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The term ‘limited edition’ could mean anything: availability capped by duration, by region, by volume, by unique specification or a combination thereof. And applied to anything from ice cream to cologne. Applied to cars, it’s not difficult to appraise limited editions prefixed with ‘Performance’, ‘Limited’ or the increasingly popular more-goodies-if-you-get-in-early ‘First’, but just plain non-descriptive ‘LE’ is marketing spin at its laziest.
What does it really mean? Specifically, what does it mean applied to the 2017 Toyota 86 Limited Edition? On face value, you might presume that this is it, the one and only special issue 86 you’ll be able to purchase of its generation… unless, of course, the marketing gurus spend a long lunch concocting the Limited Edition 2 banner.
As it transpires, the Limited Edition packs a smorgasbord of upgrades. There’s a lift in performance, but only in braking improvements and not via extra power/torque/acceleration. There are handling enhancements, in suspension tune if not by way of heightened tyre grip. It’s more lavish inside, though perhaps not in the quest for more comfort. And its appearance is different, without staking a specific thematic claim.
So the LE refuses to be neatly pigeonholed, though some of its key improvements suggest a fitter steed for red-misted fair weather circuit work, the kind of muscling up that probably deserves a name such as Sport, Trophy or Plus. Or perhaps something even imaginative.
However it’s branded, the LE is no middle lifecycle spruce up to maintain lustre on the affordable sportscar’s halo. That’s because at $41,490 list, it’s five grand pricier than the manual GTS on which it’s based, pushing the ‘86’ price ceiling further away from the 86 range's $30,790 entry point.
You are buying into exclusivity, as only 60 examples are available. But the key question is: do the various upgrades combine to lift the 86’s game high enough to justify the price hike?
First up, that paintwork. The LE-exclusive Solar Orange is the eighth and certainly the most polarising hue in the 86 paint spectrum and, in the flesh, it’s much less ‘primary safety cone’ orange and more ‘fruity pastel’ orange than pictures suggest. There’s also a smattering of metallic black details – rear wing, mirror caps – as further visual differentiation.
The LE does, however, justify much of its five grand premium on hardware updates. The adequate standard stoppers have been replaced with Brembo units measuring 326mm up front and 316mm in the rear. Meanwhile, the regular issue suspension has been uprated with dampers from Sachs.
What's lacking in the mix is improved grip, such as the prototype tuned by then 86 chief development Tetsuya Tata that I drove back in 2013, which benefited from larger 18-inch wheels and wider, stickier rubber. Instead, the LE maintains standard issue 17-inch wheels, albeit in a neat 10-spoke rim design in an Anthracite finish, loaded with the familiar, low-grip 215mm rubber 86s have worn time eternal.
A somewhat toughened package, then, though the LE is a far cry from the harder-core T86RS race car package used in Toyota's single-make racing series.
Inside, there’s no more tech gimmickry, no further electric assistance than GTS spec. But there’s a lot of newness that not only freshens the neat, if increasingly dated, cabin space, it also provides a conspicuous upmarket lift.
The familiar mechanically adjustable sports seats are not trimmed in leather and Alcantara to impressive effect, while the passenger’s side dash fascia and door inserts get nice suede-like trim that diverts focus from some of the less tactile plastics around the place. The orange embossed 86 logo and stitching are pleasing touches.
Otherwise the cabin is surprise free. There’s enough in the GTS spec to keep the LE from feeling low-rent yet it still carries the vibe of a lean, excess-free driver’s tool. The 6.1-inch infotainment gets a workable proprietary sat-nav and the Toyota Link 2 connected apps format is a like-it-or-lump-it affair, while the 4.2-inch driver’s provides a bit of colourful eye candy. Electric mirrors, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are essential inclusions for a variant wanting a 30-per cent hike over the basic 86.
It’s easy to forget how driver-centric the core 86 (and Subaru BRZ) cabin design is: extremely low slung, support in all the right places, and all its controls falling neatly to hand and foot. There are numerous smarts in the details – such as reversible headrests to allow ‘helmet space’ – that impress as much today as they did at launch years ago.
