What’s in a name? For the Toyota 86, it embodies top-notch steering, high levels of communication and driver involvement, and rear-wheel drive. But with the base formula being largely unchanged since the sports car launched in mid 2012, and a 2017 update due to go on sale locally in the fourth quarter of this year, is the 2016 Toyota 86 Blackline Edition worth its additional spend?
Limited to 450 cars – 250 manuals and 200 automatics – the 2016 Toyota 86 Blackline Edition was released in celebration of the local division’s new one-make Toyota 86 Racing Series, which launches at Winton Raceway on May 20.
Exclusively based on the top-spec GTS, the Blackline is priced from $37,990 (before on-road costs) for the six-speed manual and $40,490 (before on-road costs) for the six-speed automatic.
Up $2000 compared with the standard manual and auto GTS, Toyota Australia says it has sold more than two thirds of its Blackline stock since the model officially went on sale in November 2015.
Featuring several components from Toyota’s motorsport arm, Toyota Racing Development (TRD), the special edition 86 is distinguishable by a raft of aerodynamic additions first seen on the Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0 unveiled at the 2014 New York motor show.
These comprise a unique black-accented front lip extension, black-accented side skirts, a model-specific three-piece rear spoiler, and a TRD-stamped rear lower bumper.
The themed exterior look continues with gloss-black 17-inch alloy wheels, a black ‘86’ fuel filler cap decal, and black-accented TRD side strakes – the latter replacing the 86’s standard ‘boxer’-engine fender garnishes.
Solely available in ‘White Liquid’, the Blackline Edition package is appropriately completed by a pair of black stripes that flow down the right-hand-side of the roof and bonnet.
If you’re a fan of subtlety, the Blackline’s interior might strike you as just a touch garish.
The standard GTS’s rubberised soft-touch dash, faux-carbon-fibre dash insert, alloy kick plates and aluminium sports pedals remain, but Toyota has broken up the 86’s largely black cabin by adding seriously bright red highlights to the seats, steering wheel, gear lever, handbrake and door grips.
As with the regular GTS, standard equipment includes HID headlights and LED daytime running lights, two-stage heated red-stitched leather and Alcantara seats, a push-button start, a 6.1-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, and dual-zone climate control.
Like every 86 variant, cruise control, a rear-view camera, and seven airbags are also included, along with a three-year/100,000km warranty and capped-price servicing (with the first four scheduled services over the first three years or 60,000km fixed at $180 each, and services due every nine months or 15,000km).
At 4240mm long – 80mm shorter than a Mazda 2 Sedan – the compact 86 is snug inside, but its simple and logical layout is easy to become familiar and comfortable with.
Uncluttered and uncomplicated, basic stereo and climate controls are joined by nice touches such as a black-faced analogue speedometer, white-faced central tachometer, a digital speedo and cheeky little knee-protecting ‘drift pads’. Some too, though perhaps not all, will also appreciate the button-free nature of the 86’s ideally-sized, non-flat-bottom, reach and rake adjustable steering wheel.
Although slightly greater steering wheel adjustment would be appreciated, overall, the seating/driving position is excellent. You can get nice and low in the seat, with the pedals, gear lever and manual handbrake all within easy reach.
The two well-scalloped back seats are comfortable enough to use in a pinch, however, legroom – and even more so, toe room – is limited.
Headroom too is tight for those six-foot and above, but with both back seats being ISOFIX compatible and the single-piece backrest able to be folded down to expand boot capacity beyond 218 litres, the 86’s rear pews are far from useless.
Vision out front and via the mirrors is good, though, over-shoulder vision is hindered by thick and heavily raked C-pillars. The standard rear-view camera is a big help here, provided you remember there are no parking sensors and therefore no attached proximity beeps. That said, rear sensors can be added as a dealer fit option for just under $380.
Impressively, almost four years on since it’s July 2012 launch, the Toyota 86 is still a super engaging car to drive. It’s still a car that gives you the driving bug and still a car that makes you want to drive, and drive more.
As we’ve highlighted previously though, it does prefer to be driven one of two ways, and the Blackline Edition is no different. You can take it easy, shift early, be passive with throttle and steering inputs, and enjoy its commendable ride/handling balance, or, drop the hammer and really get after it.
At the end of the day, the 86 is still very much an affordable, accessible, entry-level sports car, and as such, what’s going on beneath the tyres is translated through the cabin, seat and steering wheel. But things are never harsh or uncomfortable.
It’s not quite as soft in its ride as say, the new Mazda MX-5, however, the trade-off is much higher levels of precision and response. And the MX-5 simply can’t match the 86 for outright driving experience. Nor for outputs, for that matter.
Although the convertible two-seater’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder churns out 118kW of power and 200Nm of torque, the 86’s direct-injection FA20 ‘boxer’ has 147kW and 205Nm – even if both peak figures arrive later in the Toyota’s rev range than in the Mazda’s.
It’s a flexible enough engine to drive around gently, with adequate grunt between around 1800-3000rpm. And from north of 3500rpm to its 7450rpm redline, power delivery is largely linear.
It’s true, the engine’s performance is never going to set the world on fire, but the real factor letting the package down is the 86’s super-long gearing – an issue Toyota has acknowledged and is specifically tackling with the upcoming 2017 update.
The six-speed manual gearbox itself is notchy and super accurate. A touch short-throw, gear lever travel nicely matches clutch pedal travel, even if feel and feedback through the left pedal is about as light-on as the pedal’s own resistance.
And while the outright pace the throttle pedal delivers isn’t huge, the response associated with it, is actually exceptionally sharp, making the 86 not only fun to drive but excellent for accurate throttle control and modulation – an ideal attribute for spirited hill climbs, track driving, and in particular, controlled-environment sliding or drifting.
It’s the same story with the brakes. Attached to two-piston calipers and 294mm ventilated discs up front and single-piston calipers and 290mm ventilated discs out back, the centre pedal is natural and progressive in its feel but it isn’t attached to huge stopping power.
There’s reasonably good initial bite though, which again, means drivers can finely adjust the amount of weight over the front and rear wheels. And really, it’s the Toyota 86’s finite adjustability that makes it so good. That, and its high levels of communication.
A key player here is the 86’s smartly weighted and terrifically responsive steering. Not too light and not overly heavy, the Toyota’s well balanced steering proves that weight doesn’t necessarily mean accuracy – a point many other manufacturers should take heed of.
Apart from being great for lining up and hitting apexes, steering this immediate is also pretty bloody handy when needing to quickly steer around debris on the road or even avoid stray wildlife.
Feeling light and nimble through corners, the 1275kg rear-drive Toyota is chuckable and fun, but also precise. And while the standard 215mm-wide 45-profile Michelin Primacy HP tyres don’t provide as much grip as you may want – and the suspension does have some roll – the 86 remains a great car to learn about driving and vehicle dynamics in.
It’s a car that teaches you about good lines and committing to corners, about rhythm and weight transition, and about correct gear selection and braking markers.
The question is, if the standard car offers you all of these crucial elements, which it does, then is the Blackline Edition, which at its core is identical, worth its extra $2000 over the GTS and $8000 over the base GT?
Well, if you’re purely after the inherent properties that make the Toyota 86 such a sensational driver’s car, then the answer’s likely, no. And if you’re keen for the additional performance and equipment of the updated 2017 86, then waiting for that also makes sense. But if you’re after that little bit of exclusivity and uniqueness, then, for some, the 2016 Toyota 86 Blackline Edition is surely still justifiable.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Toyota 86 Blackline Edition images by Tom Fraser.