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Toyota 86 long-term review

By Dylan Campbell, 04 Nov 2017 Reviews

2017 Toyota 86 MAIN

We welcome Toyota’s budget rear-driver to the MOTOR long-term garage

Introduction: Improving the breed

THE ORIGINAL Toyota 86, launched in 2012, was always a tricky car to live with on a daily basis.

Busy, jarring ride; a cost-conscious interior and a live, 24/7 broadcast of the bitumen beneath you – vibration, noise and all. But you put up with it, because when the road turned twisty, nothing less than $50,000 satisfied or pleased, from a driving perspective, like the 86, with sublime steering, nimble handling and that oh-so-sweet rear-drive feeling.

The five per cent spent on far-flung, twisty roads, more than justified the other 95 per cent. Same applied, of course, to the Subaru BRZ. Yet it’s interesting, how many 86 owners do you see driving around who wouldn’t know what that five per cent feels like, yet put up with the 95 per cent on a daily basis?

2017 Toyota 86 rearAnd when it launched the 86 five years ago, did Toyota ever in its wildest dreams expect the 86 to be so popular with people who – not to pick on them – might hesitate if you asked them if their car was front- or rear-wheel drive? Perhaps not. But whether anticipated or not, the 86 is a mass-market success, in Australia at least – 18,084 sold as of December last year – and this has become both a blessing and a curse.

2017 Toyota 86 interiorA blessing in that, if lots of people buy them, they’re more likely to build a second-generation car. And a curse in that, once the mass market has a taste for your sports car, there’s the temptation to start making the car to suit them, and less so the minority of enthusiast drivers for whom the car was originally built, and to whom it owes its legend and reputation.

This could be the case, ever so delicately, with the new 2017 Toyota 86. A major freshen up to keep it rolling off showroom floors, the 86 scores a restyled front bumper; updated headlights and taillights; a new 17-inch wheel design for the GTS; and spruced-up interiors including a new 362mm steering wheel, the smallest fitted to any Toyota.

2017 Toyota 86 engineBut it’s not been all aesthetic, with breathing mods helping power climb to 152kW from 147kW; torque now 212Nm from 205Nm; and acceleration becoming perkier thanks to a new shorter final drive.

But there are two other fairly major changes: brand-new chassis electronics including a much-needed, ‘half-off’ Track mode; and some interesting changes to the suspension, including an overhaul of the dampers and a softening, by 15 per cent, of the rear springs (and a 1mm thinner swaybar), and a 10 per cent firming of the fronts.

2017 Toyota 86 steering wheelThis has resulted in a distinctly more grown-up ride – although it’s still no wafty, adaptive damper-equipped VW Golf GTI – but also more bodyroll and a subtly different handling personality to the ‘first’ 86. So, is it better? Is a slightly softer, more liveable 86 a good thing, making you have to become a smarter fast driver to manage the bodyroll, and even then, any ills forgotten thanks to that awesome new ESP?

Want to see more of our Toyota 86 long-termer? 

And how is the 86 ageing in the general performance car world? We’ve got three months in a base GT at which point we swap for three more in a GTS. And by the end of it, we’ll have a pretty good idea if Toyota’s changes have made the 86 even sweeter, or a new flavour nobody was asking for.

MONTH ONE 

Claimed combined consumption: 8.4L/100KM
Starting ODO: 3500KM
Duration: 6 months (sort of)

Liked: So much of it feels right
Disliked: Most points under 5000rpm

Update 1: Daily duty

How the 86 became a much nicer daily driver

MONTH TWO with Toyota’s updated 86 GT and, interestingly, we’ve not (willingly) spurned it in the car park for more comfortable alternatives – like we might have, once the novelty had long worn off, with the ‘original’ car.

That’s because the 86 is now a much easier gadget to live with on a daily basis, owing mostly to the softened, more grown-up ride making it more than bearable over bumps at urban speeds. It seems to have come at a small cost, however, for those only interested in pure, uncompromised driving thrills.

We might try to find a stock, original car for some back-to-backs later, as we’re talking very minor differences here, but a decent drive in our little 86 GT made us wonder if the slightly softer suspension has, by the smallest amount, blunted rather than sharpened the 86’s responses.

2017 Toyota 86 tyresAnd perhaps the changes have even contributed to a new sensation of disconcerting roll oversteer at higher speeds, exacerbated by the GT’s stock 16-inch Yokohama dB Decibel tyres – which, grip-wise, fall off a cliff, rather than down a slope. Which can be, err, unexpected.

