Toyota 86: Australian Review

It has been a long time since the Supra and the AE86 Corolla and the Soarer. For a while, especially in Australia, Toyota has made cars for families, but the 2012 launch of the 86 marked a return to form. The recently refreshed mid-life update of the Toyota 86 adds a few welcome goodies, but it's still a simple, focused sports car.

What Is It?

The Toyota 86, launched in 2012, has been updated in the last month with a warmed-over interior and some new electronic gizmos, as well as a slightly revised suspension setup. Available as a GT or GTS manual or automatic for as little as $29,990 — as tested, my silver GTS manual sans Option Pack was $36,490 RRP — the 86 is a sports car with all the right goods for such a right price.

The 86 is a rear-wheel drive, two door coupe with a 2.0-litre four cylinder boxer engine. At 1275kg it's not sub-compact light but not Commodore-heavy, and its 4240x1775x1320mm dimensions make it on the smaller size of the range of sporty two-door non-hatchback coupes that you can buy today. It's like a slightly more youthful, slightly larger Mazda MX-5 at a lower asking price.

What Is It Good At?

I hadn't spent more than a few minutes driving one of the 2012-spec Toyota 86s before my time with the revised model, but the suspension setup inside the 86 that you'll buy today is really perfectly married to the car's attitude. The suspension is compliant over speed bumps and potholes at low speeds and on highways, but if you're in the mood to take that offramp turn slightly quickly, or if you feel like zipping around a roundabout, it's firm and there's little body roll. The steering in the 86 is impressively direct and no-nonsense, and it's weighted just right to make both boring daily-drive traffic and a weekend zip up the Old Pac equally comfortable and tactile.

The 86 not be an especially quick car — in the 7-and-a-half-ish seconds 0-100km/h range — but it's utterly fun to drive while you're getting there. The 2.0-litre direct injection boxer four cylinder co-developed by Toyota and Subaru (147kW, a not-earth-shifting 205Nm) sounds great when you step on it, and when you're up above the 3500rpm point and holding gears a little longer before shifting the aural accompaniment makes 86 feel a little faster than it actually is. The six-speed manual, with a lockout for reverse, has a nicely short throw and gears slot nicely into place — there's no mushiness or vagueness in shifting. The 86 is not super-fast and not all-out sporty, but it's certainly fun.

The interior of the 86 hits the mark. It's simple — no super-complicated switchgear for the driver, with just a simple trip computer and odometer and a few fuel consumption trackers, a couple of traction and suspension control buttons, and the dual-mode AC controls in the centre. The stereo has a clean face and its on-screen controls are straightforward. The new carbon fibre look dashboard panel is subtle and has a nice finish to it, and the soft-touch plastic dashboard material stops the 86 from feeling cheap. The 86's front bucket seats (with luxe alcantara inserts, oh yes) are supportive but have a little bit of give in the side bolsters where it counts, which is crucially important when you're lowering yourself into and extricating yourself out of the car's really low seating position.

The exterior of the Toyota 86 — its shape, its paint colours and finishes, the styling kits on the GTS and the GTS Option Pack — look pretty damn fantastic. There are seven colour options, but in my mind the standouts are Velocity Orange and Ice Silver, and the regular GTS's spoiler is just the right level of sportiness. The 86 GTS's HID headlights and LED daytime running lights are similarly excellent — wide and consistent coverage and excellent range. It's a sports car — and you can tell that much from a passing glance at it — but it doesn't take itself too seriously.

What Is It Not Good At?

There's not a great deal of feel from the clutch pedal in the 86, so you find yourself having to learn roughly the right friction point where the clutch starts to bite. This isn't a big deal, especially because the 86's clutch pedal is so light and the hydraulic assistance is so smooth, but there's a slight learning curve if you want to get the smoothest take-offs and upshift without over-revving.

There's also no rear leg room for passengers, if you or anyone in the front seats are any taller than 6 feet or so. If you want to fit two adults in the 86's twin rear seats — there's no centre pew, thanks to the transmission tunnel taking up footroom and the seat space itself actually being used for a passenger armrest — you'll have to move the front seats forward what I'd term a slightly uncomfortable distance at my 5'11" height.

Rear visibility is merely OK rather than good, especially if you're trying to head-check blind spots before changing lanes; those rear quarter windows are tiny and the seat bolsters get in the way depending on where you have them positioned. For parking this isn't an issue thanks to the excellent coverage of the rear-mounted reversing camera, and you can get sonar parking on the Option Pack, but you'll have to make sure your wing mirrors are well positioned before you drive. This isn't a problem, just a consideration to check when you're taking the 86 for a test drive.

The sound system inside the 86 GTS is alright. It's an eight-speaker system, with four mids and two tweeters arranged across the doors and dashboard, two mids for the rear passengers, and Toyota's nifty T.E.C.H headunit which has Bluetooth, USB audio playback (video when the handbrake is up), FM/AM/CD, and GPS-based maps and navigation. The headunit is pretty good — simple and with a basic touchscreen layout, but with a smattering of add-ons like voice control that usually works — but the speakers don't really stand up at louder volumes. They're a little short on bass, and if you boost it using the equaliser, you get distortion and break-up with bass-heavy tracks. The 86 GTS is going to be bought by a lot of people upgrading from second-hand Japanese sports cars with upgraded sound systems, and the 86 is merely OK rather than especially premium.

Should You Buy It?

I really enjoyed my time with the Toyota 86. It hits just the right compromise between nicely-appointed and spartan, between sporty and fuel efficient, between look-at-me and regular-guy. The new interior goodies like the reversing camera are useful and genuinely do come in handy to address some of the 86's shortcomings. The interior in general is mature without being boring and without being boy-racerish. The exterior looks sporty and while the GTS Option Pack is a little too gaudy for the amount of get-up-and-go that the 86 actually has, nothing stops the 86 from looking great whichever angle you spot it from.

All of this has to be appreciated in the context of the Toyota 86's honestly surprisingly low price. The base GT manual is a wow-it's-cheap $29,990. The GTS manual I tested is a perfectly reasonable $36,490 for a huge increase in interior and exterior goodies, although the actual driving platform remains unchanged. I'd buy the GTS if I was making the choice tomorrow, but the GT is just as good a car for the driver. Either one, my conclusion is a resounding yes please.


    Isn't this a little late - it's been out for a year now? (EDIT) - ignore me - this is a review of the update. I really should pay attention.

    Having said that it's an awesome car and if it didn't have the long waiting list I'd have been truly tempted to pick one up when I went shopping in May.

    Last edited 08/08/14 1:05 pm

    Looks nice, drives like grandma's corolla. It's the new Celica :)


      The Fiesta ST is better value. Less power but lighter and 0-100 in sub 7 seconds and torquier. If it's like my XR5 its taken a serious thrashing for 7 years with no gripes. Cheaper too with the kit. Much nicer note as well.

      86 are a dime a dozen and are the new Celica.... Supra/MR2 days are still a long way off.

      Last edited 08/08/14 3:07 pm

        This has pretty much zero competition in chuckable RWD cars in Australia though. Plus turbo kits are looking pretty appealing for it these days.

        Yeah but you can't throw it sideways and hold on to it all the way around the corner like the 86. Sure you can do lift off oversteer but it's not the same. The 86 is perfect for people who like going sideways like me. If I had the money I'd have this over something twice the price. Sideways and still under the speed limit is priceless.

        The Fiesta is a great little hot hatch, but at the end of the day it's still a Fiesta. At least the 86 was designed from the ground up to be a sports car.

          The only thing that classifies an 86 as a "sports car" is the number of doors it has.... Everything else is mediocre.

          Last edited 08/08/14 7:08 pm

            The vast majority of automotive journalists both in Australia and worldwide would disagree with you, but sure.

      Might accelerate like a corolla but haven driven both it certainly doesnt feel like it.

      The RWD 86 is much more of a proper sports car than the FWD Celica. And if you think it drives like a Corolla you obviously haven't driven either.

    This'll hopefully be my next car. Best value performance car on the market, and a much needed addition to Toyota's stable of Camrys and Corollas.

      If I was considering one -- and I'm not, not really -- I'd say the 86 would be near the top of my list.

        How was the RWD after your Polo? I have a Focus at the moment and I'm not sure if I want get another one, a Golf or something RWD/FWD for my next (still awhile off anyway).

    We play the game of spot the 86 where we can see at least 1 every day when we are driving around.
    We love the car but it appears that everyone else does as well so there are now just too many of them on the road that they have lost their appeal of being a bit exclusive. Curse that low price point allowing us all to be able to afford one.
    Off to looking at another import instead now to upgrade our now more exclusive than the 86 Soarer.

    I thought I wanted one of these for a while until I saw them EVERYWHERE. Mostly being driven by middle aged women.

      Same here and also Nissan GTRs as well. Both have been plagued by people who have no idea what the hell they really are!

        That's what happens when something is sold locally as opposed to grey imports :p

        Seriously though, there aren't enough enthusiasts out there to sell cars soley to them in Australia and make a profit. The difference between your enthusiast 86 and middle aged woman will be the fat Japanese wheels, exhaust, lowered and kit.

        how many GTRs do you see? I think I've seen 2 in the wild ever. Or are you not talking about the latest $180k monsters?

        Last edited 08/08/14 4:14 pm

          I see a fair few (new) GTRs around the Alexandria-Surry Hills-Leichhardt triangle here in Sydney.

          I see a minimum of 3 every afternoon (I live on the Gold Coast), know a friend who owns one and a few more on the weekends. They are seeming a bit more common now when compared to Ferrari's or Lambos.

