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.