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Test Drive: 2017 Toyota 86

Test Drive: 2017 Toyota 86

By Christian Wardlaw, October 03, 2016
Introduction
A pure and affordable sports car, the Scion FR-S combined a 200-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, manual gearbox, and rear-wheel drive in a lightweight package with 2+2 seating. Sold all around the world, the FR-S was called the Toyota 86 everywhere but in the United States—the numerical designation a reference to the revered AE86 version of the Corolla sold in the 1980s.

Now, with the cancellation of the Scion brand, the FR-S is renamed the 2017 Toyota 86 in the U.S. market. At the same time the car receives its name change, Toyota also freshens the exterior styling, enhances the interior materials, and makes minor changes to the drivetrain and suspension while improving body rigidity.

Do these alterations make a great car even better? Yes, for the most part.

Styling and Design
While I was a fan of the Scion FR-S model’s front styling, which displayed a cleaner aesthetic, the Toyota 86 is nevertheless an appealing car with a scrappy personality. Toyota jointly developed this car with Subaru, which sells its version as the BRZ, so if you’re not crazy about the 86’s design be sure to check out its near identical twin.

Standard LED lighting is the most meaningful exterior change, while inside the 86 receives new GranLux simulated suede trim on the dashboard, door panels, and upper seat bolsters. A smaller steering wheel is installed for an even sportier feel, and the seat fabric is new, complete with exposed silver stitching.

While the changes are minor, the net effect produces an interior that looks and feels more upscale. The front seats are comfortable, supportive, and have no trouble keeping their occupants properly secured during spirited drives, and the new steering wheel is a joy to grip, the 86 thrumming in the driver’s hands.

Seeking proof that Toyota knows how to build a genuine sports car? Note that the spots where the driver and front passenger will brace their legs while taking hard corners are not only flat but also softly padded for extra comfort.

Features and Controls
Designed as a simple and affordable tool for having fun, the Toyota 86 boasts a refreshingly basic interior. From the purposeful instrumentation with its center-mounted tachometer and digital speedometer readout to the huge knobs used to heat or cool the cabin, you can drive the Toyota 86 without needing to think about where the controls might be located or how they might work.

The only exception is the glare-prone touch-screen radio, though a volume knob and tuning buttons do help to limit interaction with the 7-in. display screen. An Aha Radio app supplies access to over 100,000 radio stations, and the system features a USB 2.0 port, Bluetooth, voice-recognition technology, and a reversing camera.

When buying an 86, you choose between a manual gearbox and an automatic transmission, you pick an exterior color, and then you decide how deeply you want to dip into your bank account in order to install accessories. Highlights include LED fog lights, a rear lip spoiler, and a navigation system.

A Toyota Racing Development catalog also provides several upgrades for the 86. Forged aluminum wheels are on the menu along with a performance exhaust system, lowering springs, sway bar kit, performance brake pads, and a “quickshifter” kit for the manual transmission.

Fully loaded with an automatic transmission and all of this noted equipment, the 86 tops out at nearly $34,000.

Safety and Technology
Basic cars don’t include much in the way of safety systems or technological advancements, but Toyota covers the basics with the 86 by installing 6 air bags, traction and stability control, a reversing camera, and the company’s Smart Stop Technology (SST). Hill-start assist is also a new standard feature, preventing the car from rolling backwards when getting started on a hill.

Toyota developed SST in the wake of its unintentional acceleration problem. The system is designed to prevent accidental acceleration when a driver intends to brake. In the 86, the system does not preclude heel-and-toe downshifting, allowing the car to retain valid track-day credentials. Also, drivers can fully deactivate the stability control system in order to kick the 86’s tail out at will.

Because the driver is almost fully responsible for collision avoidance, and because people make mistakes, it is good to know that the previous Scion FR-S performed decently in crash-test assessments. The exception would be a 3-star rating for driver protection in a side-impact collision, as levied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Driving Impressions
Differences between the old Scion FR-S and the new Toyota 86 are most palpable when it comes to the driving experience, mainly due to suspension changes.

For 2017, Toyota strengthened the 86’s body rigidity, stiffened the front spring rates, softened the rear spring rates, and revised the shock tuning. The result, based on a blitz across the mountains separating Ojai, California, from the Pacific Ocean, is a more secure and stable vehicle with improved compliance over the kinds of bumps and depressions in the pavement that can unsettle a vehicle at speed.

When equipped with a manual gearbox the 86 also makes slightly more horsepower and torque than did the Scion FR-S. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine’s new ratings are 205 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 156 lb.-ft. of torque from 6,400 rpm to 6,600 rpm. Get the 6-speed automatic, which includes paddle shifters, a Sport driving mode, and downshift rev matching in order to widen the smile on the faces of drivers who cannot operate a clutch.

In any case, the power upgrade isn’t nearly as impactful as, say, adding a turbocharger would be. After all, this is a Subaru-engineered flat four we’re talking about here, and Subaru knows how to turbocharge a car for maximum performance. Instead of whooshing to speed, the Toyota 86 delivers a flat, linear run to redline. While the car’s performance is satisfying, and though both the engine and exhaust notes provide the car with plenty of character, it isn’t exactly thrilling.

Instead of outright velocity, the Toyota 86 is about handling. Quick reflexes and a small footprint help the car to carry speed on twisting roads, and the 86 has no trouble delivering a visceral driving experience. Think of it as a Mazda MX-5 Miata with a roof instead of a convertible top and you’ll get the right idea.

Conclusion
With the new 86, Toyota makes a genuine sports car. Competition is heating up, though, and it’s not coming just from Subaru’s near twin to this car, the BRZ.

Mazda has the 2017 MX-5 Miata RF arriving soon, complete with a retractable roof panel. The Fiat 124 Spider is already on sale, slathered in Italian style. And believe it or not, the all-new Camaro is a reasonable alternative thanks to its smaller dimensions and basis on a capable platform.

Do additional choices among affordable sports cars limit the 86’s appeal to fans of Asian sport compacts? Yes, to some degree, because Miata fans are rabidly loyal, Camaro fans are rabidly loyal, and Subaru fans are…well, you get the picture.

That means Toyota must grab the attention of new sports car buyers. Good thing the new 86 is a thoroughly entertaining automobile, especially if going fast in a straight line isn’t high on the priority list.

Additional Research:

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