Scion may be about as lifeless as a yellowfin tuna in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, but a number of its more promising creations are receiving a second chance under the Toyota brand. This includes, at center stage, the 86 (née FR-S); while we had mixed feelings over the rear-wheel drive coupe earlier this year, it did show great potential, and since Toyota has opted to give the car some notable updates, we feel it might be time for a revisit.
The model we got to test had been thoroughly outfitted with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) goods, causing the freshly released coupe to tear up the twisty mountain roads north of Los Angeles. This may come as a bit of a shock to some, as many performance enthusiasts released a collective groan of disappointment when it was announced that the vehicle’s power upgrades would only yield 5 additional horsepower and foot-pounds of torque.
But getting hung up on numbers is a mistake that happens all too often, the result of which is scores of sports car fans missing out on the joy that the platform offers. Like the classic “Hachi-Roku” of yesteryear, the modern day version of the 86 is more about balance and handling than straight line speed, and in a market that’s saturated with high performance sports cars, Americans often forget this fact.
Driving enjoyment and performance gains cannot be measured on paper, and while a turbocharged version will undoubtedly boost interest in the platform, the recent improvements made to this chassis place the 86 head and shoulders above the old FR-S. It not only looks a lot better and engages the throttle like never before, but it also steers and feels more direct than the outgoing model. TRD upgrades help give the chassis a much needed punch in both its aesthetic and sportsmanlike conduct departments, with mildly massaged body lines and a more direct powertrain spearheading the makeover.
While we recognize the fact that the 86 is still not living up to its full potential by keeping the engine naturally aspirated and the cabin devoid of digital Lexus touches, we appreciate the fact that Toyota is taking the platform in the right direction. Buyers shouldn’t write this refresh as just another lackluster update, but instead go out and drive one in order to feel the difference for themselves. In a world where redesigned automobiles don’t always land right, seeing Japan’s largest automaker bring fun and affordable sports cars back into the limelight is encouraging, and here are five reasons why we think you will like the new 86 too.
1. It grabs gears better than ever
The manual gearbox on the 86 has received a nice little upgrade, as the short throw six-speed transmission, with its triple-cone synchromesh design snaps through the first three gears at a swift pace thanks to a ball-bearing mounted shift linkage and a Torsen limited slip differential (LSD). Looking to fine-tune the sport coupe’s drivetrain even further, Toyota has swapped the 4.1 final gear ratio to a 4.3 configuration for quicker acceleration times, and once paired to the aforementioned gearbox, improves the 86’s shifting experience immensely.
2. TRD all the things!
As with the outgoing FR-S, the 86 plays host to a laundry list of Toyota Racing Development’s most prized possessions. Everything from stiffer lowering springs, fatter sway bars, and forged alloy wheels to a surprisingly throaty cat-back exhaust and a free-flowing air induction system can be outfitted on this chassis. While the performance upgrades on our car certainly made a difference in how the car looked, sounded, accelerated, and handled, we like the fact that all of these performance upgrades can be installed at the dealership for a meager price with a Toyota-grade warranty.
3. Small tweaks speak volumes
Body-line wise, the 86 doesn’t look all that different from its predecessor. But look closer and you’ll see things like LED running lights, sharply restyled brake lamps, a more menacing front lower air dam and ducting, and a rear diffuser that rakes sharply downward. Small touches make a huge statement in the 86 too, with logo stitched suede-like interior trim, a smaller, tighter leather steering wheel, silver cabin accents, and emblem embossed projector lenses leading the way.
4. Well done and overcooked are not the same thing
While it may not be much of a departure from its previous Scion incarnation, the 86 has adopted just the right number of upgrades to make it a more memorable and desirable automobile. Although it may look strikingly similar to the FR-S, and still bears a 2.0-liter Subaru boxer motor, the tweaks done to its aesthetic and performance departments are tasteful and noticeable. Nothing over the top or gregarious here, just a more efficient powertrain that sports a better flowing intake and exhaust manifold in order to eliminate the dreaded powerband “valley,” a gearbox that shifts sharper than ever before, as well as the aforementioned aesthetic updates.
5. Driving is believing
In order to truly understand how well engineered the new 86 is, you have to get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. The culmination of everything previously mentioned makes for a very engaging driving experience, and while it may not have the 300-horsepower powertrain enthusiasts pine for, and still sports some cheap interior touches, we stand behind this car 100%.
The sharper gearbox, exterior upgrades, and suede-like Granlux interior touches alone are applaudable, and the fact that it costs about the same as the outgoing Scion version makes for a strong selling point. Sure, the model we drove had about five grand worth of TRD parts on it, bumping the sticker price to around $32,000. But being that you don’t have to pay extra for installation, and get outstanding warranties, quality, and reliability, as well as a much more enjoyable driving experience, you have more than enough reason to go out and drive one of the best sports cars Toyota has ever made.
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