This car has an interesting history, from its conception and production as a joint effort with Subaru, to the transformation it has experienced through the years, and even to the pronunciation of the name.
(That’s right, don’t call it the “eighty-six.” It’s the “eight six.”)
When Toyota first approached some of the engineers at Subaru at partnering on the car, they were told no. But after those engineers were allowed a peek at a prototype they decided to come on board.
Now the car is sold around the world under a variety of badges. In the U.S. it’s the 86, in Europe it’s the GT86, and in some Central American countries it’s Fred.
Just kidding. There they call it the FT86.
The goal was to create a fun, sporty ride. They’ve mostly done that.
During my review week with the 86 I walked out of the radio station with my partner on the morning show. When we reached my car I told Jeremy to just keep walking to his own car, because, as I told him, “I don’t want you to hear the noises I make getting into this little car.”
Ha! It’s true. This is a low-slung sports machine, and while my body used to slide into those with no problem, it takes a bit more contorting these days. That, by its very nature, produces embarrassing noises.
The 86 this year comes in three trim levels, the base model simply called the 86, along with an 86 GT and the all-new 86 TRD Special Edition.
If you’re new to the initials, that stands for Toyota Racing Development. Yes, the folks in that department work on the racing machines that compete around the world, but they also help to improve the overall sport performance for their street versions, like the 86.
For the week I was in the TRD, which is a limited-edition series. Toyota only produced about 1,400 of them.
Each of the trims is powered by a 2-liter, 4-cylinder boxer engine that puts out a little over 200 horsepower. All 86s are rear-wheel drive, and they come with a 6-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmission is available, however.
As small as the car is, I didn’t feel overly cramped in the driver’s seat. The front passenger gets decent room, too.
The back seat? Well, I’m not sure how they can even call it that, but I suppose for insurance purposes it helps to have seats back there. It’s more of a place to hold your gym bag and maybe some groceries. Certainly no adult will agree to ride back there.
I’ve heard the interior of the 86 described as “minimalist.” That’s probably fair. It’s not like you’re getting pampered with top-of-the-line materials, and the car won’t drown you in luxurious comfort. But it wasn’t designed for that.
The dash and center stack are laid out well, with everything easy to understand and access. Visibility is good for a car this size.
Storage up front for your gadgets and stuff is quite limited. If you’re coming from a car or SUV with cavernous bins, well, sorry. Trunk space is actually not bad for a small vehicle.
I found the drive to have good points and not-so-good points. Let’s start with the positives.
It’s fun. I especially looked forward to taking the 86 out to some twisty roads, and here it did not disappoint.
Steering and handling are very good, and, as you work that manual shifter, you’ll probably imagine yourself in some Formula 1 race or road rally. Yes, you can get carried away, which is exactly what the engineers were aiming for.
The same can be said for the braking, which, if you’re driving the way I just described, is important. So that’s all good stuff.
Where I felt the 86 came up short was in basic acceleration. As fun as this car can be going around turns, you gotta get up to speed before you can enjoy those. I felt like it struggled. Shifting isn’t the most smooth, either. In fact, in my notes I wrote “choppy.”
You eventually work things out with the car and learn how it best handles the transitions, but that takes some time to acclimate.
I understand Toyota wanting to make this car accessible to the largest audience possible, but I did end up wishing they’d stepped up the tech game just a bit more.
Again, it’s a minimalist setup. You won’t get the most advanced safety features. Even something like the rear-view camera, which we’ve all come to love, is relegated to a tiny section on the rear-view mirror instead of the 7-inch console screen.
I liked the fact that many of the controls, including climate, involved simple knobs and buttons. Way easier than some of the overly-techy hoops that some cars make you jump through.
There is a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity, but, at least in my week of driving, I had to fight with the Bluetooth to hook up with my phone. And there’s no option for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as of right now.
I continually had an issue with the seat belt alarm going off for my passenger . . . and I didn’t have a passenger. No matter what I did I couldn’t convince the car that I was alone. Eventually I just connected the passenger seat belt and pretended to have an invisible friend with me.
Like all things in life, it comes down to what’s most important to you. If you’re looking for lots of luxurious features or high-end tech components, this isn’t your car.
If you’re looking for a fun, sporty ride, especially when curves are involved, this was a blast.
Granted, I wouldn’t personally opt for the multi-colored racing stripe down the sides, but some people think that’s out of this world. Otherwise the overall exterior lines are pretty cool. It’s a handsome ride.
This could be a good first-sports-car for someone, maybe you.
2019 Toyota 86 TRD
6-speed manual transmission (automatic available)
Fuel economy: 21/28/24 combined
As tested: $33,340
Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer