by Gabe Beita Kiser
The Toyota 86 is a very niche product, prioritizing driving purity above outright power and performance, much like it did when it was previously known as the Scion FR-S. Its platform twin, the Subaru BRZ, isn’t the 86’s only competitor either, with the Mazda MX-5 Miata following a similar lightweight and simple formula. Despite its underpowered 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine, producing a mere 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, the 86 has a large following of car enthusiasts who value it for the 86’s raw driving pleasure and strong Japanese sports car heritage. Could it be that overpowered sportscars have had it wrong all along?
The Toyota 86 remains largely unchanged from last year’s model, save for a TRD Special Edition derivative, which adds upgraded front and rear bumpers, side sills, and a spoiler, and is only available in black, with a bespoke black and red leather interior. It receives a share of performance upgrades as well, including a performance exhaust system and upgraded Brembo brakes, as well as sports suspension with performance dampers. Only 1,418 will be produced, which should make these TRD 86s appreciate in value over time. There are also new alloy wheel designs and a blue color called Neptune joins the color palette. Mid-range GT spec models can now be specced with black and red leather seats.
Despite a name harking back to the AE86 Corolla of the 1980s, the 86’s design is nothing reminiscent of its 30-year-old namesake. The 86 rolls on 17-inch twisted spoke alloy wheels and features LED projector low-and-high beam headlights, LED daytime running lights and LED rear combination lights. A dual chrome-tipped exhaust underscores its rear bumper design and there is also an aft diffuser too. The TRD Special Edition gets bespoke bodywork to set it apart, and rides on larger, model-specific 18-inch alloys.
The 2019 Toyota 86 is compact, standing only 50.6 inches tall and a low 4.9 inches off the ground. Bumper-to-bumper its measures 166.7 inches long over a 101.2-inch wheelbase. The low height might make it slightly uncomfortable to get into, but the benefits to 86’s driving agility are tremendous. The curb weight is model specific, with the base 86 weighing in at a mere 2,776 lbs, and the limited edition TRD a touch heavier at 2,837 lbs.
The base model Toyota 86 gets its pick of six colors to choose from. From light to dark, you get a gray called Halo available at a $395 premium, followed by a slightly darker Steel, deep Asphalt, and ultimately Raven, a gloss black color finish. In the more colorful side of the spectrum, is a vibrant candy red called Ablaze, followed by a deep blue called Oceanic. The 86 GT trim sees the addition of the new color offering called Neptune, a vibrant blue finish, whilst dropping Ablaze as a color choice. The TRD trim, however, is only available in Raven with TRD tricolor accents along the body.
The entire Toyota 86 range draws power from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder horizontally opposed engine, paired to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Power peaks at 205 hp, supported by 156 lb-ft of torque. In the automatic configuration, horsepower and torque both reduce by five units. Only available in a rear-wheel-drive configuration, the Toyota 86 manages a 0-60 mph sprint in 6.2 seconds, with a top speed of 145 mph. These figures see it competitively rival the Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5 Miata while being marginally quicker than the Fat 124 Spider.
Utilizing a 2.0-liter four-cylinder horizontally opposed motor paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the 86 has modest outputs of 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. The manual transmission has a delightfully short-throw to make snapping between gears faster and easier. Toyota’s six-speed automatic contains a great deal more wizardry behind it thanks to the company’s Dynamic Rev Management. Equipped with paddle shifters, you also get a track, sport, and snow driving modes available. The automatic transmission mimics the shift immediacy of a dual-clutch transmission, but that’s just due to clever programming by Toyota. Acceleration isn’t awe-inspiring or whiplash-inducing, but it’s certainly not sluggish. The motor thrives on revolutions and late shifts, making it a cinch to get up to highway speeds and overtake when necessary. Toyota’s manual transmission is a lot more engaging to drive than the auto and gives 86 a great deal of character.
Where the 86 truly shines is in its driving characteristics. Following a strong Japanese performance heritage the 86, 86 GT and 86 TRD are visceral sports cars. Every aspect about 86, from its steering precision and taut handling, stiff chassis, grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires and low seating position inspires a lively and rewarding drive. It must be noted that there is a sacrifice in terms of comfort, features, and noise. Cabin noise suppression is rather poor, with a constant reminder of its lightweight nature.
The suspension is firm without being harsh, but does immensely well to keep the car stable and pointed where you want it to go. That said, steering feedback is alive and not overbearing, giving you clear and concise reassurance as to what the front wheels are doing.
