2018 Toyota 86 Buying Advice
This is the best sports car for you if you want an affordable automotive blank canvas. We hesitate to recommend the Toyota 86 as a daily driver, but it works admirably as a second car to have fun with on weekends. It’s also ripe for customization, with a bevy of factory-backed and aftermarket parts available.
This rear-wheel-drive two-door coupe was engineered in a joint venture between Toyota and Subaru. It launched for the 2013 model year as the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ. Toyota discontinued its Scion you brand in 2016, so the FR-S became a Toyota for 2017. It adopted the 86 name in honor of the 1983-1987 Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno. A car exclusive to the Japanese market, the AE86 was essentially a sporty Corolla hatchback. It was far from the fastest vehicle of its time but was among the best-handling and remains a favorite in the drifting community. That description suits the modern 86, as well as the nearly identical BRZ: not the quickest, but able to punch above their class for driving fun.
The classic balance of their lightweight rear-wheel-drive engineering is central to their personalities and a lure to sports-car purists. But the competitive set in which they play is highly diverse. It includes sporty front-wheel-drive models such as the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Veloster, and Volkswagen Golf GTI, small rear-drive convertibles such as the Mazda MX-5 Miata and similar Fiat 124 Spider, and larger rear-drive coupes and convertibles including the Ford Mustang and Nissan 370Z. One thing all these cars have in common: falling sales. Demand is down for nearly every one, anywhere from 12-35 percent, through the first half of 2018.
Should you buy a 2018 model or wait for the 2019?
Check out the 2018. When the FR-S became the 86 for model-year ’17, Toyota made a few changes to the suspension and interior. Models equipped with the standard manual transmission received a slight power boost. For 2018, the GT and GT Black versions supplant the limited-production 860 Special Edition, which featured unique exterior and interior trim.
For ’19, expect the Base 86 to return with no significant changes but Toyota could well introduce another special edition to replace the GT/GT Black.
Styling: As part of its transition to the Toyota brand, the 86 received freshened exterior styling along with “86” badges on the fenders. A larger front air intake improved cooling and gave the car a more aggressive look. LED headlights, daytime running lights, and tail lights became standard. It’s a very clean design that, going back to the blank canvas analogy, is primed to accept a wide variety of aftermarket parts, including spoilers, body kits, and wheels.
Updating the cabin, Toyota added a faux suede material called “Granlux” on the dashboard and door tops. It looks good when clean but seems to attract lint and dust easily. The seats received some contrast piping to give them a sportier look, which suits the overall theme of the interior.
The 86 defines “driver-focused cockpit” with a design meant to keep the driver focused on the road. The instrument panel places the tachometer dead ahead and flanks it with a digital speedometer. The analog speed readout is off to the side, and its markings are hard to read.
Climate dials are large and easy to use in the Base grade; GT and GT Black have dual-zone automatic climate control. Toyota’s Entune handles infotainment duty, with the touchscreen serving little more than the radio, Bluetooth connections, and the rearview camera. Normally we would scoff at such a dearth of functionality, but the 86 is a driver’s car so anything more complex threatens potential distraction.
Comfort is not an 86 strong point. You sit very low, which makes ingress and egress challenging. The prominently bolstered front seats are quite confining for those of wide girth. Best suited to parcels, the miniscule back seat is there to persuade your insurance agent this is a four-passenger vehicle and qualifies for lower premiums than genuine two-seaters such as the 370Z or Miata.
Trunk volume is a scant 6.9 cubic feet but it can be made more versatile by folding the rear seatbacks. Interior storage consists of a small glovebox, tiny door pockets, and a shallow center console with no factory armrest.
Mechanical: Get the 86 on the road and you’ll almost forget how impractical it is. Almost. It shares with the BRZ use a Subaru-designed four-cylinder engine, a 2.0-liter with cylinders arrayed horizontally rather than vertically or in a “V” configuration. A classic Subaru design, this setup allows a more compact engine that can be placed lower and farther back in the engine bay. That helps lower the car’s center of gravity and optimizes front/rear weight distribution.
