The Toyota 86 goes by many names, all of them alphanumeric. It’s the Subaru BRZ. It once was the Scion FR-S. It may soon be called the GR86. You could affectionately refer to it as the Toyobaru. But whatever you want to call it, the 86 is an affordable sports coupe that technically seats four people.
Like Toyota's halo sports car, the Supra, the 86 is a rebadged offering: it uses a Subaru engine, and Subaru manufactures it. It has a bit more than half the six-cylinder Supra’s horsepower (about 205 hp), and it starts a bit more than half the Supra’s price (around $27,000).
I spent about 24 hours with the more expensive GT trim, which sadly did not have the Hakone Green paint. There’s much to like about the 86: it offers a purist’s dream driving experience, rivaling enthusiast favorites like the Mazda MX-5 Miata; it looks fantastic; and, unlike most track-focused cars, it comes at a very accessible price point.
But the 86 feels dated after an eight-year model run. Comfort-minded features and amenities are lacking. And alternatives like the Volkswagen GTI are far better at comfortably transitioning to real-life driving.
The Toyota 86 is a pure, affordable driver's car
The Toyota 86 is what car people say they want. It’s rear-wheel-drive, has a short-throw six-speed manual and a high-revving, naturally aspirated motor. It’s lightweight and agile, with perfectly weighted steering. It offers almost no electronic nanny features, yet has not one but two buttons for disengaging traction control. If you have some curvy roads available, it’s an absolute hoot.
But driver's cars don't always make the best daily drivers
I drove my wife in the 86 while she was battling pregnancy nausea. That was a mistake. The 86 is jerky and bumpy; the road noise entering the cabin is as unadulterated as the driving experience. There's nothing resembling a chill mode. Thrashing your way through the gearbox gets tiresome when you're heading around the corner to get some milk. Cruising in sixth gear on the highway at nearly 4,000 rpm is just downright unpleasant. If you aren't single and imbued with a masochistic streak, it's hard to make an 86 work.
And yeah, it could use more power
The biggest knock against the Toyota 86 has been its power output. It doesn'tt feel underpowered, given its weight —but a little more low-end oomph from a turbocharger would make a noticeable difference in everyday driving. The 86's looks raise the hackles of every sports car driver around you. And unless you live on a challenging California canyon road, they will blow by you effortlessly. Expect Toyota and Subaru to remedy that with for the next generation.
Car: 2020 Toyota 86 GT
Base Price (Price as Tested): $28,015 ($34,783)
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter inline-four, 6-speed-manual, rear-wheel-drive
Power: 205 hp, 156 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Seats: 4 (theoretically)