With all three 86 variants sharing a single motor, gas mileage stays the same across the range. The EPA places all 86s at 21/28/24 mpg for city/highway/combined cycles, which gets you 317 miles from a 13.2-gallon tank. Preferred gas is 93 unleaded, though you can use 95 without any detriment to the engine. The Mazda Miata has more impressive 26/34/29 mpg consumption estimates.
The Toyota 86’s budget-conscious nature becomes blatantly apparent inside the cabin. Paired with an unimaginative design, the general material quality feels cheap. That said, button placement is well thought out and easily accessible to the driver, and 86’s large instrument cluster is a well lit and legible. It’s geared towards the driver, with a low-slung seating position ideal for driving enjoyment. With a 2+2 seating configuration, the rear seats are semi-usable with a bit of negotiation between the front and rear occupants, and at worst can be used for additional storage, despite the trunk being of a usable size.
Technically speaking, the Toyota 86 is labeled as a four-seater sports car, but aspiring rear passengers might disagree. Rear legroom is a mere 29.9-inches, which results in quite a squeeze even for smaller teenagers. The rear seats are really not much more than a surface for that gym bag or some camera equipment. The seats throughout the cabin are on the stiff side, but comfortable enough for long-distance journeys and secure enough to support you whilst cornering with verve. Shoulder room at the front and rear are a very generous 54.5/51.7-inches. Headroom at the front and rear are 37.1/35.0-inches respectively, which leaves enough space for a tall adult whilst wearing a helmet on track days. The 86’s seat's design accommodates mounting the headrest backward to provide support for a helmet.
The dashboard comprises cheap plastics with suede finished inlays and a host of buttons and dials along the center console. Toyota’s use of inexpensive materials doesn’t end there though, with a hard plastic center console. The base model sports black fabric seats with GranLux trim, whilst the GT model’s seats are upholstered entirely in Black GranLux. Satin plastic trim pieces surround the gear lever, traction and driving mode buttons. This satin finish is repeated as two arches on either side of the manual climate controls, too. The TRD Special Edition gets, well, the special treatment, with black leather and red accents dressing the seats, supporting arms and steering wheel, a color scheme that’s optional on the GT model too.
The 2019 Toyota 86 does surprise here, offering better practicality than most in its class. Cargo volume is a good 6.9 cubic feet, with the rear seats up, but opens into a much larger space with the rear seats folded down, a task that’s accomplished by pulling two lanyards simultaneously in the trunk. Interior cargo space is also geared towards the 86’s racing nature, with small-item storage limited to hard plastic door pockets, and a center console storage tray with removable cup holders. The rear seats, when not in use by tiny passengers, also act as storage space for bags and other larger items.
Even in base trim, the 86 has an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated backup camera, automatic LED projector-beam headlights, LED daytime running lights and LED combination rear lights. You also get power windows and door locks, multi-function key with trunk release, cruise control, and a 12V outlet. On GT and TRD derivatives, you’ll get push-button start, dual-zone climate control, heated sport bucket seats at the front, LED fog lights, and Brembo performance brakes.
Infotainment in the 86 is handled by a seven-inch touch-screen display, sending sound through eight speakers. USB and Auxiliary inputs take care of wired connectivity, whilst Bluetooth handles the rest. Voice recognition is built-in as standard, as well as steering-wheel-mounted controls to keep your hands on the wheel. The touch-screen itself does fall short in terms of functionality and ease of use, with a delayed response to user inputs and no physical back button to escape from any menus you might’ve stumbled into. We would’ve liked to see the addition of a more intuitive display, mounted in a way that doesn’t leave it looking like an afterthought. For those who travel more, navigation is only available as a dealer extra, but you’d be delighted to know that Aha Radio is packed as standard. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay on any of the 86’s three trims.
As of the time of writing, the majority of owners have not reported any major issues with Toyota’s 86, and no recalls have been issued for the 2019 model, although the 2017 model was the target of two minor recalls. Backed by Toyota’s three-year/36,000 mile basic and five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranties, the 86 should provide owners with the same kind of confidence other Toyota vehicles have provided for decades.
The NHTSA has not fully evaluated the 86 but scored it four stars in frontal crash tests while rollover protection scored a full five stars. The IIHS gave it a best-possible rating of Good in most tests.
Each 86 comes fully equipped with all available safety features as standard, with Toyota’s Star Safety System sporting Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. Hill Start Assist Control, and a tire pressure monitoring system complete the list. Inside the cabin, six airbags cover the driver and passenger, including dual front, seat-mounted, and side curtain airbags. Despite the trim of choice, no active safety features are available for the 86, which leaves it a little wanting for the segment.
The 2019 Toyota 86 is a car you that either appreciate for what it does right or hate on for what it doesn’t. Amongst the plethora of sports cars available on the market, it’s easy to forget that the 86 has an entry-level cost of only $26,655. Yes, it’s affordable. Yes, its interior isn’t crafted by the heavens. But is it boring? No. Not in the slightest. The 86 serves as the perfect platform for enthusiast drivers, rewarding anyone who’s willing to stir its stick shift along. The 86 also has a very large following of owners and prospective buyers alike, creating a community and market for these cars. The Subaru BRZ offers slightly higher-end features, and Mazda’s Miata offers a more comfortable drive. The 86, however, puts a sports car within reach of the masses in a well balanced, rewarding, and purpose-built package.
The budget-conscious Toyota 86 starts off with an MSRP of $26,655, excluding taxes, registration, and a $930 destination charge. Ranked above the base model is 86 GT, offering additional creature comforts and features to offer a better-equipped package, at an MSRP of $28,785, only $2,130 over Toyota’s base 86. Topping off the line-up is Toyota’s 86 TRD Special Edition. With only 1,418 ever being produced, the $32,470 price tag seems a lot more reasonable.
The Toyota 86 range comprises of three trims: 86, 86 GT, and 86 TRD Special Edition.
At entry-level, the 86 comes equipped LED projector-beam headlights, LED daytime running lights and rear LED combination lights. Other standard features include chrome-tipped dual exhaust tips, front fender-mounted vortex generators and 17-inch twisted spoke alloy wheels. Inside the cabin, you get front bucket seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated backup camera display and a seven-inch touch-screen display.
Graduating to 86 GT, we see the addition of LED fog lights, heated outside mirrors, a matte black rear spoiler, aerodynamic underbody panel, heated front seats, 4.2-inch multi-information display, push-button start, and dual-zone climate control.
At the top of the list is 86 TRD Special Edition. With only 1,418 going into production, these are rare and extensively equipped cars. The TRD rolls on 18-inch alloy wheels and has a color matching rear spoiler. You’ll also notice TRD front/rear/side body spoilers, TRD performance exhaust, Brembo brakes, exclusive red and black leather interior finishing and a TRD tricolor side body graphic.
Toyota didn’t make any packages available to the 86 range, focusing instead on an even distribution between trim levels. For those who want more from their 86s, there is an extensive list of options available to customize their cars. The most interesting of which being Display Audio with Navigation ($900), LED fog lights ($599), mudguards ($85), a rear lip spoiler ($399), TRD 17-inch forged wheels in matte gray ($1,650), TRD 18-Inch alloy wheels ($1,036), TRD lowering springs ($639), and a TRD performance dual exhaust ($1,100).
Although the base 86 is a well-equipped car, it misses out on some of the features and styling that give 86 its racy feel. Despite being designed for daily use, it doubles easily as a weekend track warrior. To that end, it would greatly benefit from the dual-zone climate control and the LED fog lights 86 GT has. Furthering the daily use aspect, heated front seats and outside mirrors are valuable in winter. Thus the 86 GT is the recommended buy in our opinion, with the 86 TRD Special Edition reserved for only the most committed 86 enthusiasts looking for an exclusive piece of the pie and further enhanced driving dynamics thanks to the Sachs performance dampers.
The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are platform twins, sharing just about everything imaginable amongst each other. Besides the obvious badge ringfencing, there are small differences, such as the entry-level base price nearly $1,000 cheaper on the BRZ, and optional Android Auto and Apple CarPlay available on the Subaru. The 86 also suffers a penalty to horsepower and torque when paired with an automatic transmission, where the BRZ’s power figures remain constant regardless of its configuration. Fuel economy also favors the BRZ by the smallest of margins, achieving 24/33/27mpg over the 86’s 24/32/27mpg as an auto. The addition of an 86 TRD Special edition is where Toyota takes the lead, with track-focused suspension and large Brembo brakes making all the difference.
Comparing the two, the 86 immediately has the advantage as its 2.0-liter flat-four configuration affords it a lower center of gravity, as well as 24 more hp and 5 lb-ft of torque compared to the Miata’s 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The 86 also has a larger fuel tank, at 13.2-gallons over the Miata’s 11.9, gifting it better range. The trend continues with the 86 sporting larger brakes and tires, more taut suspension and handling, and two extra seats over the Miata. The Miata does, however, offer a more comfortable ride and an interior that feels more refined. The Mazda is lighter too and offers open-top enjoyment while sacrificing cargo and rear-seat space. Buying as is, the Mazda feels better for daily use, but if you’ve got an eye on enhancement, the 86 feels ready for more power.