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Car reviews - Toyota - 86 - GT

Our Opinion

We like
Sachs suspension delivers winning blend of ride and handling, superb steering and ESC, lovely gearshift, great value for money
Room for improvement
Engine needs to be caned to deliver, lacks latest active safety and connectivity features, sparse GT cabin

After six years, Toyota’s 86 GT Performance Pack could deliver its best performance yet.

Toyota logo28 Nov 2018

Overview

 

THEY say competition improves the breed, but in the case of the Toyota 86 there has been little need to rush through substantial change in the six years since it launched.

Sure, the Ford Mustang has since toppled it on the sales charts, and the Mazda MX-5 switched to a new generation along with an accompanying price drop, but neither are really true competitors for this compact coupe.

 

Like a slow-drip tap, then, the natural tick of time has slowly brought greater changes culminating in this GT Performance Package that lobbed late last year. It followed the 2016 mid-life facelift of the Toyota (and Subaru BRZ) sportscar that delivered a small lift in cabin quality, a minor power hike, a stronger body, softer suspension and a new electronic stability control (ESC).

 

Such tweaks made for an incrementally better rear-wheel drive, two-door model, but now the 86 Performance Pack makes its greatest step forward in value-for-money terms since this generation lobbed back in 2012 for a scarcely believable $30K plus on-road costs.

 

The ‘PP’ brings with it 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), Brembo brakes and Sachs suspension that were previously reserved for a $40K-plus limited-edition model grade available only in searing orange paint. Now, the mechanical upgrades are served up for less than before. Much less, in fact.

 

Price and equipment

 

The 86 GT is now priced from $31,440 plus on-road costs, an increase of $650 – as of December 2017 – owing to the addition of satellite navigation with ToyotaLink internet apps connectivity. Meanwhile this Performance Pack adds another $2900 to the pricetag, at $34,340 all told.

 

Considering that its near-twin Subaru BRZ costs $33,990 in standard form without the Sachs/Brembo upgrade, but with a higher level of standard kit, the value of this 86 GT Performance Pack is especially obvious to enthusiasts focused more on driver controls than climate controls.

 

Speaking of which, the 86 GT continues with manual air-conditioning controls shared with a Yaris and HiAce, versus the dual-zone climate control in the BRZ, while that model’s keyless auto-entry and push-button start have been flicked for a single key to twist-and-turn here. The Subaru lacks integrated nav, but it exclusively gets Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity missing here.

 

It should also be mentioned that Toyota offers the 86 GTS for $36,640 with all of its near-twin’s equipment except CarPlay/A-Auto, while it further adds part-leather trim with heated front seats. The Performance Pack can also be added for $2200 – making for a fully loaded $38,840 86 GTS.

 

Interior


Best not to focus on touchy feely detail with the 86 GT’s cabin, simply because the search for anything will be fruitless. In addition to the equipment additions listed above, the BRZ and 86 GTS demonstrably lift the cabin ambience of this entry model grade via the application of chrome doorhandles, fake carbon-fibre trim on the centre console, and suede across the dashboard and doors.

 

With a glass-half-full perspective, this Toyota feels like a blank canvas inside, refreshingly without glitz and glamour yet with several driver delights. The front seats are superbly positioned, low and deep in the cockpit, while they are also nicely bolstered and comfortable.

 

The little leather-wrapped steering wheel is fantastic to hold, while there are proper door grabs, a digital speedometer and simple ergonomics that in some ways reduce the need for driver aids that could be considered compensation for the driver distraction of myriad buttons and features.

The 6.1-inch touchscreen has also thankfully since been updated over even the facelifted 86, with higher screen resolution and greater menu intuition. It is still basic, but is now average rather than poor.

 

Meanwhile, and unlike with a two-seat MX-5, there are usable twin back seats that offer a nicely tilted base and are ideal for children. Despite the 86 being physically smaller than a Mustang, the difference in legroom and headroom is also minimal.

Add a competitive boot volume, complete with a fold-down rear backrest, and the GT Performance Pack is decently and surprisingly practical.

