The updated and rebadged Toyota 86 earned its keep and then some a few months back when we were out in the mountains of California, proving to be an absolute blast to drive as it open-handedly spanked its old Scion FR-S self back to the Stone Age. Outfitted with a heavy dose of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) upgrades, our 86 carved, stopped, snapped, snarled, and turned hearts aflutter, earning its place as one of our most enjoyable sports car experiences of 2016.
Then, just a month later, we received word that we had the opportunity to receive the overhauled 86 for a week-long review, and with Old Man Winter still a ways away we graciously accepted the offer. After confirming that the version destined to land in our lap that week was a manual, we began to count down the days until our restyled rear-wheel drive sports coupe arrived.
But upon arrival something immediately seemed amiss, and it didn’t just have to do with our test mule’s milder appearance. The version we had fallen head-over-heels for in California had been loaded to the gills with TRD performance bolt-ons, as well as a few aesthetic upgrades to round out the whole sports coupe feel.
At the time, we were quick to discredit the significance of these performance upgrades, as historically TRD goods tend to swim in the shallow end of the upgrade pool. But after 20 minutes of driving a bone-stock 86 we were quick to see exactly how wrong we were in assuming that these bolt-ons only mildly massaged the sports coupe to climax.
These surprisingly stout TRD touches didn’t offer insane power gains or full compression and rebound adjustability, but the brilliantly-balanced TRD upgrades on the 86 made enough of a difference that they made our entry-level model feel almost nude by comparison, recent OEM performance tweaks notwithstanding. It’s not like the the base model was a snoozer; the upgrades Toyota and Subaru have made to the chassis both aesthetically and mechanically have made it better than the old model, but neither was it awe-inspiring.
Instead of comparing the 86 to its competitors, we will be pitting the stock version against the TRD-toting model. Toyota is trying to distance itself from the stigma that it only makes bland commuter cars, and by baring its old performance fangs, we feel the new 86 may be one of the best examples of that.
We really like how Toyota has mildly massaged the 86 into its current self. From the restyled LED running lights and slick tails to the logo-embellished projector shrouding and reconfigured fenders, designers have refreshed and fixed many of the misgivings we had with the sleek sports coupe’s FR-S incarnation.
While it has been outfitted with snazzier 17-inch alloy wheels, a more angular rear diffuser, and a re-sculpted front fascia to make it appear more menacing, something feels incomplete when compared to a TRD-outfitted model. With its racing springs lowering overall ride height over an inch, a set of forged matte gray wheels rolling beneath them, and a tasteful decklid spoiler out back to match the larger diameter cat-back exhaust, there’s something to be said for the TRD fit and finish.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Proportionally, the 86 is right on the money, and we like its updated LED head and tail lighting, aero touches, and fresh fenders.
+ Goodbye and good riddance to the old FR-S alloys; these new two-tone, machined 17-by-7-inch rollers look great.
+ Toyota’s decision to utilize a polished, split dual port exhaust layout makes the hindquarters and more efficient rear diffuser look all the more aggressive.
– Without the fog lamp addition, those jutting plastic “vortex generator” sconces out front look like an afterthought.
– With the absence of the lower TRD springs, optional decklid spoiler, and the sharper-looking forged alloy wheel upgrade, the base 86 looks less sporty than we’d like — and presumably its main demographic of buyers, too.
Opting for the manual version of the new 86 certainly has its perks. The short throw six-speed and its triple-cone synchromesh design are revered for their ability to gobble up the first three gears with wild abandon thanks to a ball-bearing mounted shift linkage and Torsen limited-slip differential (LSD). The new model gets better gearing too, as the old 4.1 final gear ratio has been replaced with a 4.3 configuration, allowing quicker acceleration times, improving the 86’s shifting experience immensely.
On the engine side of the coin, the 86 gets better flowing intake and exhaust manifolds to eliminate the dreaded powerband “valley” found in the old FR-S. While a five horsepower and matching torque bump may not sound like much, gauging snappier throttle responses can only be done from the driver’s seat, and makes the new model feel a lot more direct. Nevertheless, without the $1,100 TRD cat-back upgrade, it’s hard to feel like you’re not missing out on something, and since Toyota has yet to release power gain figures on this optional exhaust, we would be curious to see how much more power it makes when paired with the TRD air intake system.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Better throttle response thanks to redesigned exhaust and intake manifolds makes a notable difference over the old FR-S.
+ 205 horsepower and 158 foot-pounds of torque only appear mildly better than the old model on paper, but can be easily felt under throttle due in part to the revised 4.3 final gear.
+ Still a ton of fun when track mode gets engaged, and can hit its 28 mile per gallon estimates easily on the freeway.
– The $195 TRD Quickshifter upgrade reduces throws by 25%, making it the most important OEM upgrade on this vehicle. Get it.