          I'm hardly saying they are Nissan Pulsars but for something which is very expensive I wouldn't expect to see them out driven on a daily basis.

    Had mine for 8mnths now, still love getting in to it every day. Always dealing with people giving it grief for being 'slow', but being able to get to 100km/hr in 4secs doesn't really do you any good on a mountain road, which is where this car was built to be. Love it!

      The 1982 Falcon 351 would do 0 to100 in 8.3 seconds so you are quicker. Sure compared to the hot hatches the 86 might seem slower but that's not what that car is all about. It runs thin low grip tyres so you can have fun with it (read going sideways) at speeds that won't kill you if you get it wrong. It's brilliant thinking.
      With the got hatches, to have any fun with them, you are doing incredibly dangerous speeds.
      Enjoy your car and ignore the uninformed. They don't know any better.

      "100km/hr in 4secs doesn't really do you any good on a mountain road"
      Unless you drive a 370Z which does accelerate like this and eats mountain roads for breakfast.

    My brother and sister in law own one and so does my mother. Funnily, my bro loves theirs but my mum hates hers and is intending on selling it to get something else soon. I think it's the comfort of the seat, the gear shift from 2-3 and 3-2 as well as the poor rear visibility that my mum hates. And she owned an MR2 for years so she's used to a little sports car. Most of us think she's strange for not liking it, but each to their own.

    I just wana see the interior a little bit more premium....

    yes i know i know, look at that price... but hey, when i pay like $40k, i don't care how good a value, i still wana feel nice in it, and for it to look visually appealing ha

    Shame Hyundai didn't bring out the Genesis Coupe here. 2L turbo, RWD.

    For what they are, they are great. Just don't expect a quick ride. For the $36k 86, you are getting into WRX territory.

    Handling is great, but really needs a bit more grunt... power to weight ratio could be better. If they're going to use a Subaru boxer engine, it would have been nice if they'd been able to get the WRX's 2.5l turbo in there instead of plain old NA 2 litre. Certainly a better value buy than the MX5, though (unless you really want a convertible).

    And, as others have pointed out, having a flash car is a little less appealing when there are so many around. It seems almost as common as the Mazda 3 out there.

    As nice as it is (especially for the price) I'd at least hold out a bit longer to see how the 4 cylinder turbo Mustang stacks up against this when it gets released here next year (assuming that's still happening?) before making a decision.

      That's a really interesting point. If the base Ecoboost is anywhere under 40 (which I'd hope, it's $26k in the States) that'd be a hard choice...

        If the 4 cylinder Mustang comes in under $40k, I actually don't think it would be a hard choice at all. You'd choose the Mustang :P

      I agree that this car is totally underpowered.
      I don't think the engine is the problem as it is already using the 2.0 FA engine instead of the EJ engine. Subaru and Toyota says they can't fit a turbo under the hood, which is a lie given aftermarket tuners have done that, so this is probably a business decision as they don't want to take away the sales of the new WRX (same engine and turbo charged).
      if the performance of the new WRX is anything to go by, chucking an aftermarket turbo on the 86 will make this car a serious beast.

        It's interesting though that a turbo'd 86 would mainly eat Subaru sales (WRX) rather than Toyota sales (since they don't have much in that segment)

          given that Toyota is a shareholder of Subaru, I would say that will affect both of them.

      I hear that Subaru and Toyota had an agreement not improve HP, but I think that time is over so I think your dreams are about to come true. There's talk of throwing the turbo wrx motor in it and wider better gripping tyres on it.

    spend your money on an e92 335i

      get 06-07 has they have forged internals.

      For a new one, you're talking double the cost of an 86. Totally different league. Your 06-07 model with forged internals is an 8 year old car and go anywhere from the $35k to $50k with 50,000+kms on the clock

      Not an apples for apples comparison.

        each to their own i guess. i own one and im absolutely in love with the thing. build quality, engine is still running with no apparent issues at 100000kms.

    Campbell, we can be friends now that you have accepted the Soarer as a sports car. :)

      About 500kg heavier than I'd like, but sure, it's a sports car! I had a mate with a warmed-up 1UZFE UZZ31 that was great fun to be a passenger in.

        I currently drive an 04 WRX, which replaced my UZZ31 Soarer. Soarer to be sold next weekend hopefully, after a year and a half of sitting in my shed. Good cars, hard to get power out of though :\

        Would've liked a stroked and charged manual one, would be so much fun. WRX currently blows my Soarer out of the water!

    I like this car, but its a shame every wanker and their mate owns one.

    Last edited 08/08/14 2:56 pm

    You'd be crazy to get this rather than waiting for the inevitable turbo version. If you are going to put an aftermarket turbo on this version there are a few other options, MX5, 350/370Z, S2000, XR6 Turbo.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now