Reader Review: 2017 Toyota 86
Toyota’s light and fun 86 transports Calgarian to his Celica days
Years ago, Gary Rokosh learned to drive using his dad’s Ford Country Squire station wagon.
Immediately after, with money earned working in the restaurant industry, he bought a used 1976 Toyota Celica. It was certainly smaller and more agile than the Country Squire, and offered greater performance with much less horsepower.
“I’m taken back to that earlier car with this Toyota 86,” Rokosh says of his week driving around Calgary in a 2017 Toyota 86 equipped with a sixspeed manual transmission. “I use my cars mainly for commuting yearround, and tend to keep them small yet interesting.”
Rokosh drives a 2008 BMW M3 and a 2016 Ford F-350, which he uses for towing a travel trailer. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, also ride motorcycles; Rokosh rides a Harley-Davidson Road Glide, while she pilots a Moto Guzzi.
“If I had a preconceived notion going into this test, it was that I’d be driving a car somewhat modest on horsepower [but that] would handle well and be fun to drive,” Rokosh says.
According to Toyota, the 86 heralds the return of the sports car to the automaker’s lineup, thanks to its rear-wheel-drive architecture, improved aerodynamics, and re-calibrated stability control, now with a Track Mode setting. The 86 comes from the demise of the Scion brand, as it’s simply a freshened FR-S with new front and rear fascias.
The 86 continues to be built alongside the nearly identical Subaru BRZ. In fact, Subaru builds the 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder engine found in the 86, where it makes 205 hp and 156 pound-feet of torque. Both the BRZ and 86 can be had with a sixspeed manual or automatic transmission, although engine output drops to 200 hp and 151 lb-ft with the automatic.
“I’d read quite a bit and had seen pictures of the 86, but I was struck at how low it is when you get up close to it,” Rokosh says of his first impression of the $31,398 coupe. His tester was finished in a colour Toyota calls Ablaze, while the interior was black fabric.
“The hood was really low and it had a classic silhouette, but I do think it could use a little more tire to help fill the wheel wells,” he adds. Toyota does offer optional 18-inch alloy wheels as a TRD accessory.
Inside, Rokosh liked the instrument cluster with a large tachometer front and centre, and fuel-level and water temperature gauges to the right. An analog speedometer sits to the left, but Rokosh found the digital readout placed within in the tach easier to use.
Although a low car, neither Rokosh nor Mary Ellen had difficulty getting into the front bucket seats. He says the seats were comfortable for short jaunts but he worried about how cosy they’d be on longer journeys. With their manual controls, the seats were easily adjusted, and Rokosh, who is just over six feet tall, fit with ease.
“I wouldn’t buy the car for its electronics,” he says. “But the centre information screen in the console looked like too much of an afterthought. I think a better job could have been done there.”
Both the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob felt comfortable in his hands, and the shifter offered direct, short throws.
“There’s adequate horsepower there and it gets the job done with the gearing they’ve got backing it up,” Rokosh says of the boxer engine. “It was zippy in the first three gears and it went well out on the highway. There was a bit of tire noise, but wind noise wasn’t noticeable.” In his opinion, Toyota “nailed” the ride in the 86.
“The suspension was the highlight of the car for me,” he says. “It felt like a high-end system, and the body was really solid, without any squeaks or rattles.”
This was only Rokosh’s second experience with electric steering, and he didn’t even know the car was so equipped until his third day behind the wheel.
“Handling felt very direct, and it’s such a light car it changes direction very easily,” he explains. “The brakes were good; there was never any indication that there would be a lack of braking power when you needed it.”
Overall visibility for shoulder checks and parking-lot routines was good, but the rear-view camera did come in handy when backing into a stall. Rokosh was not convinced the rear seats would be entirely useful for hauling around passengers, unless they were relatively short. With the rear seatback folded forward, the car became much more utilitarian, able to carry two sets of golf clubs and a few bags for a weekend getaway.
“This car best suits the kind of person I was in university,” Rokosh says, “somebody looking for something smaller with rear-wheel drive and nimble handling.
“It’s a very enjoyable car if you’re not looking for high-performance turbo power, and the outstanding elements for me were the suspension and handling,” he concludes. “It’s very fun to drive.”
Day 1: First impressions — nice looking car; the designers did a great job. Inside, everything looks reasonably high quality with the glaring exception of the infotainment. Looks like an afterthought, like they sourced an aftermarket head unit just before the production lines began to roll. Throttle is set up to be aggressive on the first few centimetres of travel. Drove home mainly freeway; no trouble keeping up with traffic off the lights. Short gears and aggressive throttle make it seem quick. Very solid-feeling car.
Day 2: Light traffic into downtown. Very confident ride with good straight-line stability. Fun to shift up and down with traffic flow, but clutch work a bit tricky with the aggressive throttle from a stop. Engine has good power, torque comes in fairly low, but I wish it sounded better; not great music from the dual exhaust. Dropped the back seat that opens up into a nice flat cargo space.
Day 3: Run to the airport. Really enjoying the great handling and lots of fun in the turns. Steering is very direct; forgot how good a relatively light car feels in the handling department. Gets up to speed on Deerfoot easily, revs are around 3,800 rpm at 100 km/hr in sixth gear. Easy to turn the traction control on or off with buttons on the centre console. Tight gearbox is a lot of fun to shift and surprisingly quick in the first few gears, considering the modest horsepower. Engine sounds are not exciting; it gets the job done, but there are better sounding four-cylinder engines out there. Very good gearbox, in my opinion.
Day 4: Commute into downtown. After four days with the car, I am enjoying it more each day. This car has far less horsepower than my current car, but I’m being reminded that light weight and a short-ratio gearbox compensates to a large degree, especially at normal city speeds. Put the golf clubs in the back and went to the driving range, easily handles a couple of bags with the back seat folded down. Car is relatively painless to get in and out of, wasn’t an issue. Picked up some groceries on the way home. Plenty of room next to the golf clubs. Day 5: Didn’t drive the car today. Day 6: Commute into downtown. Parked next to an old 1960 Mustang GT 350, a black and gold Hertz edition. Surprising to see how similar they are dimensionally when next to each other. Funny how my perception of the Toyota 86 is a very small car and yet it’s similar to the early Mustang. I think the power is adequate for this car but can’t help thinking another 50 or so horsepower (and torque!) from the Subaru WRX’s 2.0-L turbo-four would really transform it.
Day 7: Really enjoyed my short time with the 86. I love the nimble handling and the fast-shifting gearbox. Seats are good but not great; would probably need to stretch my legs a few times on a longer trip. There is a lot of competition out there with some very good cars around this price point. If you really enjoy driving a nimble, well-built car with rear-wheel drive and are willing to look past the modest horsepower, this car would be a good choice.
Gary Rokosh poses with the 2017 Toyota 86 on Thursday August 10, 2017 in Calgary.