Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Toyota 86 Blackline Edition with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

It's hard to believe, but Toyota's game-changing 86, the Japanese company's throwback sports car, has been with us for over four years. Its arrival, which was so seismic - a rather staid brand producing something so exciting was akin to a politician saying something interesting - seems like yesterday.

Not much has changed in the car that Toyota builds together with Subaru, since but it has continued to generate column inches, most recently in the form of the Shooting Brake Concept shown at the unveiling of the T86RS one-make racer.

It's always nice to visit an old friend to see what's changed, especially given the presence of the updated Mazda MX-5; a similarly pure and rear-wheel-driven small sports car that must make life harder for Toyota's salespeople.

The new special-edition Blackline 86 is a skirts-and-stickers effort to celebrate the aforementioned T86RS, so there's an even better excuse to spend a bit of time with one.

Design

You can't mistake the 86 for anything else on the road, unless you're happy looking at a near-identical Subaru BRZ (which almost nobody buys, partly thanks to Toyota cleverly choking off its availability).

It looks long and low, with the cab pushed back behind a long bonnet that suggests something rather more potent under the bonnet than a 2.0-litre boxer engine with no turbocharging.

Because it's so small, the 17-inch alloys are just the right size.

It's not a big car by any means; in fact at just 4240mm it's 60mm shorter than the tiny Yaris sedan. It's all a trick of proportions and height.

But because it's so small, the 17-inch alloys are just the right size. Everything is small, which also means everything is a bit lighter.

In this Blackline edition, there are some fairly exuberant flourishes, with riotous bits added to the front and rear bumpers (in contrasting black, obviously), a big 'TRD' stamped in the fake rear venturi, a sizeable pair of chromed exhaust outlets and some arguably tasteless stickering here and there.

As with many of the after-market kits available for the 86, these things are clearly subjective, so each to their own. Toyota hasn't had any trouble selling them, so people obviously like them.

The seats are trimmed in black and red alcantara but are, as ever, extremely comfortable and hold you in all the right places as long as you're not too wide. The Blackline Edition adds some faux-carbon fibre bits on the inside that are not as bad as the stuff on the outside.

Most of the materials are either completely unconvincing or very nice indeed (the seats are great, the plastics are not). There's a very unsubtle plug in the side of the steering column where a key barrel used to go and some of the switches are unbelievably cheap to look at and feel while some, like the toggle switches, are cool.

Practicality

The 86 is not a particularly roomy or sensible car. The rear seats are basically useless for anything other than storing helmets (here's your first clue as to what it's for) and the boot takes about two pairs of sneakers before you have to start squishing things in. It's a piffling 218 litres, or about 70 litres smaller than the boot of a Yaris. Fold those rear seats down, however, and things improve slightly. It's a pity you can't just fling them altogether to save a few kilos.

It's not fast, but it is fun.

Up front the headroom is limited once you pass the 180cm mark, but you should otherwise be comfortable with plenty of leg and elbow room. The front seats are very, very comfortable and supportive.

You get two cupholders in the 86, which can be removed from the central console, and the long doors will each take a bottle.

Price and features

The Blackline Edition is based on the top-of-the-range GTS spec, with a price hike of $2000. Standard are 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo with 6.1-inch touchscreen, USB and Bluetooth, satnav, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, cruise control, headlight washers, auto HID headlights, leather steering wheel, limited slip differential, power windows and heated front seats.

Engine and transmission

Toyota has taken the apocryphal Henry Ford approach to engines with the 86 and you can have whatever you like as long as it's a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated, horizontally opposed four cylinder (thank you, Subaru). This modest engine brings 147kW (albeit at a rev-happy 7000rpm) and 205Nm, which arrives not far below the 7000rpm power high. With just 1195kg to move, the six-speed manual transmission helps the 86 to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds, delivering power to the rear wheels, where it belongs. It's not fast, but it is fun.

Fuel consumption

Toyota claims 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle and, as you might imagine, this is fairly unlikely given the point of this car and the way it's intended to be driven. We got 10.4L/100km in exclusively enthusiastic city driving.

The 86 only has a 50-litre tank, restricting its overall range, and it demands premium 98 RON petrol to get the best out of it.

Driving

There's plenty to let you down about the 86 but there's one thing that won't – the driving. (It's worth noting that nobody buys an 86 for the things that are let-downs.)

In many ways, the 86 is a retro machine.

As soon as you're in the low-set driver's seat and you've made yourself comfortable behind the vertical steering wheel and adjusted to the sports pedals, heaven is just a twisty road away.

In many ways, the 86 is a retro machine – the gravelly engine note is deliberately piped into the cabin, the ride is taut and occasionally bouncy and the tyres are so skinny you imagine they were pinched from an MGA (obviously, they're not - they're nicked from a Prius instead).

The engine is a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre boxer (borrowed from Subaru, which, to be fair, did a huge amount of work on this car) and loves to rev. Changing gear is a joy, as are all the perfectly weighted controls and the finely judged, purist steering.

These attributes combine to give you a car you can work hard without getting yourself into strife with the law or the scenery.

It's such a joy that cars like this are still made and that they don't cost the earth.

You can leave the electronics on to keep you roughly straight and narrow, but switch on VSC and things get a lot more interesting. With skinny tyres on 17-inch rims, there's not a lot of grip to work against, so controlled sliding around corners is easy to achieve, although obviously not recommended on public roads.

If you back off from trying to play at being Vin Diesel, you'll still have plenty of fun enjoying the brakes, steering and throttle response. It's such a joy that cars like this are still made and that they don't cost the earth. That's why the interior (especially the Supercheap Auto stereo head unit) is pretty ordinary – the spending has all been done in the bits that matter. It's a car designed entirely to be fun.

Safety

Seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), stability and traction controls, ABS, brake force distribution. The 86 scored a maximum of five ANCAP stars.

Conspicuous by their absence are options like autonomous emergency braking and anything resembling collision mitigation.

Ownership

The 86 has a three-year/100,000km warranty and capped-price servicing covering the first four scheduled services. Each service is capped at $180 and services are due at either 15,000km or nine months, whichever comes first.