From a driving perspective, the tyres don’t feel as fit for purpose as the rest of the car, but fortunately this is, of course, easily fixed. All that aside, we’re relieved to report that the updated 86, and BRZ, remain the most fun cars you can buy new for under $40K.

2017 Toyota 86 interiorIn fact, provided your idea of thrills in a car isn’t fourth-gear burnouts, these cars are almost as much fun as you can have on four wheels, full stop. Particularly in GT guise for the 86, along with a certain cheap-and-honest feeling about the interior, when first getting the basic key – which looks like it’s shared with entry-level Yarises and Corollas – you have to stop your brain defaulting to Hertz mode.

Or not, if you own it. We had forgotten just how fun these cars can be. The front end remains one of the best in any sports car on sale; the seats are huggy; the driving position spot-on; there’s throttle-oversteer on command, provided the rear tyres already have some lateral load; and the pedals make heel-and-toeing a breeze.

2017 Toyota 86 frontThere’s also a handbrake perfectly located for motorkhana lovers, and when you’re up the engine, this is still a reasonably quick car, if not mind-blowingly so. The new Track mode ESP is also hugely welcome and revelatory for anyone used to the original 86’s graunchy, clumsy chassis electronics.

However, for many owners, even Track mode might begin to feel a tad conservative, and it’s testament to the 86’s friendliness that you may feel entirely confident turning the ESP all the way off.

2017 Toyota 86 engineIn terms of daily driving, a few of the old 86 gripes remain, such as it being hard to feel the clutch’s bite point; the engine always snoozing at anything under 6000rpm; and the interior, particularly in the GT, being full of scratchy plastics and cheap switches, although Toyota has done well to hide them or make them at least look cool.

Want to see more of our Toyota 86 long-termer?

And the interior of the GT does feel a tad less plain now with the double-DIN TFT infotainment display – effectively from the GTS, sans satnav. Then there’s the cruise control, indicator and wiper stalks whose gizzards would not surprise us to share part numbers with Toyotas from the early 2000s.

2017 Toyota 86 bootAs ever, the 86 is not ear porn, either. But one of the main gripes has been remedied, that being the tiring, pogo-stick ride of the original car. The 86 is still no VW Golf GTI, but it’s a big improvement – and makes it a much better car 95 per cent of the time.

Even if, it seems, it’s at a slight cost to the other five. 

MONTH TWO

Fuel this month: 9.2l/100km
Average: 9.2l/100km
Distance this month: 882km
Total: 4382km Liked: Softer ride helps daily driving

Liked: Softer ride helps daily driving
Disliked: The standard tyres. They’re horrible
Favourite moment: Sideways all day on track

Update 2: 'S' for Suspension

We swap Toyota 86 GT for GTS

YOUR eyes don’t deceive you – like a Pokemon, our Toyota 86 long-termer has evolved from a silver GT to a Velocity Orange GTS, as we continue to comprehensively evaluate the most recent updates to the 86 range.

And it took about two minutes of driving for a swear word to come out of our mouths. Toyota has not quietly revolutionised the 86’s ride as we had concluded from driving the GT last month.

It seems we should have waited until driving the GTS on 17-inch, 45-profile tyres before foolishly announcing – having only driven the GT on 16-inch, 55-profile tyres – that the difference in ride is game-changing for the 86’s daily driveability.

2017 Toyota 86 front.jpgInstead, we are left with two lessons: that Toyota’s subtle softening of the 86’s rear suspension, for its MY17 facelift, has taken a miniscule edge off the GTS’s already bumpy ride. And that we never knew 55-profile tyres could produce such a noticeable difference in ride to 45s, although it could also be differences in sidewall manufacture of the tyres.

Mea culpa. Alas, as we jiggled along in the GTS, we were pleased to discover many positive things to talk about in the 86’s change to 2017-spec. It seems Toyota has listened to the many and unrelenting criticisms of the 86’s cheap and cheerful interior, apparently spending a lot of energy trying to jazz it up.

2017 Toyota 86 steering wheel.jpgA soft, microsuede fabric is now used throughout the interior – on surfaces you don’t regularly touch, wise for wear and tear – and it brings a little ‘specialness’ into what was, and in a way still is, a place of business. Toyota has also installed new steering wheel controls for the stereo, and a new, little colour screen in the instrument binnacle (with a comical torque graph including enormous mid-range torque hole).