With braking and dynamic handling the focus of the chassis tune-ups, it’s with little surprise the LE package doesn’t bring much new to the around town 86 experience. If anything, the primary ride quality is a little terser across small imperfections than I remember from the normal GTS, though that’s really a tyre sidewall and suspension mount issue as, to this point, the compression and rebound strokes of the Sachs dampers aren’t really earning their keep. It’s certainly a firmly set chassis, though some decent vertical wheel movement over speed bumps reveals decent compliance and disciplined wheel control.
Also firmer is the brake pedal feel from those Brembos, which don’t require much extra foot pressure to slow the car, yet they seem to allow more precise and controllable modulation, even at a cruise.
Upping the pace brings the braking and suspension update more clearly into play. With only 1258kg of kerb weight to contend with, the standard anchors have never really struggled, but with these Brembos you get a higher degree of tireless consistency. With regular stock 86s, you might be wise going aftermarket for pads and fluids if you’re a regular weekend track warrior, but the performance of these Italian-branded anchors on test suggest you wouldn’t need to.
Stuck into a corner, the LE certainly sits flat, though without a back-to-back GTS comparison its uncertain whether it corners flatter. On one hand, when the tyres are hanging on, it works what meagre road-holding abilities those 215s muster up well. But the rears can cut loose and the LE’s tail will swing quite suddenly if you overstep the friendship.
Fun? Yep. Challenging? You bet, in more or less equal measures. Though that’s in the relativity of an innately well-balanced and intuitively easy to punt 86 to begin with. Thanks to the brilliant feedback from one of the best steering systems in the biz, and the communication transmitted into your hips from the chassis, it remains one of the friendliest cars to let really run wild.
And wild it will go. Even with just 212Nm on tap, well up at 6400rpm where you have to rev the 2.0-litre FA20 boxer four and work for it, those tyres will wheel spin with ease – in the dry if you try, in the wet if you don’t.
On a greasy ‘first rain’ roads you’ll need your wits about you in ways most other sporting cars don’t demand. Of course, adding grip with slightly wider, more performance oriented rubber is an easy solution. But upping the outputs of the engine, as to not leave it overwhelmed by the tyres and to maintain the 86’s charm of ‘all things in balance’, is a tougher task with that boxer four.
The 152kW and 212Nm naturally aspirated flat four isn’t ageing terribly gracefully. That mid-range torque hole was barely a characterful quirk at launch and feels more the flaw as time goes on. Having peak torque arrive way up at 6400rpm when maximum power cocks on at 7000rpm, thus creating a slim 600rpm sweet spot, isn’t really good enough compared with, well, most engines you might name, sporting or otherwise.
It’s long been suspected that the excellent 86 – and BRZ – chassis wouldn’t merely cope with a horsepower hit and at least an extra 100Nm, it begs for it. And it’s not just a theory. I’ve driven both turbocharged and supercharged 86s, courtesy of the aftermarket, and there’s no mystery to the positive outcomes… short of the fact I’ve been personally told by the engineers responsible for the boxer’s development that, due to technical issues, the engine cannot actually be turbocharged.
I stopped holding my breath for an OEM-force-induced 86/BRZ a while back…
All of which leaves us with an 86 LE that’s stronger in stopping and a little bit fitter in dynamic balance, yet remains undercooked in powertrain and outright handling prowess. Or perhaps more undercooked than the breed average, because it commands a much prettier penny than the already laugh-out-loud budget fun machine that is the basic manual 86.
There are a few different conclusions that can be drawn here. For the five grand premium above the manual high-spec GTS, you’re buying into as much of the special paint and low-run 60-unit exclusivity as you want, and as much brake and damper mods you might need if you’re a race track regular. Even if you do log a fair bit of circuit time, the five big ones saved by opting instead for the regular GTS goes a long way in track day fees, fuel and tyres. And if cheap thrills is your mandate without venturing off street, you’ll save around $11k fishing at the bottom of the 86 barrel.
If there are two more elephants lurking in the shadows of the room, it’s firstly that perhaps the Limited Edition shouldn’t be limited edition at all, but no-cost updates to the perpetually released flagship GTS version of what’s now a five-year-old sportscar range.
And, secondly, the low- and even mid-forties is the kind of price bracket where potential 86 buyers might get particularly excited about variants with more power, more torque and more handling grip.
Is the LE the nicest 86 yet? You bet.
As for a measurably faster, force-induced 86 five years on from launch? It’s about time.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images by Sam Venn.