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2020 Toyota 86 Review: The Cult Car Cometh

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Toyota 86.

In its current form anyways, the Toyota 86 looks to be nearing the end of its run. Reports abound that Toyota is working on a replacement – likely turbocharged – to slot in beneath the GR Supra in the lineup for 2021 as a 2022 model.

So what of this current version? It was much-ballyhooed when it first arrived in Canada as the Scion FR-S, what with its connection to the classic Toyota Levin coupe of the 1980s – a true imagination of a cult classic. We’re a few years down the road now, and with the death of Scion the model flies under the Toyota flag, as it always has in other markets.

The platform is a blueprint for fun motoring, thanks to rear-wheel-drive, a lightweight four-cylinder engine up front and – in my tester, anyway – a 6-speed manual transmission. There are few other vehicles for sale in Canada that espouse the same formula this side of the Mazda MX-5 RF and the 86’s Subaru BRZ cousin (remember that it’s Subaru that supplies 86’s flat-4 “boxer” engine).

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2020 Toyota 86, profile
Photo: D.Heyman
2020 Toyota 86, profile

It's not a big car, though, and lowering oneself in – if you’re of taller ilk, as I am – takes a little bit of finessing; and though both the 85 and MX-5 are somewhat similarly sized (the Mazda is slightly smaller), Mazda owners at least have the option of dropping the top after parking to make entrance and exit easier. You have no such luxury with the 86, so be sure to duck.

Once in, though, the driving position is spot-on; the wheel is a little on the large side but it’s angled just so, making achieving the perfect driver’s seating position that much easier. The gear lever follows suit; it’s a little long on throw, but the gates are precise and I didn’t miss a shift my whole test.

What I really like about the interior is how old-school and simple it feels. There’s a healthy portion of hard plastics here – including in one particular area that I’ll get to in a minute – but I don’t mind that so much here because the case was similar with the 86 from which this car derives so much inspiration. That car was popular because it provided affordable RWD motoring, but to keep costs low, Toyota had no choice but to trim the fat.

2020 Toyota 86, interior
Photo: D.Heyman
2020 Toyota 86, interior

The 86’s infotainment system, meanwhile, looks aftermarket and some would say it looks cheap, but in my view it adds to the charm, and the ultra-basic gauge cluster is a clinic in effective simplicity. There’s just enough of the modern – the fonts, the colours used – to go with how basic it is: tach front and centre, speedo to the left, trip computer to the right, and Bob’s your uncle.

One place where I have trouble overlooking the hard plastic, though, is atop the transmission tunnel behind the shift lever, where typically you’d be resting your right arm. Except you can’t do that here because there’s nowhere to rest it. All there is is a hard cupholder and open storage bin, and that’s no good. Sure, it’s nice that you can slide the cupholder rearwards so rear-seat occupants can use it, but really? You’re not going to be seating many adults back there and I’m not sure how badly the kiddos need a cupholder. You’re telling me they couldn’t find a way to close off that storage bin with at least a plastic cover so you or your passenger could rest their arm there?

2020 Toyota 86, steering wheel, dash
Photo: Toyota
2020 Toyota 86, steering wheel, dash

Seats are manual-adjust, but they are slightly wing-backed and have just enough padding to feel purposeful but comfortable at the same time, and they look like they belong in a sports car.

2020 Toyota 86, passenger seat
Photo: D.Heyman
2020 Toyota 86, passenger seat

Power from the 2.0L flat-four is rated at 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque and while the 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 7+ seconds is not exactly spectacular, the 86 – like the MX-5 – is not really about straight-line speed.

It's more the way the 86 goes about its business when it comes to its powertrain that I take issue with. Being of “boxer” ilk, the engine’s report is on the harsh side, to the point where the 86 really feels like it’s working quite hard when forward progress suggests otherwise. As a comparison, the MX-5 goes about its business in a much more refined manner.

I do love the 86’s transmission, though. Which is a good thing, because with only about 200 horses on hand, I did find myself having to shift regularly to keep things on boil when really pushing it through one of my favourite bendy backroads. You have to work it to get the power down, but the lever and clutch action is such that it’s a pleasure to do so.

The steering is another feather in the 86’s cap; I had to double- and triple- check that it was an electronic power steering set-up (which it is) as opposed to an hydraulic one, because the weight and feel are so spot-on that you’d swear it was an old-school hydraulic system.

2020 Toyota 86, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2020 Toyota 86, three-quarters rear

It should come as no surprise, then, that the chassis response on turn-in is immediate and precise, the (surprisingly long) hood following along gamely and the rear-end nicely after it in perfectly linear fashion. I’ve seen some complaints online that the 86’s 53-percent front/47-percent rear weight distribution is an issue, but I have a feeling that would only really be bothersome on a track. That’s worth noting because 86 owners do track their cars, but it’s hardly an everyday issue far as I’m concerned.

I’m just glad they finally did away from the crappy Prius-spec tires they used to stick on the 86 and installed some proper Michelin Pilot Sport rubber. The increased levels of grip with no boost in power to go along with it means you’ll have a hard time swinging that tail out, but again: no big deal anywhere but at the track.    

It's a fun car, this. Would I have it over an MX-5? Probably not, but I think that’s more of an image thing, in that the 86 is more of a cult classic, while the MX-5 is more of a classic classic. Plus I don’t really prescribe to the Gran Turismo/Initial D crowd that swoons over the 86. That being said, the 86 is smile-inducing and at the end of the day, that’s what cars like this are all about.

2020 Toyota 86, spoiler
Photo: D.Heyman
2020 Toyota 86, spoiler

We like

Fantastic steering
Good looks
Cult status
We like less

Interior ergonomic issues
Harsh engine attitude
Lame infotainment

The competition

Chevrolet Camaro 1LS coupe
Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Mazda MX-5 RF
Volkswagen Golf GTI

Road Tests and Reviews

2020 Toyota 86
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