 

Engine and transmission

 

The FA20-generation 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder is a hybrid, but not in the usual Toyota way. Instead it takes that car-maker’s direct-injection design and melds it with Subaru’s horizontally opposed ‘flat’ configuration to create … well, a controversial engine.

 

Almost as though ‘Toyobaru’ engineers have thrived on the hullabaloo surrounding this petrol engine, it has virtually been left untouched over six years.

Power has been boosted from 147kW to 152kW at 7000rpm, and from 205Nm to 212Nm over a 200rpm-longer 6400rpm to 6800rpm band. But, even then, only for the six-speed manual and not the $2200-optional six-speed automatic.

 

Delivering only 12Nm more torque than a $19,490 Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline, but right up in the high heavens of the rev band, and installed in a coupe with a 1243kg kerb weight, also creates drivability issues.

Indeed, the 86 GT Performance Pack feels hollow anywhere in the first half of the rev range, accompanied by a hardly inspiring low-pitch drone.

 

On the flipside, the superb shift of the tested manual does help keep this ‘boxer’ fighting, and anywhere above 5000rpm until 7800rpm it develops a sweet single-pitch shrill accompanied by energetic – if not fast – performance.

That it also requires premium unleaded to deliver such a narrow performance band only throws petrol onto the fire that rages within some drivers who demand more urge. That said, on-test this enthusiastically-spurred Toyota slurped 10.0 litres per 100 kilometres, not far beyond its (admittedly average) 8.4L/100km claim.

 

Ride and handling

 

The 86 does not necessarily need more power, but it arguably should weigh less. Although smaller, and a roadster, an MX-5 with an identically-sized engine has a 1033kg kerb weight that helps liberate its performance. But while this Toyota never feels as light on its feet as that Mazda, it does feel more seriously focused.

Where its Japanese rival is all about playful, chuckable fun, the Sachs dampers of this GT Performance Pack deliver an incredible bandwidth that is simply unmatched. There is firm, but comfortable compliance across any road surface, teamed with a level of tight control that helps this coupe feel keyed-in and buttoned down.

It simply feels like a regular 86 GT, but with a hand from above holding it more tightly in place at all times, especially when turning into bends and powering out of them where both the point-in and lateral recovery phases of cornering are more controlled. Plus, it is all backed up by excellent brakes (now with 326mm front/316mm rear discs that are up from 227mm/286mm) and a subtle ESC.

And, finally, there is the steering, which has been and continues to be a high watermark for this coupe. Smooth, sharp, consistent and feelsome, it caps off a near-flawless dynamic repertoire.

Safety and servicing

Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection), ABS and switchable electronic stability control (ESC) and a reversing camera are included as standard in the Toyota 86.

Toyota’s sportscar scored five stars with 34.40 out of 37 points when it was put through the Australasian New Car Assessment Program crash testing in 2012.

Toyota’s capped-price servicing plan costs an extremely affordable $180 for each of the first four nine-month or 15,000km dealer check-ups.

Verdict

The Toyota 86 continues to be at its most compelling as a sub-$35K model grade far away from fancier and more expensive sportscars including hot hatchbacks. And in the six years since it launched, the 86 GT Performance Pack is now absolutely the best-driving version as well as becoming the most compelling value for money offering of all Toyota and Subaru model grades.

Equally, however, a buyer may not like the awfully basic cabin of the GT, and in that sense the GTS will be worth the extra spend – but at almost $39K with the Performance Pack, it is quite the ask.

Time has also certainly not been kind to this engine, which delivers decidedly inferior drivability and performance compared with its closest rival, the similarly priced MX-5. Only personal preference can decide whether the Mazda’s frisky and fun handling flavour trumps that offered here, but be in no doubt that the steering and suspension of this coupe are more intensely focused.

It is so close that even this tester would have to flip a coin between them, but this mirror-to-mirror rivalry can only be a good thing for the next-generation Toyota 86 anyway. After all, you know what they say about competition improving the breed…

Rivals

Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre from $41,960 plus on-road costs
More laugh-out-loud fun than almost anything, and quicker than the 86 – but also less focused.

Subaru BRZ from $33,990 plus on-road costs
The pick for value versus cabin class and connectivity, but sans cheap Performance Pack upgrade.


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