There’s a line in Wanted Dead or Alive, an old Bon Jovi song, that goes, ‘only the names will change.’
Now, given that the song was released in 1986 – and the fact that it’s an homage to outlaws of the Old West – it’s clear the line isn’t referencing the Toyota 86. It does, however, encapsulate this writer’s feeling regarding the rear-driving sports coupe formerly known as the Scion FR-S.
The names change, but the car remains the same.
Back in 2012, I drove the then-new Scion FR-S, a light and nimble sports coupe born of a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota (full review here).
Boxer-engined, with a slick-shifting six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive and a near 50 / 50 front-rear weight distribution, the 200-horsepower FR-S was a delight to drive – quick, with great reflexes and a marvelous exhaust note, the car easily impressed. The interior was a low-rent, sure, but it was acceptable given the car’s high fun factor.
On top of that, it was relatively cheap, too – just under $26K for a manual-equipped model that retailed for about $1,600 less than its mechanical twin, the Subaru BRZ.
Fast forward five years and the FR-S is now the Toyota 86 (Toyota discontinued the Scion brand at the end of the 2016 model year), but not much else has changed. The car is still fast, fun to drive and quite a looker – and suffers from the same weaknesses I wrote about in 2012, which I will dive into shortly.
For the Canadian market, the 86 – which finally brings North American variants in line with the global FT and GT86 monikers the car has had since inception – is available in three variants: manual, automatic and special edition.
The price ranges from $29,580 for the manual, up to $32,555 for the special edition, which features a 6-speed manual only, and some cosmetic add-ons including blacked-out 17-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler and LED fog lights, among others.
For 2017, power output from the 2.0-litre Subaru-sourced flat four Boxer engine has been increased to 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft. of torque for the manual transmission version. Performance for the six-speed automatic remains unchanged at 200 / 151.
The car also receives a face lift which includes new front and rear bumpers, new LED head lights and tail lights, new turn signals, a larger front air intake and new wheel designs.
My tester, an ablaze red copy with a six-speed manual, comes with no additional options or accessories, which is unusual for a press vehicle.
From a design perspective, the 86 remains a handsome car that looks good from all angles. The sheet metal is curvaceous and sports clean lines that wrap tightly around the car’s structure, flaring at the haunches with short overhangs that give the car a low, wide and planted stance. The design enhancements made to the front and rear ends liven up a half-decade old look and give the 86 a more contemporary feel.
As much as the exterior looks up to date, the same cannot be said for the interior which appears to have received only modest updating.
In 2012, I thought the FR-S was let down by an interior that appears to have been the victim of some cost-cutting, and I have similar thoughts when it comes to the 86. It’s not all bad, but the things that are really stand out.
For a low-slung car, the 86 offers a decent driving position with front seats that are comfortable and offer good support. The windows in the 86 are small, but I didn’t find the blind spots to be noticeably large for a coupe, and thanks to a back-up camera, reversing into a parking spot is straightforward.
The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel comes with a tasteful 86 logo in the centre hub and feels good in the hands – same goes for the leather-wrapped shifter.
That’s where the good news ends, however, as the rest of the interior suffers from many of the same annoyances that were present five years ago.
Some of it is related to design and materials, such as cupholders that are still located too far back in the centre console, the lack of an armrest, plus cheap-looking climate control knobs and a chintzy orange clock, all of which have somehow survived the car’s updating.
The 86 also suffers from curious packaging choices, like the absence of heated seats and a push button starter, and a 6.1-inch audio screen that displays… well… not much, aside from the AM or FM station you’re tuned into – it doesn’t come with navigation or satellite radio. If you want navigation, you’ll have to shell out an extra $1,260 for the upgraded radio.
I bring this up because unlike most cars on the market, the 86 has a clone that delivers the same driving experience but is better packaged.
For example, the 2017 BRZ Sport Tech I drove last fall (full review here) comes with a slew of extra equipment (navigation, heated seats and push button starter among others) and a more attractive interior for an extra $375, including freight.
Sure, the special edition has a lot of these extras (for $3,000 more), but the base 86 now costs $1,585 more than the entry level BRZ – the inverse of the how things were when the cars launched in 2012 – and it comes with less stuff. It is a strange circumstance to say the least.
With all that said, however, the 86 delivers the goods on the road.
The car offers brisk acceleration, pinpoint steering and point-and-shoot handling that’ll make you want to take the long way home – every time. A light clutch and precise shifting makes the 86 a great car to lunge around town in, and you can pass with confidence on highways – a quick downshift and you’ll have other vehicles eating your dust.
The Boxer engine is a high-revving four-banger (7,400 rpm redline) that needs to be wound out to extract the power that resides at the top of the power band, but the engineers figured (correctly!) that drivers won’t mind another excuse to mash the accelerator.
I didn’t track my tester but because doing so is a popular activity for many 86 owners, Toyota has recalibrated the VSC (vehicle stability control system) with a Track Mode button that shuts everything off and prevents the system from intervening. This, combined with improved aero, revised shock tuning and a spring rate change makes the 86 an even more trackable car, an experience I look forward to having at some point.
Despite the shortcomings of its interior, my impressions of the Toyota 86 are favourable overall, much as they were five years ago when I drove its predecessor. It’s a great looking car that’s well-engineered, fun to drive and reasonably priced.
As for the issues I have with its interior, it's disappointing they persist after five years but I'm hopeful Toyota will finally see the light and address them. If they want to price the 86 above its direct competition then they will have to deliver a better value proposition. I hope this happens because the car is well worth the time, money and effort.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2017 Toyota 86
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $29,580 / $31,270 (incl. $1,690 destination)
FINAL ASSEMBLY: Ōta, Japan
ENGINE: 2.0L Boxer 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 205 hp @ 7,000 rpm
TORQUE: 156 lb-ft. @ 6,400 – 6,800 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,252 kg
CONFIGURATION: front engine, rear-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 11.3 / 8.3 / 9.9
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Kia Forte Koup SX, Subaru BRZ
Accessories and / or Stand Alone Options
Total – $0
Photography by Lee Bailie