Toyota 86 (2017) First Drive [with Video]

Toyota's 86 – a sportscar tailor-made for driving enthusiasts – has undergone a mild update for 2017. How much do the updates succeed in enlivening and sharpening up the evocative coupe? We sample the newcomer on home soil...  

Toyota has been on a mission. A mission kickstarted by Toyota President Akio Toyoda himself who declared, “if it’s not fun to drive, it’s not a car."

For petrolheads around the globe, this is a noble mission indeed. However, looking at Toyota’s current product line-up, one could argue that their ambitions are currently not reflected in their model range. The Prius, for instance, is certainly not renowned for its cornering abilities.

The original 86, shown here on display next to its refreshed sibling, did much to reconfirm the sporty ambitions of the Japanese marque.

And while Toyota keeps teasing us with a tantalising replacement to the venerable Supra, in the form of the FT-1 Concept, at present, the only torchbearer of Mr Toyoda’s philosophy is the 86, an elemental sportscar, which the company has just significantly refreshed for the 2017 model year.

Exterior enhancements

At first glance, it doesn’t appear much has changed. The 86 still has the classic 2+2 sportscar silhouette, but look closer at the front end of the car: there are new LED headlamps with integrated turn signals, a lowered nose that widens the stance, a redesigned front airdam and LED foglamps set into triple-bladed black plastic surrounds, which are claimed to aid aerodynamic efficiency. It all combines to make for a more aggressive overall look.

Whereas its predecessor had a clean-cut front visage, the updated 86's front spoiler looks ready to "chew up the road". 

In profile we find newly designed 17-inch alloys (16-inch on the standard model), and to the rear the new LED taillamps have been significantly altered from the previous design; they protrude noticeably from the bodywork, with the result that the 86 appears wider and lower from the rear as well. Then we finally come to what is probably the most notable addition to the 86, and that’s the bi-colour fixed wing, which now stands around two inches proud of the lip of the hatchback. Not only does it improve aerodynamics, but it also lends the car a more purposeful, sporting appearance.

Alcantara-clad cabin

Multiple changes to the interior have been made in an effort to increase the sporty appeal of the 86. These include alcantara panels on the dashboard, embroidered with the 86 logo, which matches well with the new upholstery on the seats – a combination of leather and perforated alcantara that not only looks superb, but is super grippy where you need it most.

The cockpit of the 86 is entirely driver-focused and the application of alcantara enhances the interior's sportiness.

The most arresting single change to the interior is the new steering wheel. It is the smallest-diameter steering wheel ever fitted to a Toyota production car, although in saying that, it is only 3 mm smaller than the wheel it replaces. However, the new design and materials make for a very attractive item, and the carefully angled grips at “10 and 2”, in our limited experience, add to the overall sporty feel of the car.

All High spec models receive a new 4.2-inch colour TFT touchscreen infotainment system, found in cars such as the new C-HR. It is a functional, fairly comprehensive system, however, at least aesthetically, it lags behind systems such as that found in the Mazda MX-5.

High spec models now feature a second screen, integrated into the right dial of the driver’s instrument cluster, next to the speedometer (as shown below). As well as a lap timer and G-force meter, the screen also displays a live torque and power output curve, which, in fairness, is not something that’s particularly useful but virtually zings in terms of cool factor and nerd appeal.

The third "dial" displays a host of digital information, some of it genuinely useful... and some of it just for show.

Engine outputs unchanged

Unchanged is the 2.0L, 4-cyl boxer powerplant sourced from Subaru. With a maximum power output of 147 kW at a very high 7 000 rpm, and 205 Nm of torque between 6 400 and 6 600 rpm, these figures give you some indication of the motor’s characteristics.

The driver really does need to rev this motor to squeeze the most out of it, but it never feels frantic or overly stressed. In fact, stretching the car’s legs and running the needle to the redline in each gear feels strangely rewarding.

While Toyota insists the 86 is not about 0-100 times (7.6 seconds, if you were wondering) or outright speed, the general feeling among my motoring colleagues after our very brief track drive in the car was that the chassis can undeniably handle a good deal more power.

By retaining the 86's boxer engine without improving its outputs, Toyota may have missed a trick, some enthusiasts would argue.

Excellent dynamics, plus better ride quality

Toyota tells us that much time and attention has been focused on the suspension setup of the car. While components remain unchanged (MacPherson struts upfront, double wishbones at the rear), the diameter of the rear anti-roll bar has been increased.

The aim was to increase the suppleness of the ride to improve the day-to-day experience, while improving cornering ability and stability during more enthusiastic driving. Our experience of the 86 out on track was unfortunately cut short by Joburg traffic and Joburg weather, so we will reserve judgement for now (on the the 86’s handling characteristics). What we can confirm, however, that its still not shy to dish up sideways fun:

It must be said that during our highway jaunt out to Red Star Raceway the car did feel more comfortable on the road at cruising speeds compared with the outgoing model. It seems the aim was to make the car more pleasant over long distances, which we would say has largely been achieved.

Of course, a highlight of the 86 is its thorough dedication to rear-wheel-drive dynamism. If anything, the 86 excels at providing a proper RWD experience. However, where the first generation felt a bit twitchy and nervous at the rear, the latest edition immediately feels more planted and stable, but crucially in a way that doesn’t detract from the potential excitement of piloting a front engined, manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive vehicle.

The 86 is meant to be synonymous with driving enjoyment... and while is remains very entertaining, it also seems more composed.

New track mode

The 86 now features a new stability control mode, known as Track mode. This dials down the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and traction control to a minimum level, to allow the driver to exercise more of his or her car control skills, without the intervention of the driving aides.

However, in a bid to make the car as safe as possible in all situations, the safety systems will always remain in the background, ready to intervene should they judge the car to be well and truly out of control.


Added on to the local launch of the car was a (very) brief trip to the Yas Marina Grand Prix circuit in Abu Dhabi, to watch the regional finals of the 86 Cup. The racing series was conceived to make accessible an affordable, standardised racing car, in a bid to create exciting, close racing.

And in many ways, this sums up the ethos of the 86. If you are a track-day enthusiast, or even if you aren’t, the 86 represents a fairly bulletproof –and relatively affordable – way to enjoy genuine sportscar kicks.

And with recent enhancements, especially to the cabin and ride quality, the 86 is a car you might happily live with as a mode of daily transport, albeit one that will certainly add liberal doses of visual and dynamic rear-wheel-drive thrills to your everyday motoring...

Prices of Toyota 86 in South Africa

Three models will be available on the SA market: the Std, High and High Auto. The High specification adds daytime running lights, that bi-colour rear spoiler, seat heaters, dual-zone climate control, infographic screen in front of the driver, paddle shift (in the auto), and cruise control. All models are offered with a 3yr/100 000km warranty and 4yr/60 000km service plan as standard.

86 Std  R449 600
86 High R494 400
86 High A/T R519 400

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