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7 Best 2017 Cheap Sports Cars Under $30K

6. Toyota 86

Price as tested: $28,534
0-60 mph: 6.4 sec; EPA rating: 24 mpg city-highway combined
Hottest color: Hot Lava

New name. A nip ‘n tuck. Some mechanical tweaks. Same minimalist mission: provide value-conscious buyers a low-mass, modestly powered homage to sports-car simplicity. The 86 began life in the U.S. as the 2013 Scion FR-S (for Front-engine, Rear-wheel drive, Sport). With the demise of Toyota’s Scion youth division for 2017, it’s absorbed into the parent company’s brand and adopts the 86 identity used in other global markets.

toyota-86

It remains a design cousin to the Subaru BRZ. They’re products of a joint project between Toyota, which oversaw the styling, and Subaru, which handled much of the mechanical work. The two cars share a shapely 2+2 coupe body, differentiated mainly by brand-specific grillework and wheel designs. Like the BRZ, the 86 gets modest but effective styling updates for ’17. Here they include a larger front air intake and new fog lamp bezels, plus standard LED headlamps and daytime running lights. LED lamps and a reshaped bumper with an integrated diffuser spiff the tail. Wheels remain 17-inch alloys, but are of a new twisted-spoke design. Upgraded materials and 86 logos burnish the cabin, a cozy place with two gnome-sized rear seats.

The sole engine remains a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with Subaru’s center-of-gravity-friendly, boxer, or horizontally opposed, cylinder layout. Automatic-transmission versions stay at 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. For ’17, new intake and exhaust manifolds help models with the six-speed manual make 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet (at the same 7000 and 6400 rpm, respectively.) A Torsen limited-slip differential is standard, and stick-shift 86s get a final-drive ratio lowered to 4.3:1 from 4.1:1. That helps provide a small but helpful boost in midrange throttle response.

Suspension revisions are part of advancements that improve composure and underscore that maintaining hard-won velocity, rather than generating it, is this car’s forte. The BRZ and 86 are agile and are very deliberately fitted with rather narrow 17-inch summer tires. Their diffident lateral grip in fast cornering can introduce tail-out behavior and lessons in car control no book can teach you.

There are subtle differences in the way the two cars drive; the Subaru may be a little more eager to drift through corners, for example. They’re also separated by the automakers’ approach to features. An imbedded navigation system is unavailable in the BRZ, for example, while one’s optional in the 86 for a reasonable $900. And Subaru for ’17 introduces comprehensive chassis and suspension upgrades as part of a $1,195 Performance Package. Toyota compels drivers focused on track-type manners to scrutinize a list of port-installed options developed for the 86 by the automaker’s TRD racing engineers.

We’d advise clicking on these Toyota Racing Development upgrades: performance dual exhaust ($1,100), lowered springs ($639), sway bar ($550), and a performance air filter ($75). The Brembo brakes and SACHS shock absorbers that are part of the BRZ package aren’t offered. But the TRD stuff we spec is quite effective, and ordering it all nets a bottom-line sticker of $28,534. We’d understand, too, if you succumb temptation and find another $1,650 for gorgeous TRD 17-inch forged matte gray wheels for those same 215/45R17 summer tires.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]