The engine produces 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque when paired with the standard 6-speed manual transmission and 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet with the optional 6-speed automatic.
Though torque output isn’t that impressive, the 86 has good scoot from a dead stop. Acceleration flattens out around 3,500 rpm, but the engine gets a second wind above 5,500 on its way to peak horsepower and torque at 7,000 and 6,400 rpm, respectively. It’s fun to rev and impressive that Subaru coaxes 100 horsepower per liter without a turbocharger or supercharger. The manual gearbox is fine in most situations, but not quite as fun to row as a Honda or Volkswagen stick. And the clutch on our test example suffered from inconsistent engagement, making it tough to drive smoothly in traffic.
Handling is the 86’s forte. The steering is among the most direct you’ll ever experience. It’s so precise it can be easily forgiven for being a little heavy at low speeds. This sleek coupe reacts immediately and with virtually no body lean to any requested change of direction. The only tires are relatively modest 215/45VR17s on alloy wheels, yet grip and balance are outstanding, putting to shame sporty cars that cost tens of thousands more. It rained more than once during our test period and we never felt the tail of this rear-driver was ready to break loose. Braking performance is similarly strong.
The tradeoff is a ride that’s very stiff over anything but glass-smooth pavement. Riding in the 86 is also a loud experience. The engine sounds appropriately sporty, but the cabin lacks much in the way of insulation to combat the rampant road noise. At least that helps keep the 86 lean: it’s one of the lightest cars in the competitive set, at 2,774 pounds with manual transmission and 2,815 with the automatic. We commend any vehicle that can meet modern crash standards, furnish 200 horsepower, and weigh less than 3,000 pounds.
Speaking of crash standards, aside from traction/stability control (which you can completely turn off, by the way) and a full complement of airbags, you won’t find any of the driver-assistance features common to most of today’s new vehicles. The 86 is one of the few cars unavailable with blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning, automatic steering correction, autonomous emergency braking, or adaptive cruise control. The primary means of collision avoidance resides behind the steering wheel.
Features: Not much in the way of amenities to distract from 86’s mission. You get LED headlights, a 7-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, power windows/locks/mirrors, remote entry, rearview camera, and Bluetooth connectivity as standard.
The GT and GT Black add a matte black rear spoiler, LED fog lights, a 4.2-inch multi-function display in the instrument cluster, heated front seats, keyless access with pushbutton ignition and dual-zone automatic climate control. The GT Black adds a few extra black trim pieces.
A big part of the 86’s appeal is its price. With manual transmission, and including Toyota’s $920 destination fee, the Base grade is priced from $27,375. Base price for the GT and GT Black is $29,505. The automatic transmission adds a reasonable $720.
The only factory option is your choice of summer performance tires or all-season tires at no extra charge. Other add-ons are dealer-installed accessories such as a console armrest ($249) and an updated infotainment system with imbedded GPS navigation ($900).
Toyota’s Racing Development (TRD) arm offers several factory-sanctioned performance parts that can be installed without voiding your warranty. A few include unique wheels ($1,036-$1,650), performance exhaust ($1,100), and uprated brake pads ($70), suspension springs ($639), and sway bars ($550).
The 86’s EPA ratings are surprisingly good. It The car rates 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 24/32/27 with the automatic. Our manual Base example averaged 30.6 mpg, which is an excellent result given the rev-happy nature of the engine.
The 86 requires premium 91-octane gasoline.
Probably not much in the near term. There are rumors of a redesigned 86 and BRZ in the works. They would utilize a more powerful horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, likely derived from the turbocharged 2.4-liter unit Subaru just introduced in its three-row Ascent crossover SUV. Aside from a possible release date in calendar 2021, that’s all we can speculate at this point.
Until then, expect few major changes to these sporty car twins, especially since combined sales are trending at less than 1,000 units per month.