Eight years into its life and now living in the shadow of the Supra, the Toyota 86 should be feeling a bit long in the tooth. Yet its classic sports car construction, modular (yet basic) technology and pure driving feel have kept this compact feeling fairly fresh nearly a decade on.
- Fantastic chassis dynamics and handling
- Some of the best driving ergonomics in the business
- Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard tech
- Hakone Edition looks gorgeous with metallic green paint, black and tan leather interior
- Underpowered, even more so with the automatic transmission
- Terrible rear-view camera system feels like an afterthought
The 2020 model year brings a few new options and upgrades to the Toyota 86 aimed at keeping the coupe interesting for buyers and relevant among its evolving competition. There’s new tech, a new performance package and a mean, green Hakone Edition, too.
New for 2020
Enthusiasts looking for a turn-key performance boost gain access to a new TRD Handling Package that swaps in Brembo stopping gear — with four-piston, 12.8-inch discs up front and two-pot, 12.4-inch discs at the rear — firmer Sachs dampers and 18-inch alloy shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. The TRD kit can be had on either the base 86 where it’s a $2,320 upgrade, or the 86 GT for $1,270 since that trim already comes with the larger wheels and tires as standard.
However, the TRD option is incompatible with the automatic transmission option as well as the Hakone Edition. Since my example checks both of those boxes, I have to do without.
A performance upgrade of the tech variety is a new 7-inch infotainment system tucked into the dashboard. It’s a pretty basic setup — only about as good as a low-end aftermarket receiver — but its standardand connectivity still place it head-and-shoulders above the frankly disposable previous-generation tech.
2020 also brings a standard rear camera to the party, but Toyota has chosen the most bone-headed way to go about implementing the tech. Rather than using the big ol’ 7-inch screen to display the feed, the 86 integrates a tiny 2-inch display into the rear-view mirror. Between the tiny footprint and the low-quality display that’s easily washed out by daylight, the 86 may as well not even have a backup camera. It’s that bad.
Drivers looking for something a bit more cutting edge can still do a lot better in the aftermarket — the standard double DIN receiver makes it easy to swap in a sharper screen, onboard navigation or a rear camera system with a larger display. Then again, if you can live with smartphone-connected apps and don’t care about the rear camera, a USB cable is all you really need.
A simple sports car
Mechanically and dynamically, the 86 hasn’t changed much since I last found myself behind the wheel. The 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder engine makes 205 horsepower and a meager 156 pound-feet of torque when mated with the six-speed manual transmission. When equipped with the six-speed automatic like my example, output drops to 200 ponies and 151 pound-feet.
The automatic gearbox isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly not the ideal way to experience the 86. Around town, the shifts come early and lazily. But weirdly, the harder you flog it, the better the slushbox gets. At higher revs, the 86’s shift programming is crisper, more aggressive and quite competent. Meanwhile, the paddle-selected shifts are satisfyingly quick with the car set to its sportiest drive mode. Still, I prefer the more engaging manual transmission, not to mention the smidge of extra oomph that comes with it.
Whether you opt for the superior manual or the serviceable automatic, the rear-wheel-drive 86 comes standard with a Torsen limited-slip differential, which does a great job putting power down through bends and helping retain control when coaxing the rear end into a drift. The 86 is more than happy to wiggle its tail when asked, despite being a bit underpowered. Like the, this is what you’d call an inertia car — where going fast means carrying speed through a turn, rather than pouring on power in the straights.
Helping to maintain that inertia through corner after corner and granting the driver almost telepathic control is a fantastic sport-tuned suspension and a lightweight, low-slung chassis. Also like the Miata, the 86 may not be the fastest car ’round a circuit or up a hill climb, but its connection with the road and engaging ride make it feel downright heroic when driven with zest.
I can’t say enough about how subtly good the 86’s ergonomics are. The seating position is one of the best in the business; the wheel, shifter and even the door-pocket cup holders all fall perfectly to hand once you’ve adjusted the 86’s buckets. The seats are comfortable but also extremely supportive in the corners, and I never find myself bracing a knee against the door or console during aggressive cornering.
The 2020 Hakone Edition is named after the Hakone turnpike — a famously twisty driving road southwest of Tokyo that some have called Japan’s Nurburgring. The Nurburgring is sometimes called The Green Hell, but to me, the Hakone is a slice of green heaven, bathed in a special metallic green paint and riding on 17-inch bronze alloy wheels.
Inside, you’ll find sport bucket seats trimmed with tan leather with grippy black Alcantara inserts. The black-and-tan color scheme continues to the dash treatment, center console, parking brake and — for examples equipped with a manual gearbox — the shifter boot. Rounding out the special edition goodies are the tan leather key glove and owner’s folio and a “86” embossed and stitched trunk mat.
Beyond these specifics, the Hakone is essentially a Toyota 86 GT trim in a unique color with 17-inch wheels instead of the GT’s 18s. That means it also gets the GT upgrades, including smart keyless entry, heated seats, dual-zone climate control and more. The bottom line also ends up about $40 cheaper than the GT — coming to $29,865 with the manual or $31,585 with an automatic transmission, including a $995 destination charge.
Price and competition
The Hakone green hue and the black-and-tan leather interior are certainly nice, but I think I’d go with the base 2020 Toyota 86 trim, which starts at $28,055 including destination. Obviously, I’d go with the the manual transmission and you should, too. With great feel and low power, this would be a fantastic car to learn on if you can’t yet drive a stick.
The upgrade to the GT trim level or the TRD Handling package would be tempting — you should definitely consider them for the creature comforts and improved grip — but so much of the 86’s appeal for me would finding my own wheel-and-tire combo or upgrading the brakes and dampers myself, so I’d roll off of the lot in a fairly bare-bones example and save my money for mods.
In this price range, the 86 has to contend with the nimble Honda Civic Si, the powerful Volkswagen GTI and the unhinged Hyundai Veloster N, all of which are potent, front-wheel-drive street and track performers. However, its closest rear-drive rival is the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
If I didn’t already own a Miata —— I’d be seriously considering an 86 as my daily driver (or a nearly identical Subaru BRZ). The 86’s back seat and more spacious trunk make it a slightly more practical choice than the Miata without much compromise to outright performance. On the other hand, the latest iteration of Mazda’s roadster feels like a more refined product out of the box with a more honed and focused driving character and a nicer interior.
Sure, the 86 leaves a bit of performance on the table — meatier tires would be nice and I certainly wouldn’t say no to a turbocharger — but it’s easy to see from the driver’s seat that the Toyota has great bones. From the weight balance and suspension geometry to the powertrain layout and ergonomics, the 86 nails those aspects of sporty driving that aren’t easily fixed with simple bolt-ons. It’s a diamond in the rough, perfect for those of us who enjoy adding that last bit of polish.