Review: 2017 Toyota 86

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Like any sequel to a good movie, the expectations can be unreasonably high but the final result disappointing.

The Matrix for example – a provocative movie questioning the concept of reality – was followed by sequels that became more about Keanu Reeves “acting” and performing fake Kung Fu moves. Likewise the original Robocop, a thought-provoking movie questioning the moral limits of artificial intelligence – became focused on explosions, shitty CG graphics, and the best ways to smash up a Ford Taurus. I mean, it was entertaining….but the plot was lost.

And so we come to the Toyota 86 – the sequel to the Scion FR-S.

The original was brilliant, if flawed, and I was hoping that the new Toyota 86, now freed of Scion’s relentless marketing bullshit about getting hipster haircuts and creating a life style around activities that had nothing to do with cars, would flourish. All I wanted was for the new car to come with a smoother, more linear, better sounding, and rev happy engine….and that is pretty much it.

On the outside, its not a great start – the aggressive yet restrained styling of the original now has the face of an ejaculating shark; the gills on the front look particularly cheap and the 86 hemorrhoid on the front quarter panel looks out of place. The rear taillights look a bit too aftermarket to my taste, and have lost the inspiring crank-shaft design of the original (which admittedly also looked aftermarket). That being said, Toyota have improved a bit on the wheels and have chopped out some of that 4×4 wheel gap ever present on the original.

Rear end treatment highlighted by new tailights and rear diffuser that resembles the old one, except melted.

Rear end treatment highlighted by new tailights and rear diffuser that resembles the old one, except melted. Photo courtesy of Toyota Media USA.

On the inside, Toyota seems to have caved to the mass-market; putting buttons on the steering wheel – heaven forbid you have to wait 1s to change the volume (non-enthusiasts rejoice!). The steering wheel is now wrapped in a softer feeling and I suspect less durable leather, the middle panel has been merged into one, and soft-touch leather flashes on the original have been replaced by a sort of alcantara. The middle portions of the seats have been replaced with what looks like a more durable fabric, but gone is the racy red stitching which brightened an otherwise pretty sober cabin.

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Ah yes. The steering.

The new steering is not good. Some may think it feels “faster”, but in reality the electric power assistance has been bumped up so high that there is no steering feel at all. Previously, bumps would get translated into vibrations into the steering wheel, and allowed you to tell when there was grip and where there wasn’t by the noise you felt through the wheel. With this new steering, there is none of this feedback and as a result, I find it harder to judge the grip limits going into a corner. This is particularly disappointing as I felt the previous steering was very good.

I think a big focus on Part Deux here has been the engine (rightfully so), which cynics will cite only gives the car a 5 horsepower bump. For me however, the issue has never been the horsepower or “lack of torque” but rather the power delivery. I am happy to report that on the new version, this has been in large part fixed, the power delivery being much smoother and tractable than in the original. Except on automatics, which still uses the old FA20 engine and tune – yet another reason to not buy the auto. The engine still has the old sound intake tube as the original, but its vacuum noise generation has been tempered a bit and the car is just less droney and easier to live with.

New engine sports a mild horsepower bump but smoother delivery and torque curve - a welcome upgrade! Sorry Auto drivers, you are screwed with the old engine.

New engine sports a mild horsepower bump but smoother delivery and torque curve – a welcome upgrade! Sorry automatic drivers, you are screwed with the old engine. Photo courtesy of Toyota Media USA.

I remember reading one of the original interviews with Tetsuya Tada (the Chief engineer of the 86) when the original was first launched, and he said he only asked the test drivers how “fun” the car was when they came back after a test drive. Now with Part Deux, this is different – It has now been tuned at the Nurburgring. Which I guess for many this is an impressive brag-to-your-friends tidbit of information, but for me is a point of concern.

When automakers take a perfectly good, fun car and take it to the Nurburgring, it gives the car that bit of extra street-cred. Perhaps it shows how serious the automaker is about track time, perhaps it shows that the car can go fast yet absorb bumps, perhaps it wants to show that even its cheapest sports car has been to a different country – I don’t know. My concern is that it takes a fun, tail-happy car and makes it more neutral with a bigger focus on grip.

And while the tires still are the same-size-Prius-spec Michelin Primacy HPs, there is a noticeable difference in the chassis tuning. Gone is the tail-happy characteristic of the original, now replaced by a rather more neutral stance. Combine that with the lackluster steering and you now have a car that you don’t have as much confidence going into corners, and less fun coming out of them.

In short, the car has been neutered. It has taken a modern car with old-school characteristics, and removed the best parts of the car. Yes, the shifter is less notchy, and yes the engine has been improved, but for me the price paid to have these improvements are not worth the cost. Speaking of cost, the new car is a fair bit more dear than the original too – coming in only one trim level and more expensive than the better looking Subaru BRZ.

To driving enthusiasts – sorry to say, but the plot has been lost.

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