Finnish Line: Toyota’s redesign fixes the 86

I’ve never liked the outgoing Toyota 86. I don’t think I’ve ever published a positive comment on it. As a concept, it’s great. It’s (often) affordable, reliable, naturally aspirated, boxer engined, rear-wheel drive, given a good if not overwhelming amount of power, and it’s just a really good car for a lot of buyers looking for a sporty two-door with its heart in the right place. It caters to two kinds of Toyota enthusiasts: those who really liked the AE86 and want something like it, and those who really liked the Celica and want something like it.

And it looks awful. Underneath it is a certainly OK shape, but everything in the way it looks is wrong. The detailing looks like light clusters from another car have been thrown onto it from the other side of the design studio. The bumper makes the front look like a shark with a stomach complaint (especially with the facelift bumper). The two-tone stock wheels are terrible. The BRZ sibling has some moderate design changes done on it which alleviate the worst bits, but it’s not what I’d proudly wash and detail every Sunday, either. And because the original concept cars looked just as bad, it’s not about the design getting ruined in the process of making it production reality.

I guess if you tuned the heck out of the car, changed the wheels, and bolted on some obscure Japanese home market aero bits, it would look somewhat different, but that’s still applying dressing on something that’s simply not great to begin with. It’s too 2010 in the worst ways.

However, the curse has now been broken. The official role of the slightly off-looking coupe has now been bestowed on the Supra. (F1 noses do not belong on sports cars.) Not a minute too soon, the 86 has received a redesign that fixes everything I’ve disliked in one fell swoop. The nose and tail get light clusters that look like they belong on the car and are fitted correctly. The bumper is reshaped to gain an attractive air intake. The ridiculous little grille slits in the bumper corners are replaced with … aero something, which does suit it better. The fender tops are no longer forcedly curved to shrugs, as the sides get something J-shaped instead.

Does the car now look slightly more generic and from the rear, a little Honda-like? Maybe! It finally looks good to me, and even the wheels that now match the GR Yaris instead of the Toyota Avensis are better. Even the interior has received a little rearranging that makes it look less cynical than on the original car. It’s still the same car underneath, the dimensions and hardpoints are the same, but the redesign addresses so many pain points at the same time that the stuff that’s carried over is well and good.

It’s a sign of the times. Toyota has improved its design immensely. The Corolla now looks good, as does the Yaris (and the GR version certainly helps). The Camry? Still bad, but maybe that baleen front end is liveable. And it’s a good car from the front bumper onwards.

We probably won’t get that many new-shape 86s here. In Finland, the old car was originally given a preposterous near-50k price tag compared to what was deep down a 25k car. The BRZ was sometimes thousands cheaper than the GT86, but neither is a common sight here. It’s partly about taxation, it can be about average fleet emissions, it can be about Toyota not really envisioning it’d sell that many here no matter the price, but there won’t be a queue forming. This is the part in the column where I say that yes when the secondhand import examples eventually end up in here, I’ll do my best to consider owning one. But for the first time in 86’s history I see it as a car I’d actually want to buy with my own money. It’s not like I’d have to pay money for every car I wanted to criticize…

[Photos: Toyota / yes, I used Scion photos as well to be extra nostalgic]

9 Comments

  1. Totally agree, 100%. I have the same impressions of the outgoing car. It’s always been one of those cars that I loved in concept and appreciated mechanically, but felt that the exterior design was a huge letdown. It wasn’t just plain, it was ugly.

    The new car might be a tad generic and far from gorgeous, but it’s handsome compared to its predecessor.

  2. +1, but I’m not sure who the target group is for a new, middle-ish powerful sports car. There are very few young people who could afford one new (2012 models are 25k$-cars in Norway, too), and even the more decent looking overhaul doesn’t make me go wow. The design almost seems to follow the Hyundai Coupé, which might be a first for Hyundai; being an inspiration rather than the copycat. Photo shows 2007-ish model year.

    1. My hot opinion used to be that I’d gladly take not only that gen Hyundai Coupe over the GT86, no matter how well the Toyota drove in comparison, but also the terrible four-eye facelift version of the earlier gen.

      1. Haha, the best thing is, these go for one zero less…got to say though, really not trying to dis the Toyota, I’m very happy it exists. Don’t ever see one on the road though. Imagine they had taken design inspiration from their fabulous GT2000 instead.

  3. I’m going to have to disagree with you here Antti. I really quite like how the first gen FR-S/86 looked (though I agree that the wheels are a bit of a let down and the facelift was horrid). I think the fender bulges give the first gen a muscular appearance, the overall lines flow together, and the rear design strong.
    With the new one, it’s too overly bland and I feel the few details that are there don’t mesh together. The fact that the side blades, or whatever you want to call the aero bits on the front, don’t line up with the grill or anything else for that matter. The rocker panels that jut out only to abruptly end. That oblong fuel filler door, oof. And the tail looks droopy. While I’m glad this car still exists, I feel the exterior is just a bit of a let down.

    1. Oh yeah, I’m sure the original car has its fans. And it does work better from some angles. I just don’t really enjoy looking at it.

      Good points about the new one, too!

  4. Absolutely. I love the idea of this car and have long tried to convince myself to like how it looks, but I can’t. It looks like a collection of interesting design details smashed into one vehicle without any attempt at making them work together.

    The new car is a bit busy and maybe a little bit more conventional, but it’s a cohesive design that doesn’t make me cringe at the details.

  5. not liking the styling is also my excuse for not owning one, but having driven one, it’s basically the platonic ideal of the 90s Japanese sports coupe. the first gen would be a guaranteed future classic if it weren’t so bland looking. though come to think of it, that’s what they said about all the 90s Japanese sport coupes.

  6. i remember the Oldsmobile 98 as a big, driver friendly four door car. heavy on the gas tank though it may take over twenty dollars to fill it up. but reliable and plenty of leg room. that was back in 1987 so it’s been a while.

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