Toyota 86 2019 gts performance (apollo blue)

2019 Toyota 86 GTS Apollo Blue review

Rating: 7.7
$28,770 $34,210 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
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Rear-drive, front-engined with a manual transmission. The 86 GTS Apollo Blue is fundamentally a driver's car. But it's also pricey...
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Front-engined, rear-wheel drive with a manual gearbox in the middle. It’s as if the Toyota 86 were designed by the CarAdvice comments section, such is the strength of its ‘purist’ credentials.

But the 86 (and BRZ) are controversial. Blame the eco-tyres or torque-lite boxer engine; whatever the reason, there’s a sect of motoring enthusiasts who aren’t enamoured with the fruits of Subaru and Toyota’s labour.

I’m not one of them. I liked the formula so much, I bought a three-year-old BRZ in 2017. It’s since found a new home, but I miss it.

A bit has changed since my WR Blue coupe rolled off the production line. A midlife update liberated 5kW extra from the 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine, bumping peak power to 152kW in the manual, while an extra 7Nm of torque means there's 212Nm available at 6400rpm. An automatic is optional, but inadvisable.

Alright, so neither figure will blow your mind. But that's not really the point here. More on that to come.

As a GTS with Performance Pack and the 'Apollo Blue' paint option, this is the most expensive 86 you can buy. The GTS starts at $36,640 before on-road costs, while the Dynamic Performance Pack adds another $2950 to the sticker price.

You can't have an 86 in this particular hue unless you want to pay for the Performance Pack. Then again, it's a package worth having. The standard brakes are subbed for Brembo units, and the suspension is outfitted with Sachs dampers.

Apollo Blue spec also brings a black rear spoiler and black mirror caps.

No 86 is what you'd call luxurious, but the GTS is as close as you'll get. There's dual-zone climate control, leather and suede-trimmed seats with heating, keyless entry and start, and buttons on the steering wheel.

You do miss out on safety equipment now considered crucial, with no blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking or lane-keep assist though. It doesn't worry me in a car like this, given it's not really aimed at safety-conscious family buyers, but there are higher-tech ways to get your driving kicks out there.

Regardless of trim, the driver and passenger sit ensconced in a brilliant set of folding-backed bucket seats (heated and trimmed in suede in the GTS), and the steering wheel and gearknob are trimmed in leather. Even for tall drivers, the ergonomic fundamentals in the 86 are top-notch.

The steering wheel sits almost vertical and telescopes into the driver's chest, the seat drops low, and the gearstick falls easily to hand. Some of the materials are a bit scratchy, sure, and some kind of central elbow rest would be nice, but it comfortably has the similarly priced Mazda MX-5 for storage.

Plus, you get rear seats suitable for (very!) short trips and a 237L boot – albeit with a letterbox opening and no spare wheel.

Whereas my BRZ had a basic audio system nicked from the then-new Corolla and dealer-fit Parrot phone system, the new model gets a touchscreen infotainment system complete with navigation. How luxe!

It isn't the last word in modernity, but it's a significant improvement on the piecemeal set-up previously offered.

Unlike the base GT, the GTS gets a 4.2-inch colour display in the instrument binnacle capable of displaying g-force, a stopwatch, oil and water temperatures, and a graph showing the car's power and torque curves – ugly mid-range dip and all.

That mid-range torque dip has haunted the 86 since launch, and the choice midlife tweaks haven't eradicated it. In fact, very little has changed from the original, despite the extra power and shorter final drive ratio.

The boxer engine is still a raspy, slightly uncouth companion that does its best work when wound out toward redline, with a frustrating dead zone between around 3300rpm and 4500rpm.

If you're used to the effortless low-down shove offered by most modern hot hatches with their turbocharged engines, the 86 is going to feel positively glacial, but it's worth persisting because it comes alive once you've ridden out the mid-range torque black hole.

Peak power comes on tap at 7000rpm – just 400rpm short of redline – while peak torque is only available between 6400 and 6800rpm. You really need to thrash the 86 to get going, but it rewards the driver for their effort. A 100km/h sprint time of 7.4 seconds doesn't sound world-beating, but it feels quicker than the figures would suggest. Promise.

Curt Dupriez thinks the 86 needs a turbocharger, but I disagree. Having to utterly thrash it is an intrinsic part of its character, and adding a snail would undermine that.

Although the changes are small, Toyota and Subaru have extracted slightly more performance from the 86. The shorter final drive definitely gives the car slightly more punch off the line, although the difference is marginal, and it's maybe (maybe!) more willing to pull from low-down in the rev range.

The standard six-speed manual is a perfect match for the engine, with a short throw and weighty feeling. The clutch has just enough weight to it, and the pedals are in an ideal spot for rev-matching, letting you really slam through the gears to keep the engine on the boil.

Involvement is critical in a compact sports car, and the powertrain in the 86 delivers it in spades. It's also relatively economical, averaging 8.9L/100km with a heavy skew towards city and 'hard' driving.

For all its foibles, the boxer engine delivers in other ways, too. It's set low in the chassis and sits behind the front axle, which means the car has a low centre of gravity and most of its weight contained within the wheelbase. Good fundamentals, you'll no doubt agree.

They're backed by the 86's excellent electrically assisted steering set-up, which combines around-town twirl-ability with proper feedback in a way few cars can match. The steering is pleasingly direct, and the chatter through the tiny steering wheel is always there to let the driver know what's going on with the front wheels.

The chassis is beautifully balanced, too, which means you're able to modify your line with a small lift of the throttle, or by just gently squeezing a bit more power through the rear tyres. It's always up and dancing, even at low speeds, thanks to the Michelin Primacy tyres that've become a significant part of the ToyoBaru BR86 mystique since launch.

There's no doubt stickier rubber would make it easier to extract more outright speed from the car, but Toyota and Subaru made a deliberate choice to go down the low-grip path to make their two-door sports car's character easier to uncover at day-to-day speeds.

For people driving on the road in Australia, where every km/h over the limit is another nail in your legal coffin, it's an approach that makes the 86 one of the most enjoyable, engaging sports cars on the market at sensible speeds.

If you plan to spend every weekend at the track, though, stickier rubber is a must.

As with the entire Toyota range, the 86 GTS is furnished with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing happens every nine months or 15,000km, and costs $195 at each of the first four visits, making this a very affordable sports car to maintain.

Unfortunately, it drinks 98RON fuel, which does undermine the whole 'low running costs' point – but on the whole, the 86 is remarkably low maintenance for a sports coupe.

Despite all these good points, there's an issue with this particular 86. The GTS Apollo Blue is expensive for what is essentially a one-trick pony. It's a heart car instead of a head car, but even irrational purchases need to make some degree of financial sense, especially at this end of the market.

The Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI (not to mention the base Hyundai i30 N) are more practical, faster, and nicer to spend time in than the little Toyota.

And when the regular GTS (or even the slightly lower-spec GT) offers similar driving thrills for less cash, it's hard to justify bothering with the top-spec model. It's still brilliant fun, but low-cost motoring thrills are best enjoyed at a sharper starting price.