Plainly, the bulk of the 2017 updates was sunk into the GTS – not the GT. From the perspective of a long-term test, the GTS is much nicer than the GT owing to numerous little conveniences that add up. Keyless entry, seat heaters, a better infotainment system (although still maddeningly unintuitive, with ugly menus, and slow to respond to inputs).

2017-Toyota-86-seats.jpgThe HVAC controls don’t feel like they’re from a base HiLux, the pedals are a bit nicer, so are the seats, and the tachometer, and on, and on. If you’ve saved up to get an 86, or face intimidating repayments – and you plan to hang on to your 86 – try to stretch to the GTS ($30,790 vs $36,490) because it’s worth it.

If you are buying an 86 as a toy and intend to show it no mercy, you may as well just get the GT. And put in some rubber floor mats. To our eyes it looks better, too. While in orange the new front bar does make the 86 look a little like a halloween jack-o-lantern (impossible to unsee –sorry) it’s an effective freshen-up, including the new 17s.

2017 Toyota 86 rear.jpgThe metal, propeller-blade rear wing might not be to everyone’s tastes. Could we live with an 86? Yes, absolutely. It is ridiculous fun. The GTS actually has an interior you could live with on a daily basis, and the ‘sporty’ ride is tolerable.

Want to see more of our Toyota 86 long-termer? 

Next month we broaden scope and explain why the new 86 is not, to our minds, the spiritual successor to the legendary AE86.

MONTH THREE

Fuel this month: 10.8l/100km
Average: 10.0l/100km
Distance this month: 229km

Liked: GTS interior now a little nicer
Disliked: We were wrong about the ride...

Update 3: League of Legends 

There's one area in which the new 86 can’t live up to the legend

THE Toyota 86 has a very different DNA to its spiritual forebear, the AE86 Sprinter, if you ask me.

What would I know? I own one – a 1984 Trueno GT-APEX with the revered 1.6-litre inline-4 4A-GE, the engine Toyota built that very closely resembled the legendary Ford Cosworth BDA 1.6-litre inline-4 of the time.

With the same bore and stroke (81 x 77mm) and similar head designs, both engines, in race trim, would produce similar outputs at similar rpms.

1984-Trueno-GT-APEX-rear.jpgIn road trim, in this car, thanks to 16 valves, twin cams and EFI, you’re talking 96kW at 6600rpm. Not too shabby for 1984. And it’s the spirit of this engine the new Toyota 86 can’t quite live up to. The most underwhelming thing about the new generation 86 (and Subaru BRZ) is exactly that, its 2.0-litre FA20 boxer-four engine.

Don’t get us wrong, with 152kW/212Nm it more than does the job, but in a more functional than emotional manner. The sound in particular will hardly raise the hairs on the back of your neck. That is, unlike the 4A-GE. A good 50 per cent of why this car is the cult classic that it is has to do with the engine.

1984-Trueno-GT-APEX-&-Toyota-86-GTS.jpgIts power delivery is linear, the throttle responsive, and the noise magic all the way to its 7300rpm redline. With a little sports exhaust and pod filter, this is an engine that sounds like it’s revving about 1000rpm harder than it should be – in a good way. It is a truly legendary naturally-aspirated donk.

Of course, the little AE86 isn’t going to win many drag races because despite its screaming atmo engine making it feel fast, a new Toyota 86 would smoke it in a straight line. And the new 86 itself is hardly your first choice for the Friday night drags. Should Toyota have used an inline-4 in its new 86 instead of the boxer?

2017-Toyota-86-GTS-rear.jpgWell, that’s a question more for Subaru, whose responsibilities included the engine. And with no existing inline-4 in its range, it wasn’t about to go develop one for a relatively low-volume project. Plus, with a more upright engine, the new 86 and BRZ would be very different cars; the front would presumably need a total re-style in lieu of ditching the low, scalloped-out bonnet.

And part of the 86 and BRZ’s sublime front end surely has much to do with the boxer engine’s lower centre of gravity. If it’s the engine that an AE86 owner would find most underwhelming about a new 86, they’ll be blown away by the chassis. The AE86 is a surprisingly agile car with a lightness and willingness to its handling unexpected for its age.

