Road TestsClassic CarsInterviewsQ&AAbout/Bio

2017 Toyota 86
The Toyota 86 is for genuine sports car lovers

Prices: $26,255-$26,975

Toyota has dropped its Scion division, so the 2017 Toyota 86 is a slightly improved version of last year's Scion FR-S, partly developed with Subaru.

Why call the new Toyota model the "86?" Because "AE86" was the global name for the hot little Toyota  Corolla GT-S sold here in the mid-1980s. In Japan, it was known as the "hachi-roku," meaning "8-6." Now, that's definitely not a name that would play in America.

"Toyota 86" still seems like a curious name for the U.S. market, but there you have it. Still, what's in a name? The Toyota 86, like the generally applauded Scion FR-S, is a combination of style, performance, handling and affordability that have made it generally popular with sports car enthusiasts.

Compared to the FR-S, The 86 has more aggressive styling with a larger center intake emphasizing the car's low, wide stance. The front has a new design with standard LED front headlights, daytime running lights and turn signals, a new fog lamp bezel and a revised bumper. However, the front end is very low.

The rear has LED tailights and a more sculpted bumper design with an integrated aerodynamic diffuser and two sporty looking exhaust pipe outlets. Alloy wheels have a new "twisted" spoke design.

The quiet interior has a new "Granlux" material used on the instrument panel surround. That material adds a soft feel to door trim. There's also new seating material with silver stitching, also found in the cabin, and a thick, revised steering wheel with integrated audio controls.

Gauges are generally easy to read, although sunlight washes some out. At least there's a large center-mounted tachometer that integrates a digital speedometer. It's flanked on the left by an analog speedometer. Sun visors swivel to the side to block sunlight from driver's eyes.

So far, so good. But this is a very low car with long, heavy doors and a cabin that requires a "fall in-climb out" technique. The front bucket seats offer lots of support, but the tight rear seat is for children or added cargo when the rear seatback is folded forward. Cargo space with the rear seat in its upright position is decent for a small sports car.

My test car's ignition key seemed old-fashioned, compared to a pushbutton starter now found in many cars. But controls were easy to use. The Display Audio features a 7-inch touchscreen display, which integrates the rearview camera and such things as an 8-speaker Pioneer audio system.

The 86 was fairly well-equipped, with such items as air conditioning, power windows, locks and remote keyless entry. 

An optional 86 Display Audio with a navigation system features push-to-talk voice navigation and geo-located points of interest.

Safety features include anti-lock brakes, traction and vehicle stability control and Smart Stop technology. There are numerous air bags and side curtains. Rear seats can accommodate front-facing child seats.

 This car is quick, partly because it's among the lightest sports car sold, at 2,758 pounds. A driver can select a "sport mode," which makes gears change at higher engine r.p.m.s.

The 86's 2-liter aluminum boxer (horizontally opposed pistons) engine from Subaru delivers 205 horsepower, up from 200, for the slick $26,255 six-speed manual transmission version. Horsepower is unchanged at 200 for the responsive six-speed automatic version, which has paddle shifters and lists at $26,975.

I like shifting gears, but found the automatic was a blessing in heavy traffic. The high-revving engine gets noisy during hard acceleration, but delivers estimated fuel economy with the automatic of 24 city and 32 highway. The numbers are 24 and 28 with the manual.

Premium fuel is called for.

The quick electric power steering is almost track-like, with 2.48 turns lock-to-lock. The turning circle is a tight 36.1 feet. Handling is exceptional, and the brake pedal has a linear action. There's revised shock tuning and a spring rate change for enhanced control and more agile performance. 

The 86 has a rear-drive sports car platform with a MacPherson strut front suspension and, notably, a double-wishbone rear suspension.

However, some road imperfections and raised highway expansion strips cause the ride to be too bumpy for comfortable long-distance trips.

Still, recalling some classic sports cars I've owned, an occasional bumpy ride was just part of the deal.