Sports cars, in these parts, come with so much emotional baggage. Getting one gets you tagged as unconscionably rich, a dirty old man, anatomically challenged, or all of the above. But what a sports car really is, once you get over all that, is a tool for driving. And few come purer than the Toyota 86. This joint project with Subaru yielded a car (or pair of cars, counting the BRZ) that was designed from the wheels up as a driving machine.
The 86 arrived as a gift from the driving gods: Here was a rear-wheel-drive sports car with a boxer engine, all for the price of a Japanese executive sedan. The driving experience was sublime, and the car attracted a devoted following.
For this facelifted edition, Toyota has wisely not messed with success, sticking to the formula that makes the 86 a uniquely attractive car. The changes made to the exterior are slight, but they do serve to give the little two-door a bit more of an edge. In front, it’s mostly courtesy of a new bumper. The bottom portion is sculpted with a wing-like edge for a more exotic-car feel. The headlamp internals are mildly tweaked with more LED elements. The foglamps are now shrouded with black vents.
Pop open the door and it’s the same businesslike cockpit as before. Getting in requires basically falling into the driver seat butt-first, then swinging your legs into the intimate footwell.
The heart of the 86 is its sweet-revving 2.0-liter engine. The naturally aspirated powerplant spins willingly and quickly. The red warning light that prompts a shift to a higher gear isn’t there just for show.
Having driven the 86 several times before on road and track, but always with a manual gearbox, we were curious mainly if the automatic transmission would diminish the driving experience. We’re glad to report that it merely adds a dimension of comfort and convenience to the 86. After all, we drive in a city where the average speed for a daily commute rarely goes past 20kph.
In its favor, the manual transmission does give a greater sense of involvement. It’s one of the slicker manuals around, with short throws and accessible gates. But the automatic version is no less of a driver’s car. The gearbox is smart enough that we mostly left it to shift on its own, hardly actuating the paddle shifters or toggling it into manual mode. There is also a Sport setting, which holds the gears longer, but we hardly engaged it in everyday driving.
In some ways, going for the automatic actually enhances the driving experience. Letting the car do the shifting allowed us to concentrate on acceleration and steering. The 86 has one of the best steering responses this side of a Lotus. The electric assist is fed just right, with the wheel feeling perfectly weighted when turning.
Where the engineers seem to have spent the most time for this updated 86 is on the platform. The ride has noticeably improved. Despite the short wheelbase, the car absorbs bumpy roads and ruts quite well. As a result, it feels much less tiring to drive for extended stints. What’s remarkable is that the handling is as sharp as ever. There are few things in life that are as satisfying as peering over the 86’s hood, with those two bulges pointedly marking where the wheels are, then knowing that the car will point exactly where you want it to when you twist the wheel.
Shortcomings are just what you’d expect from a sports car. Rear knee room is nonexistent, and trunk space is barely enough for a couple of small, soft bags. The biggest space is actually the one inside the spare tire. That said, at least there is a rear seat with proper belts—you can fit two passengers in the back in a pinch for short drives. They just have to contend with the limited headroom and the nearly horizontal backlight that lets in a lot of heat during the day. The front bucket seats grip pretty well in corners, but they lack lumbar support.
Other cabin improvements include the gauge cluster. This now has digital indicators for g-force, both acceleration/braking and lateral force.
Affordability remains a strong point for the 86. Being a Toyota, maintenance cost is presumed to be negligible, outside of the periodic service. Fuel mileage is also un-sports-car-like, at 9-10km/L. That does drop to the high 6’s with enthusiastic driving.
Toyota has taken its driving tool and made it more comfortable without blunting its edge. That in effect makes it a better machine, and an even more attractive ownership proposition.
SPECS: TOYOTA 86
Price: P1,864,000 (White Pearl)
Engine: 2.0-liter petrol H4
Power: 197hp @ 7,000rpm
Torque: 205Nm @ 6,400-6,600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic