If there’s a model on sale that deserves the description ‘timeless’ a little more than most, it’s the 2019 Toyota 86.
I can tell you that the example here – a GTS auto with Dynamic Performance Pack – is highly reminiscent of the first 86 I drove at the nameplate’s enthusiasm-filled local launch back in 2012. And colour and manual transmission apart, it’s a dead-ringer for the 86 Limited Edition manual yours truly reviewed here in 2017.
In fact, it’s little different to the umpteenth iterations I’ve sampled in between.
That the 86 has aged so agelessly is commendable. That it’s changed so little since its seven-year-old origin isn’t. Not that Toyota’s diminutive two-door coupe (or its Subaru twin in the BRZ) deserves being singled out: is there a genre out there that moves glacially slower across the motoring landscape than Japanese performance and sports cars?
There’s been some change. The old LE introduced the Brembo brakes/Sachs dampers/Anthracite 17-inch wheel combination that would subsequently become the Dynamic Pack on any variant you’d like. And, sure, early 2018 brought a lift in infotainment that saw proprietary sat-nav across the range. But the former is an option rather than a core improvement, and the latter a rolling change to keep up with the times.
In seven years, there’s been no spike in performance prowess (hope you didn’t hold your breath for turbocharging), and no conspicuous modernisation in tech, be it driver-oriented or infotainment. And that five-star ANCAP rating dating back to its 2012 origin wouldn’t fly today in our era of essential AEB fitment; a system the 86 continues to omit from the equipment list. And while pricing was always an 86 strong suit, seven years on Toyota hasn’t really sweetened up the deal.
The 86 was once a simple and indulgent pleasure. Today, that pleasure is looking merely simpler and its indulgences slimmer.
It’s a good thing, then, that its advancing age and belligerence to meaningful evolution haven’t negatively impacted its goodness as a cost-savvy, bona-fide driver’s fun machine that remains as impressive in 2019 as it did when it first lobbed. Yes, even in stigma-filled automatic form.
Our example, which adds $2200 for the Dynamic goodies and $500 for paint – yes, for white paint – lists for $41,640, or $45,779 drive-away using Toyota’s configurator. Yes, it’s an expensive spec for an 86 given the range tip-in is $31,440 plus on-roads, so it’ll be interesting to see how the harder-core chassis set-up marries up with the generally unloved, or at least unrespected, self-shifting transmission.
So, while the 86 is an easy target for lacking change, the flipside is to ask ‘what would you change?’. And there’s a lot I wouldn’t.
Those neat 10-spoke Anthracite wheels and rear wing are ‘to taste', but there’s not much to gripe about in-cabin beyond its generally ageing ambience. For driver functionality, it remains a high watermark of ergonomic clarity and intuitive control placement, with an excellent seating position from the snug and purposeful pews, along with nigh on perfect wheel and pedal placement. There’s just enough of a smattering of suede-like Alcantara around the place to mask cost-consciousness.
The 6.1-inch infotainment has fairly rudimentary proprietary navigation and maintains the like-it-or-lump-it Toyota Link connected apps format. Although, the 4.2-inch driver’s screen brings a dash of added colour to the ‘classic’ analogue instrumentation with its handy central tacho design.
There aren’t many features to boast about – climate control, reversing camera, powered wing mirrors – but those joyous design details remain, such as the reversible headrest to allow helmet clearance, the frameless mirror, and rearward cupholder placement to stop drinks from fouling against your left arm, which will be yanking on the mechanical handbrake if you fancy a bit of motorkhana action.
Yes, it’s a four-seater. No, I’ve never actually seen four adults squeezed into the cabin. Accommodation is, however, large enough to fit four spare wheels – something Toyota pointed out back at its 2012 launch – making it handy for carting alternative rolling stock to track days given that, quite infamously, the 86 has always left showrooms with controversially low-grip rubber.
I know, I know – conceptually, with its modest powertrain shove and meagre standard-issue grip, the 86 (and BRZ) was always meant as a 'platform for modification'. And plenty of spanner-heads in the tuning and circuit-dwelling communities have certainly explored the car’s loftier potential. But given more 86s have now been sold in Oz than the Celica, MR2 or Supra ever did in grand total numbers, surely the wiser tuning platform lies in the now broad choice of cheaper, second-hand, out-of-warranty examples… At around half the price of our new GTS auto with Dynamic Pack.
As is, unfettled of course, this 86 variant is a bit of a tough sell.
The around-town experience kicks off well enough, in that the 86 feels like a fun and engaging car – and a proper sports car – even when you’re tooling about. It’s got the right vibe, plain and simple. It feels connected, light on its modestly grippy feet, and there’s enough fizz and the right sorts of noises.
The FA20 2.0-litre boxer four isn’t as ‘bad’ as I remember it, not so much that the 147kW and 205Nm unit lacks properly meaningful shove – it’s as make-do in energy now than ever before – but it doesn’t seem to frustrate quite as poorly with its infamous mid-range torque dip. Be it caused by the switchover from low-RPM direct injection to high-RPM port injection or not, engineers seem to have tuned out this engine’s dead spot around the 4000–5000rpm mark, making for a more linear delivery than I seem to recall from old 86s.
You’re still short-changed 5kW and 11Nm against the manual version, though you’d have to A-B the two to really feel it. And despite peak torque’s ludicrously high 6400rpm arrival, this engine is amply responsive off idle and at low revs, making for reasonably brisk progression, if with nothing like the energy to put the rear mechanical LSD much to task. At around 10 litres per 100km, it's not exactly frugal for its outputs.
It seems highly strange to me that Toyota/Subaru never turbocharged the 86/BRZ. I once had a quite senior Japanese Toyota expert look me in the eye and state that, for various technical reasons, “you cannot turbocharge the 86”. I simply stared back at him and replied that, well, I’d actually already driven a few.
The six-speed auto is fine, if patently better suited and calibrated for balanced driving than it is for hyper-assertive, red-mist punts. But while there’s certainly quality to the powertrain’s all-round behaviour, it doesn’t really seem cut out for the strenuous workout of a real flogging. In this alone, being matched up to the stiff Dynamic handling package does seem more than a little incongruent.
As we found in the Limited Edition manual review, the Sachs dampers really firm up the ride, moderately up front, where you get a little more natural steering feel and clearer ‘point’, but to an annoying terse degree across the rear axle. Wheel control is good and there’s some semblance of real-world compliance, but the tune doesn’t really seem to entice improved grip from low-friction rubber.
There might be more poise, balance and playfulness once you start properly sliding the 86 on-track, but the Dynamic Pack doesn’t really pay much dividend on-road without, perhaps, swapping out for a grippier set of hoops. In fact, I’ll go further to suggest that with the powertrain thus fitted, the 86 auto is perhaps better served with the standard, softer suspension set-up.
That said, I am nitpicking at what’s a famously fantastic chassis. The GTS sits incredibly flat, tracks its line faithfully, is easy to place millimetre perfectly, and offers driver feedback superior to sports cars multiple times its pricepoint. It still has one of the best steering systems out there, is highly communicative through your hips, and remains incredibly friendly once you let it off its chain.
Yes, it’s a thoroughbred, if one lacking the instant edification of larger power and torque, and one that demands nigh on strangling at the controls and a blend of safe off-street run-off for its dynamic talents to come convincingly to the fore.
The Brembo brakes are another story. Measuring 326mm up front and 316mm in the rear, the braking hardware brings more power, more progression and higher confidence to any driving situation. They’re a worthy addition to any 86, then.
Does the GTS auto with Dynamic Pack come together as a cohesive whole? Not really.
The self-shifting version of the 86 has never made a strong case as a proper driver’s alternative to the more affordable manual version, and seven years into the life cycle nothing’s changed. Its real forte is as an enjoyable, inexpensive daily driven sports car, and it’s certainly an enjoyable prospect to that remit. The experience just goes backwards with how the Dynamic Pack’s suspension tune negatively impacts ride comfort.
That Sachs-enhanced chassis deserves more grip, which in turn deserves more of a kick up the tailpipes. And the higher output in the manual 86s remains barely enough, if mostly hamstrung by the point and squirt of on-road driving.
It’s high time for a properly quick – rather than merely a dynamically adept – turbocharged 86, because its wonderful chassis still begs to be matched with a proper kick up the backside. But given the alternatives at hand, you’re going to get a more compelling and well-rounded driver’s machine by looking elsewhere in the current 86 range.