mucked it up?

Fear not, while the changes are minor, they all have been good ones, and have improved the feel and dynamics of the car, both inside and out.  Starting on the outside the immediate change that you notice is the new nose, it gives it a more aggressive appearance and a bit of a snarl.  The headlamps are LED’s and have some very nice and subtle “86” branding on them.  Around back there is a new bumper with an integrated defuser and the tail-lights also are upgraded to LED units.  The old “86” badges on the front fender with the opposed pistons are gone, but there are new circular “86” badges to replace them.

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A nice change to the interior is the inclusion of a suede like material Toyota calls “Granlux”.  It is used as an insert on the instrument surround, and also on the door.  It is the placement on the door that gets the most notice, as your left arm rests perfectly on it.  The material has a very pleasant feel and texture to it.  It’s a small thing, but it’s a nice touch.  Gone is the red stitching from the FR-S now replaced with silver for a lower key look, the steering wheel also shrinks by three millimeters.

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That is all great you say, but how does it DRIVE??!!  TL:DR, it’s better!  Again, there are a number of small changes that add up, on their own, they don’t make a big difference, it is the accumulation of them make it noticeable.  Starting with the engine, there are now two different units, depending on if you choose, a manual or an automatic.  Go with the automatic, and the engine is a direct carryover from the FR-S with 200 horsepower and 151 lb/ft of torque.  Choose the manual, and you get an additional five horsepower and five torques via the revised intake and exhaust manifolds as well as the valve stems having been polished.  Out back if you choose the automatic, the 4:10 rear gears remain the same, however the manual gets a 4:30 gear set.

The extra power and torque aren’t really noticeable, however, the shorter rear gear in the manual does make it easier to say up in the power-band. While these changes are welcome, it doesn’t address the two fundamental issues with the engine in the 86, number one the lack of torque, and number two, the slow revving nature of the engine.

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While the two liter flat four will rev, it’s the velocity of how quickly it climbs the rev range that is the problem.  Start a third gear pull at five grand, and it takes an eternity to approach the 7,000 rpm redline, also peak torque doesn’t occur until 6,400 rpm!  While the 86 is fun to drive, and we did have fun on the drive on Highway 33 north of Ojai, California, to get anywhere, you really have to push the car HARD.  Many will say that we miss the point of a light car and naturally aspirated engine, and you’d bee 100% wrong.  Momentum cars are fun, on the right roads, and the right tracks, but in the slog of everyday driving, the lack of power and more importantly torque in a usable range, becomes a turnoff to the ownership experience.  If the 86 is a track car or a weekend fun car, maybe you get away with it, however, for 95% of the owners, this is their only car.  An additional fifty horsepower and 100 torques would make this vehicle about perfect.  There are enough people who have installed turbos or superchargers on the platform to know it can more than handle the additional power.

Toyota has made some small changes to the suspension for this refresh.  The springs and shocks in the front have been stiffened, while the rear springs and shocks have been softened.  There is a larger and stiffer rear sway bar, and they have made steps to strengthen the overall rigidity of the body.  It’s these changes that you notice most about the 86.  The ride compliance is a little better, the car feels much more planted and composed when you drive it in the twisty bits.  We had to make sure the tires were still the same Michelin Primacy tires, same as on the Prius, that they were in the past, and they are.  While the suspension changes make the car a little less drift happy, they also allow a much more planted feel in the corners, almost like you’ve upgraded the tires to a softer compound.  Steering feel remains light and direct with good feedback and communication with the road.

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We are happy that Toyota has continued along with the 86, it is a fun car to drive, and it’s pretty good value for money in today’s world.  Yes, we have some issues with it, that hasn’t changed, however, the choices of small rear-drive performance coupes with manual transmissions is negligible in the U.S., so snap these up while you can.  Toyota will move less than 9,000 units of this model in 2016, probably about the same for 2017 even with the updates, so, it’s not hard to imagine that come three or four years down the line, when it’s time to replace the current car, that it won’t be.

  • outback_ute

    The high torque peak is a bit of a red herring when 90-something percent is there at 3,000 rpm. Did they say anything about fixing the midrange torque ‘hole’?

    Agreed it is too bad that it may be a one and done, but then again I haven’t bought one. Supposedly the current MX5 would not have been produced were it not for the Fiat 124.

    • They did fix some of the torque hole, that and the shorter gearing help, but the lack of torque, no matter what remains, is a problem.

      • outback_ute

        I understand, I just mean it is not as peaky as in the days before variable valve timing & intake manifolds. Even putting a 2.5L engine in would help and would also help the poor ongoing sale via creating a reason for existing owners to upgrade.

  • Distraxi

    I dunno, I bought a 2013 a few weeks ago, and so far at least, I haven’t noticed the lack of torque to be a real-world issue. Coming out of a MkV GTI, I’m finding sharper throttle response compensates for lack of turbo torque in low-rpm “quick blip” situations, and if you need more, you’re changing down anyway so just go a gear or two further than you otherwise would have. I’m using 5000rpm where I would have used 3500 in the Golf, but so what – the sound effects encourage it anyway. Which also means the “hole” isn’t an issue; you’re just never in that band in practice, you’re either above or below it.

  • The problem the 86 suffers is that of lazy drivers. It needs to be kept revving and then it’s an absolute blast. The other problem is that it’s much easier to keep the revs high on winding European and Japanese roads than in the wide open spaces of the USA.

  • DeCode

    Sorry, but the new nose is not “aggressive” to my eyes. Actually I find it quite ugly.- like a sucker fish, or some other toothless aquatic animal. I now know that I will be looking for a 2015 and older model when i need a another RWD small coupe/drift runabout.