– While the TRD exhaust and intake upgrade certainly make it more fun, the 86 has to work hard down low when getting up to speed. Even the new Civic Sport Hatch gets almost 20 more pound-feet out of its 1.5-liter engine.
Internal upgrades on the stock 86 versus the TRD-laden model are minimal to non-existent, but Toyota has made some nice, if all but mild, updates to the 86’s cabin. We were especially fond of the new suede-like Granlux interior additions on the dash, doors, and seat bolsters. The smaller, audio control embellished steering wheel is also a nice addition, and the cabin now features a sexy silver theme instead of red.
Interior pros and cons
+ Silver accents are more sleek and elegant than red, and we like how Toyota has left the sporty gauge cluster and metal touches alone.
+ Smaller, leather-clad steering wheel is a great update, as are the 86 touches spread throughout.
+ Granlux suede-like accents on the seats, door panels, and dash both look and feel great.
– Poor visibility out back, cramped rear seat (even for toddlers), and no rear dome light make loading and unloading kids or groceries more of a chore, and trunk height is still minimal.
– The supportive seats are not engineered for larger people, climate control knobs are still cheap-looking and feel the part, and the stereo controls on the steering wheel are too flat-faced, so you’ll end up changing the channel instead of upping the volume.
Tech and safety
First the good news: Toyota has put a standard backup camera on the 86, and it now comes with hill-start assist. It also still has a 7-inch touchscreen with Gracenote album cover info, along with Bluetooth and voice recognition with training capabilities, so when you’re rowing gears you can remain hands-free and focused on the road. But let’s be honest: No one is buying this car for its tech, and Toyota knows it. That’s why it has Lexus.
Tech pros and cons
+ Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) and six airbags come standard, along with things like stability control and smart stop technology.
+ A backup camera with guidance prompts has arrived.
+ The refreshed head unit is nicely proportioned at 7 inches across, is responsive enough, and easy to read.
– No multiple camera views or navigation support, and the touchscreen still looks like a Best Buy closeout special.
– The 86 doesn’t feature the automaker’s Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) suite, a safety miss in our book but we imagine it helps keep the price down.
The driving differences between a stock 86 and a fully-loaded TRD model are overtly noticeable. Having said that, the way in which the re-calibrated shocks and spring rates on the 86 perform make it feel far more acute than the old FR-S. Throw in the fact that the MacPherson front strut setup comes with a beefy brace, and double wishbone rear suspension continues to keep the back in check, and you’ve got one nimble machine designed for mass consumption. A re-tuned electric power steering system also gives a more direct feel, with the smaller-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel urging you onward around the next bend.
But despite being a fair deal crisper in the corners than its older self, once you drive a new 86 that’s been outfitted with some TRD upgrades, you’ll realize that driving a stock version is like buying a gourmet reuben sandwich and eating just the meat and rye bread. The way in which the tightly wound TRD race springs, beefier sway bars, brake pads, intake, exhaust, Quickshifter, and forged alloy wheel work in harmony with one another is substantial. Not only does it accelerate, shift, stop, and slide around corners properly, but it also looks and sounds outstanding while doing so, with the surprisingly throaty cat-back exhaust trumpeting in your ears.
In our opinion, this is how all 86 models should behave in stock trim, and while we do not recommend the exhaust upgrade to anyone wanting a quiet cabin, all of the other TRD additions on Toyota’s website make for a very convincing argument as to why you should spend the extra dough. Oh, and did we mention that the 86 still loves to get silly and sideways when in Track mode? Yeah. It rejoices in being born with rear-wheel drive and a rev-happy boxer attitude.
Wrap up and review
Closing arguments for opting for aesthetic, handling, and powertrain TRD upgrades are simple: They work extremely well. Note that all performance parts come with automaker-backed warranties (when installed at the dealer), and like all things Toyota, they are going to be reliable as hell and will likely outlive most mammals. Your 86’s sticker price will jump above $32,000 after a fat slathering of TRD upgrades, but remember that gourmet reuben analogy: If you’re already willing to cough up $27,000 for a sports coupe, wouldn’t it be foolhardy not to add some tantalizing toppings for an additional fee?
Naturally, if you really are considering plopping down the dough for a new 86, and aren’t just reading this to pass time at work, you should call around and see what dealerships have a TRD-equipped model on site, and then drive both versions. Only then will you truly understand the magnitude of what we have been stressing this whole time.
The other option would be to pick up a bone stock 86 and go the aftermarket route, which is substantial and filled with a much wider variety of upgrades than you can shake a piston at. Or you could just leave it stock and daily the hell out of it, and chances are you won’t feel like something’s amiss … all the way up until your friend lets you drive their TRD-equipped model.