2017 Toyota 86 Track Review

Rating: 9.0
$19,520 $23,210 Dealer
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Having been with us since 2012, the Toyota 86 now gets a refresh for 2017, but the changes are subtle rather than broad. All aimed at making a sharp instrument even sharper.
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There aren't too many dramatic changes with the 2017 Toyota 86. Rather, it’s a mid-life facelift (or a 'refresh' in manufacturer terms) for a vehicle that’s already been around for nearly five years.

First launched locally in 2012, the 86 has been a supremely popular vehicle – a fact mirrored around the world – so you can understand Toyota’s reluctance to make sweeping, wholesale changes.

“We’d obviously love to keep that sub-30k starting price for the GT, but with currencies fluctuating the way they are, we can’t say yet whether that is possible," Toyota Australia communications manager Stephen Coughlan told CarAdvice at this week's international launch of the refreshed 86 in Japan.

"We’re still thrashing out the pricing structure at this stage, but will be able to announce the pricing closer to our local launch.”

We think the subtle exterior changes to the 86 look tasteful and don’t mess with the already clean lines. But, as always with a ‘driver’s car’, the proof is borne out by time behind the wheel. CarAdvice was lucky enough to spend half a day punting the new 86 on the Fuji Speedway Short Circuit, a tight, twisty and undulating track that looks tailor made for drifting.

MORE: 2017 Toyota 86 - inside and out, what’s changed?

In the shadow of both Mt Fuji, and the steeply banked turn from the original NASCAR-style racetrack constructed in 1963, the short circuit’s undulations, and super tight corners are just about the perfect environment to put the 86 through its paces, and to ascertain whether that supreme sense of balance exhibited by the previous model remains. Short straights and rapid changes of direction are exactly the kind of thing that will highlight whether Tada-San’s team of engineers have got things right.

There have been no changes to things like the gearbox shift logic electronics for the automatic transmission, the final drive ratios or the diff for the automatic either so we expect the basic drive dynamics to be the same. 86s equipped with a manual transmission do get a new final drive ratio though, which shifts from 4.1:1 to 4.3:1.

Toyota’s VSC stability control system has been retuned by the engineers to allow a little bit more fun than the previous model, but also as a response from current owners who do a lot of track day driving. Toyota engineers also claim it makes the rear end more stable at speed, while still allowing some slip.

Our first impression is that the crispness of the manual transmission and direct clutch action, makes that model the easiest to drive quickly on a track. The automatic variants can be pushed hard, but they aren’t as quick as a manual 86 driven smoothly. The short circuit is a first/second/third exercise, but regardless, there’s plenty of shifting between second and third and the manual is the rapid fire option at speed, especially given the short throw and direct action.

The revised intake and exhaust manifolds for the manual cars have sweetened up the exhaust note a little and there’s still that delightfully snappy response from the throttle pedal that we’ve loved since we first tested the 86. Toyota engineers told us they didn’t even consider a stop/start system because they didn’t want any added complexity or weight.

The VSC retune has indeed made it possible to wag the tail a little more than the previous model, which means you can steer the front of the 86 with the rear more than before. It might not be the fastest way through a corner, but it is fun. In ‘Track’ mode, the 86 can be driven right up to its limits without the driver ever having to work too hard. It’s an effortless little sportscar at speed, which makes it a perfect choice for track days, motorkhanas and club level stuff when you’re on a budget that might preclude more expensive machinery.

Previously the console-mounted switch was marked ‘VSC Sport’, but the switch is now marked ‘Track Mode’ and it encompasses the revised tune for the VSC logic system once it is activated.

Two features made themselves known from day one with the 86 – steering precision and balance. There are no mechanical changes to the electric power steering system for this facelift, but the electronics have been tuned a little. We couldn’t really feel the difference when tested back to back – the 86 always was, and remains a sharp steerer. We like the weight of the rack at any speed too, it’s a beautifully tuned system for track work.

On the balance front, the 86 remains as poised as always. There are extra spot welds in the C-pillar, retuned springs and shocks all round, a stiffer strut brace in the engine bay and 1mm thicker sway bar at the rear. There’s a plate added down lower in the rear wheel arches, which also increases rigidity at the rear of the chassis.

The characteristics of the spring changes most caught our eye when we looked at the changes on paper, and we noted that you could indeed feel those changes on the track. Interestingly, the front springs are now 10 per cent firmer than the current 86, but the rear springs are 15 per cent softer. It makes sense too, because softening the rear springs ensures near perfect weight change on turn in, which makes positioning the car even easier as you tip into a corner. The changes are still evolutionary though, so it's hard to really feel them, save to say the 86 feels supremely balanced and controlled at all times.

Tada-San told CarAdvice the team had done plenty of modelling on the Nurburgring 24 Hour car, using that as the basis for the revisions to the suspension system of the road car. Again, the changes are minute in reality and the seat of the pants difference will be hard to detect, but they contribute to sharpening up the overall package.

The engine and gearbox pairings remain as attractive as they always were. The purist will obviously favour the manual, as most buyers have done in Australia – especially in GT specification – while the daily drivers will prefer the automatic. It’s smooth, even at track speeds and will hold revs in Sport mode such that you get to enjoy the engine on song. As mentioned above though, you really do have to opt for the manual if you want to get stuck into any serious track driving.

The brakes are exceptional too, aided by the light weight of the 86. We won’t know exact weights until final testing is done before the new 86 heads to Australia later this year, but it still feels as light and agile as ever.

In terms of traditional driver’s cars – that is engine at the front without turbo charging, manual transmission available, and drive at the rear – there really is only the Mazda MX-5 and the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins that cater to those of us without truly deep pockets. Both vehicles manage to capture that old world driving engagement, but with modern tolerances, to deliver a riot of a driving package.

The 86 still feels conservative in power terms, but as I’ve said before, that’s more a compliment for a supremely capable chassis than a slight on the engine. There’s plenty of grip on hand even on standard road tyres. You can slide the 86 around if you want to, or you can work towards precise lines and go for the fastest lap time.

You can also drive it every day to work and back and enjoy it as a daily driver. In many ways, the 86 captures the true essence of what sportscars were always about. It’s light, it’s fun and it puts a smile on your face. It doesn't cost a bomb either.

We’ve given the previous 86 GTS a 9 overall on review, and while we haven’t driven this updated model on the road yet, we’re giving it a provisional 9 after our track test. There’s so much to enjoy about a simple RWD sportscar and the 86 continues to march to the beat of that drum so well.

Click on the photos tab to see more photos of the revised Toyota 86.

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