1984-Trueno-GT-APEX-wheel.jpgAnd, of course, the legendary oversteer is more fact than myth, the AE86 flowing into friendly roll oversteer when pushed into fast corners, which you can drive out of with the throttle easily, the 4A-GE revving its head off in the process. This is a very fun car.

Want to see more of our Toyota 86 long-termer? 

The same handling compliments can be given to the 86 and BRZ – and it’s the strand that most strongly connects new to old. With lithe and eager handling, fantastic steering and an obvious rear-drive character, the 86 will have you hunting down corners. As has been much publicised.

Like the DNA of two parents into one child, perhaps it was just unlucky the Toyota 86 ended up with the Subaru engine. The soul of the AE86 lives on in the seat and steering wheel of the new 86, just not the accelerator pedal. Or tail pipe. 

MONTH FOUR

Fuel this month: 9.6l/100km
Average: 9.9l/100km
Distance this month: 866km

Liked: AE86-like handling and fun
Disliked: Engine doesn’t howl like a 4A-GE

Update 4: Conclusion 

After five months we farewell our Toyota 86

Five instalments and more than 5000km across two variants of Toyota’s updated-for-2017 86 and we can report that it’s basically the same car as launched in 2012, but the interior tweaks, concentrated on the GTS, make it just that much nicer to live with.

And the brand new chassis electronics – ESP and traction control – are game-changing in that more people who buy the 86 are able to enjoy its wonderful handling with a safety net intact. Previously the electronics would intervene so clumsily and abruptly you had to turn them off to properly enjoy a fast drive.

Which would leave you exposed. Fortunately, not anymore. Aside from those two things, the updated 86 really just looks a little nicer (thanks to a new front bar, rear spoiler and 17-inch wheel design) and goes a little harder, thanks to bumped-up outputs (up 5kW and 7Nm to 152kW/212Nm) and a shorter final drive in the manual models.

2017 Toyota 86 bONNET.jpgPrices are also up slightly ($800 for GT, now $30,790; and $500 for the manual GTS, now $36,490) for what has been a mild but effective update on the now five-year old 86. Would we buy one? Yes, of course – a GTS ideally.

The engine is still as dull, uninspiring-sounding and limp below 6500rpm as ever (7400rpm redline) and indeed it remains a gripe of the car. While it does the job in the higher revs, making for a surprisingly quick clip, it is very difficult to feel affection for it.

But it’s more than made up for by the handling. If you love driving, particularly in a rear-drive setting, the 86 is still easily one the most fun and satisfying cornering devices under $100,000. There is a slight trade-off, and another long-term gripe – this is still a bumpy-riding car.

2017 Toyota 86 front.jpgWe dream of the day Toyota fits adaptive dampers to its 86 like a VW Polo GTI or Golf GTI, but we are indeed dreaming. If the 86 had a nicer ‘Comfort-mode’ ride, it would be the whole package. Despite any complaints, one conclusion I’ve reached is that I will own an 86 one day.

A used one. Even now there are so many for sale with full service histories, less than 75,000km in mint condition and owned by people who – not to judge books by their covers – would rarely go over 5000rpm. And the market is slowly filling with used 86s, driving down prices.

The cheapest used 86 I could find online was a 2013 GT for $16,500. In five years they will start dipping below $10,000. If your idea of driving thrills doesn’t require 600 horsepower, an 86 might be all the sports car you need. I’ve had as much fun driving an 86 (or BRZ) as I have had driving a Ferrari 488 or Porsche 911 GT3.

2017 Toyota 86 tailights.jpgWhile those cars are undoubtedly much more exciting, the humble 86 knows how to please when you arrive on a twisty road. Buy a new GTS for the daily grind and you’ll appreciate the slightly jazzed-up interior; and, when pushing the envelope a little bit, the smarter chassis electronics which you no longer have to fully deactivate like the first generation systems.

Want to see more of our Toyota 86 long-termer? 

Or buy a GT, fit a half cage, upgrade the brakes and fit wheels in a size that can handle a tyre like the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup2 or Bridgestone RE-71R. Adding grip to an 86 should make it much more fun.

And if that doesn’t make sense to you, consider that a red flag that you might never be satisfied with the 86’s level of power. 

MONTH FIVE

Fuel this month: 11.4l/100km
Average: 10.2l/100km
Distance this month: 245.8km
Total distance: 4646km

Liked: This is as fun as cars get. Simple
Disliked: Engine impossible to fall in love with

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