Nowadays, turbochargers and quick-shifting automatic transmissions reign supreme. It’s inevitable, really, given the rising concerns about the environment and the advancements of automotive technology.
Still, I long for the days of manual transmissions and naturally aspirated engines. I’m only 26, but I still remember the days when your bragging rights were decided by how well you could time your shifts. This is where cars like the manual 2017 Toyota 86 come in. Though it’s very much a modern sports car, its rear-wheel-drive powertrain and slick-shifting manual box are odes to a different time.
For driving enthusiasts with an affinity for the old-school, this is the kind of car that’s engaging and simply fun to drive; the type you would wait out the traffic for so you can really open it up. Here are a few reasons why:
1) Its gearstick is the perfect toy
Like a classic sports car, the manual 86’s gearstick has a short throw that slots in with the precision of a bolt-action rifle getting ready to fire. With six gears on-board, you can be as economical or as sporty as your mood dictates.
Power is evenly spread throughout each gear, and the ratios are laid out well. With this, rev-matching your downshifts becomes pure bliss. I shifted down from fourth to third many times just because I could. The clutch feels slicker compared to the pre-facelift 86, so engine braking feels much smoother as well. Even when I made the mistake of shifting too early, there was enough oomph through the lower revs to compensate.
2) The Subaru engine packs the right amount of punch
Under the hood of the 86 is a 2.0-liter boxer engine that does 197hp and 205Nm. It’s no track killer, but it has enough power and acceleration for you to push the limits of your fun. After several days of city driving and a highway run to Pampanga, I averaged 10.4km/L overall. I honestly could’ve gotten more out of the tank, but those impromptu downshifts were just too fun to resist.
The way the boxer speeds up is the unmistakeable encroaching climb of a naturally aspirated mill. There’s no sudden kick like with, say, the Honda Civic RS. Instead, the engine makes that steady fast car noise we all imitated as kids. That’s perfectly fine, and actually refreshing, for old-school fans like me.
3) The handling is sporty with a rear bias
The 86’s low center of gravity allows it to stay planted as you ricochet through sharp corners. On long bends, you can feel the suspension sticking to the asphalt as the power drives the rear wheels. The limited-slip differential, meanwhile, distributes the force accordingly. Handled right, the nose stays pointed and will go exactly where you want it to. With a curb weight of just 1,263kg, it's light enough for anyone to manage.
That said, throwing the 86’s tail out is easy if you decide to point the nose too far in one direction. This drift-happy tendency is part of the car’s appeal to gearheads, after all. With the vehicle stability control activated, you’ll be corrected long before the tail whips out. But as test drive editor Jason Dela Cruz told me after his track run with the car last year, it’s easy enough to regain control if you do decide to slide.
4) Its classic sports car look gets a modern touch
Long hood and short tail. Short overhang. Fastback slope. These are the classic design elements of a sports car that turns heads when it cruises by. The Toyota 86 has had all of these ever since it first launched back in 2012. With the 2017 facelift, there are new additions that give this look a modern edge.
The front fascia has been redesigned with a lower bumper and wider grille. The rear bumper is lower, too. This is topped off with new designs to the foglamps and alloy wheels, plus new LED taillights and headlamps. It’s a timeless look, but with accents that make it very contemporary.
5) The interior is more futuristic, too
Bare-bones driving machines have their purpose, but for all-around fun you’ll want an interior to match. The 2017 86 comes with steering wheel controls and a 7in capacitive touchscreen that has all the connectivity options needed to satisfy your inner millennial. The meter gauges and multi-information display get a redesign as well via a 4.2in TFT-type screen. Couple these with the black and red bucket seats and upright leather-wrapped tiller, and you’ve got a modern sports car that’s pure joy inside and out.