Needs more ticker

Sleek coupe re­mains a load of fun but the en­gine is due for an up­date, says Bill McKin­non

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test -

COUPES glow hot­ter than the sun for five min­utes af­ter launch, then they’re for­got­ten when the next must-have pretty thing comes along. A for­mer Holden mar­ket­ing boss, asked about the 2004 Monaro, put it this way: “Coupes are like ra­dioac­tive iso­topes. They only have a half life.”

In 2013, its first full year on the mar­ket, Toy­ota’s 86 blitzed the class with 6706 sales; in 2016, it did fewer than one third of that. The rock star coupe du jour is the Mus­tang.

De­spite teas­ing the mar­ket with con­cepts such as the 2013 open top road­ster, the re­cent Aus­tralian­designed Shoot­ing Brake hatch and ru­mours of a 2.0-litre tur­bocharged WRX-pow­ered ver­sion, Toy­ota has lim­ited devel­op­ment of the 86 to a mid2014 sus­pen­sion fid­dle, a fac­to­ry­backed race series pro­mo­tion and, just re­leased, a sub­tle yet sub­stan­tial up­date for the 2017 model.

We’re test­ing the big­gest seller, the GTS man­ual, priced at $36,490.


The 86’s pro­file is pure coupe, time­less and clas­si­cal­lypro­por­tioned, so it’s been left alone; mi­nor front and rear end changes im­prove aero­dy­nam­ics and give the car a more hun­kered stance. GTS gets a small rear-wing spoiler and new 17-inch al­loys.

Subaru’s 2.0-litre four-cylin­der en­gine has been ex­ten­sively mod­i­fied, with new pis­tons, more ef­fi­cient plumb­ing and a stiffer block, yet it gains just 5kW of power, now 152kW, but only in the man­ual ver­sion. Au­to­mat­ics make do with 147kW.

Grunt — oth­er­wise known as torque — is up by seven New­tons but still in des­per­ately short sup­ply (212Nm) com­pared with a turbo donk and avail­able only at a strato­spheric 6400rpm.

The car feels a touch more toey, though, es­pe­cially in the lower gears, largely be­cause of a shorter fi­nal drive ra­tio. Drift kings — early and en­thu­si­as­tic 86 adopters — will re­joice in lap timer, G-force, power and torque me­ters, plus the pro­vi­sion of a switch­able Track mode, which al­lows the sort of tai­lout shenani­gans that will get you locked up for life in Vic­to­ria.

I thought Toy­ota had the sus­pen­sion spot-on with the orig­i­nal 86; its en­gi­neers ob­vi­ously didn’t be­cause they have twice tweaked it, by such fine in­cre­ments it’s dif­fi­cult to dis­cern sig­nif­i­cant changes to ride or han­dling this side of a race­track.

The body is stiff­ened with ad­di­tional spot welds, and a thicker rear sta­biliser bar, to im­prove turn-in re­spon­sive­ness, pre­ci­sion and sta­bil­ity.


In­side, the 2017 86 is less boy racer and more gen­tle­man’s GT, with more so­phis­ti­cated in­stru­men­ta­tion, sub­tle fake suede dash trim and au­dio and trip com­puter switches on the tiny new steer­ing wheel, which also gains an 86 badge.

Twelve o’clock on the tacho now reads 7000rpm be­cause 86 own­ers know that’s where they need to point the nee­dle.

Around town, short, closely spaced in­ter­me­di­ate gears and a re­spon­sive ac­cel­er­a­tor dis­guise the en­gine’s lack of pulling power in the bot­tom half of the rev range.

It takes a lit­tle while to mas­ter clean launches: the short throw clutch has a nar­row band of en­gage­ment and if you don’t have enough revs on board, the car will stall. So a hill holder is now stan­dard. Oth­er­wise, the GTS is an easy, en­joy­able drive in traf­fic, with good vi­sion for a coupe, a sur­pris­ingly for­giv­ing low-speed ride, light steer­ing and a use­ful boot.

Less im­pres­sive is a gear­box that doesn’t quite shift as smoothly or will­ingly as it should, man­dated pre­mium 98 oc­tane fuel and a thirst that can reach 13L/100km if you’re a bit vig­or­ous. You would only put your en­e­mies in the back seat, too.


Few cars at any price han­dle with the agility, poise and bal­ance of an 86. It’s a feath­er­weight (1218kg) rear-wheel drive with a tight body, ra­zor-sharp steer­ing and im­mac­u­lately-con­trolled sus­pen­sion, so the ba­sics have been done right and on the road you can feel the qual­ity and depth of engi­neer­ing skill that has gone into it. At the price, it’s re­mark­able.

Miche­lin Premacy tyres are its only dy­namic flaw. They start slip­ping early. Some 86 own­ers prob­a­bly think that’s a plus. One journo hy­per­ven­ti­lated that the 86 is bet­ter than a Porsche Cay­man. It isn’t, but with a de­cent en­gine it would be in with a chance.

Time and tech­nol­ogy haven’t been kind to the 2.0-litre boxer, which feels and sounds laboured and un­re­spon­sive un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion and at the top end; be­low 4500rpm, it’s spec­tac­u­larly gut­less.

This is sup­posed to be a sports car, af­ter all, and in 2017 the Subaru en­gine doesn’t cut it. More power isn’t the an­swer. Strong, ac­ces­si­ble grunt is. What it needs is a turbo.

Drive a hot­tish force-fed hatch — a Fo­cus ST, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Mini Cooper S, VW Golf GTI or a Subaru WRX — and you’ll see what’s miss­ing in the 86.


The 86 stunned us all in 2012 and still does when you aim it at a series of cor­ners, which it waltzes through with ridicu­lous ease and amaz­ing grace. You can’t ar­gue with the price, ei­ther. In 2017, though, it’s let down by an en­gine which has fallen way off the pace.

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