Tim Robson road tests and reviews the new Toyota 86 GTS automatic with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
When it launched back in 2012 – hell, when it was rumoured five years previous to that – the car world fell in love with the idea of the Toyota 86.
What was not to love? The most conservative giant in the automotive industry had produced a small, cute, affordable sports car. With rear-wheel drive! And great steering! It was a revelation not just for those who loved cars, but for the industry as a whole. The fun car still had a place.
You see, cars like the 86 don’t make the company a great deal of money, and if it wasn’t for the concerted efforts of Toyota’s top man, Akio Toyoda, the 86 would never have seen the light of day.
As it is, the company can sell more Corollas in Australia in a month than the 86 managed for the whole of 2016.
Five years on, though… and the game has changed. Or, more to the point, the 86 hasn’t really changed all that much since the heady days of 2012. Other makers like Ford and Mazda have put out small, affordable cars that are just as much fun, so is the 86 still as relevant today as it was five years ago?
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
The GTS auto as tested costs $38,790, a jump of $300 over the old car. For that you get a 2.0-litre petrol engine, six-speed auto transmission, auto lights and wipers, a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen multimedia system with satellite navigation and wireless streaming, six speakers, leather and Alcantara seat trim, and 17-inch rims.
The GTS also gets heated seats and LED headlights and taillights.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
The whole ethos around the 86 – which is built in collaboration with Subaru and is all but identical to the BRZ – is the idea that aftermarket modifiers could take the 86’s blank canvas and do their own thing.
The small, swoopy two-door still looks fresh and unusual enough to turn heads, and even though the changes are basic, it’s possible to tell the facelifted car apart from the first gen machine.
In terms of external design, Toyota has tweaked the front and rear bars, and added turner-like LED head and tail-lights, along with a new alloy rear wing and 17-inch rims on our GTS tester.
One small, nerdy thing; the 86 badge has also moved from the front guard vent to the guard itself – which (to me, at least) suggests Toyota is looking at ways to keep costs down. It’s cheaper and faster, after all, to send all your bodyshells down the line with one type of vent, not two…
Inside, the changes are very minor, with a tiny new steering wheel – claimed to be the smallest ever fitted to a production Toyota – and suede-like dashpad and door card trim.
How practical is the space inside? 5/10
Even though the 86 is a two plus two seater, the diminutive coupe is best left to the front seat passengers.
With the front seats in position for even average height drivers and passengers, all pretence of legroom disappears completely, even for kids, and headroom is also virtually non-existent, thanks to the low roof.
There are ISOFIX mounts for kid’s seats if you really need them, though; just be wary of the one-piece back not latching back in place on both locks. We struggled with our test version.
The low roofline only works up front because the 86 has the lowest hip point – the point where your hips are closest to the ground – of any Toyota ever made. If you struggle to bend, you’ll soon tire of clambering in and out.
It’s a simple affair inside, with an absolute minimum of bells and whistles. Toyota’s own 6.1-inch colour multimedia touchscreen does the business, though its graphics are ageing and there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on offer.
The tiny boot is rated at just 237 litres, but drop the one-piece seat back and you can fit four wheels and tyres in the space. It’s an intentional dimensional reference; Toyota designed this car for a younger buyer who wanted to take the 86 to a track and use stickier rubber, before bolting the road tyres back on to go home again.
There are two cupholders up front in an awkwardly designed removable tray, and none in the rear. A bottle will fit in each of the 86’s door cards.
The driver’s position is low, and the tiny 362mm wheel falls easily to hand. The six-speed auto can be overridden via metal paddles behind the steering wheel, and fall easily to hand.
The 86 requires 98RON fuel, and its 50-litre tank gives it a theoretical range of 700km.
What's it like to drive? 5/10
I’ll put my hand up here and confess that I absolutely loved the 86 when it launched in 2012, and I wouldn’t hear a word said against it. I loved its steering feel, the way it rode bumps and the way it made the most of a modest power input.
The changes made to the 2017 version of the car should only have made those attributes even more acute… but they haven’t.
Springs and shocks have been tweaked, the front anti-roll bar is different, there’s extra steel in the bodyshell, additional spot welds throughout the body, and the traction control system has been retuned for more fun. So what’s happened to my 86?
In two words? Too soft. The precision of the first car has been chased out by Toyota’s desire to remove the stiffer ride of the first generation tune – a desire that’s backed by the fact that a whole different group of people have been attracted to the car.
Instead of young and young-at-heart enthusiasts, the 86 is seen as a new Celica – a small, easy to drive Toyota that’s a bit more interesting than a Corolla or a Camry. Those customers don’t care about polar moments of inertia – they want a comfortable ride.
They’ve got it; the second gen 86 is a lot softer in the rear, and despite stiffer front springs, it feels more compliant there as well. The edge has gone from the steering, too, which really shouldn’t happen in a rear driver.
Using a more sporting tyre than the Michelin Premacy HPs fitted to the car could cure some of the ills - but it won’t be enough.
As well, the changes made to the engine have made it sound awful in the cabin. Seriously, it’s just a racket of induction whine and off-kilter drone made 10 times worse by an inexplicably poor auto transmission, which lacks any kind of precision and slurs its shifts even in manual mode.
What happened to my 86?
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / 100,000 km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 6/10
The 86 comes standard with seven airbags, switchable traction and stability control and electronic brake force distribution, but no driver aid systems like AEB.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 6/10
The 86 offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, and capped-price servicing covers the first four scheduled services.
Each of those services is set at $180 and are due at either 15,000km or nine months, whichever comes first.
It’s best not to skip services on the 86 – the unusual layout of the flat four engine’s pistons means that residual oil build-up can shorten the engine’s life if the oil isn’t changed as specified.
In 2012, the Toyota 86 was the king of affordable sports cars. In 2017, reality has set in. Up against a renewed challenge from the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 and from others like the Ford Fiesta ST, the 86 is no longer in the same league.
And Toyota’s hands are tied with the car. Its biggest markets are Japan, the UK and Australia – it hasn’t fired in the US or Europe, so interest in building the cult of 86 - via turbocharged versions or stripped-out track day specials - is minimal at best.
For the enthusiast looking for a pure backroad plaything that can do the commute to work, the 86 no longer really works; it’s too compromised as a daily driver but it no longer offers the same visceral thrills it once did.
I’m actually a bit heartbroken.
Do you share Robbo's Toyota 86 pain? Tell us what you think in the comments below.