Toyota 86: The Best RWD Sports Car for $30,000

The Toyota 86 gets a much needed makeover inside and out along with a few upgrades.

Early last year, Toyota announced that the 86 was going to get a limited special edition called the 860 Special Edition. The number 860 representing the number of each Toyota 86 color built: Supernova Orange and Halo White for grand total of 1720 special editions. Originally, I requested for the base model to review from Toyota. However, when the vehicle arrived at my house, I was welcomed by a gleaming Supernova Orange 860 Special Edition. It was a pleasant surprise and I wasn’t going to complain.

Before taking delivery of the Toyota 86 for the week, it had been a while since I had last been behind the wheel of FR-S uhh I mean 86 (let’s just say ZN6 for all intents and purposes). To be honest I don’t really like the name 86, because it immediately reminds me of the AE86 Corolla/Sprinter/Trueno. All you Initial D and Keiichi Tsuchiya fans know what I’m talking about. Despite what we wish Toyota renamed the FR-S, for now it’s called 86. Luckily, the name doesn’t diminish what the ZN6 can do, especially this particular 860 Special Edition.

Still no turbo in sight, but we’re okay with that.

For the 2017 refreshed/rebranded models as well as the 860 Special Edition, the 4U-GSE (or FA20) received a slight bump in power – 205 horsepower, up 5 ponies from the old FR-S. For whatever reason, the engine power upgrade only applies to 86s equipped with the manual gearbox. Even with the negligible increase in power, the 86 feels more immediate in terms of all out acceleration. The improvement in throttle response can be credited to a shorter final drive ratio. The EPA rates the 860 at 21 MPG city and 28 MPG highway, combining for an average 24 MPG with mixed driving. On longer highway trips, I was able to break into the 30s without a problem.

As always, the 86’s shifter feels buttery smooth while rowing through the gears. Direct and positive, it’s everything you want in a slick shifting gearbox.

For most, the biggest gripe with the 86 is the lack of power coming from the 2.0L flat-four sitting under the hood. Personally for me, it’s not too much of an issue. Sure, the 86 could use an extra 40 horsepower, but does it absolutely need it? I don’t think so. As long as you keep up the revs past the torque dip around 4,000 RPM, you can keep up the momentum and keep up with a lot of higher powered cars on your favorite winding road or race track. Don’t let the numbers on paper fool you, the 86 is a force to be reckoned with. Just not in a straight line. For those feeling like the 86 needs more power, the aftermarket support is flooded with options like supercharger and turbocharger kits. Problem solved.

Handling as sharp as ever.

Having spent some time with the old FR-S/BRZ, handling was never an issue. What I would call the best RWD sports car short of a say a BMW M2 or Porsche Cayman, the performance that the 860 delivers is truly astounding. With revised and springs and dampers, the 86’s ability to attack corners has never been more enjoyable. There are very few cars around this price range that allow you to drive quickly while giving the driver maximum confidence.  The biggest difference compared to the earlier car was that I was able to get on the gas much earlier exiting out of a corner. Brake dive has been reduced and body roll has almost ceases to exist. The Toyota 86 simply makes you want to find any excuse to go out for a spirited drive.

Toyota 86 860

A slightly difference face, but same personality.

What might be the biggest change from the FR-S to the 86 would be the newly designed front fascia which can take some getting used to. I’ve never thought the old FR-S was gorgeous by any means, but I must say that it was a good looking FR (front-engine RWD) sports car. The updated design reinforces that, especially with all the added bits and bobs from this 860 Special Edition. Most notably the hard-not-to-stare Supernova Orange paint on my particular tester.

At first glance, the orange is so bright that sunglasses are almost needed to look at directly. After a couple of days though, my eyes grew accustomed to it and I’ll even go as far to say that I started to like the Supernova Orange. With the two black pin stripes stretching from hood to the trunk lid, flashbacks of the Ferrari F430 Scuderia come to mind. It just works.

Out front, the full LED headlights and foglights are a nice touch that complement the new fascia. With such a radiantly colored exterior, the addition of black chrome wheels really help dial things back a bit and provide the perfect amount of contrast. Moving towards the rear, the 860  receives a small but functional rear wing from the European model. Like it or hate it, I think the wing adds to the extra sporty theme the 860 Special Edition is going with.

Driver focused cockpit: Everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Hopping inside the cabin, not much has changed over the years. Sure, the interior is starting to show its age compared to other competitors, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Why you ask? It’s because the Toyota 86, like the FR-S before it continues to do what matters the most – focusing on driver engagement. At its price range, I honestly can’t think of another car that comes even close to the 86’s perfect driving position. Maybe the Honda Civic Type R? But we’re not here to compare apples to Supernova Oranges after all.

With the body-hugging seats and small diameter steering wheel, the 86 makes sure the driver is ready to attack some corners at a moment’s notice. Not to mention the impeccable pedal placement that makes heel-and-toe downshifting an utter joy. Unlike the base model, the 860 comes with larger 4.2-inch multi-information display, dual-zone climate control, and heated front seats. Not entirely necessary for a driver’s car like this but it’s a nice cherry on top.

As of now, the current 2018 Toyota 86 GT has all the features that the 860 my tester had, minus the bespoke Supernova Orange and Halo White paint jobs with the two black pin stripes. Those of you who have an 860 Special Edition, I would definitely hang on them to due to it’s limited run and rarity. There hasn’t been news of a second generation 86, mainly due to it’s poor selling numbers, but it’s still a car that’s fun to drive and shows that sometimes less is more.

For $30,000, there’s isn’t another RWD sports car that can make you smile as much as the Toyota 86 does. For once, the answer isn’t a Miata. Well, at least until we see how the newly beefed up 2019 model performs with it’s 181 horsepower engine. Possible future head-to-head?

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