Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted October 17, 2016 16:51
Has it been four years already?
I can still remember when Toyota Motor Philippines first launched the 86 back in 2012. We were at the Subic International Airport and told to play around with the new car. It was a fantastic toy on a wide open, disused airport, and I remember the pleasure of controlling the opposite lock when I was too generous with the throttle, or on the brakes.
But a lot has happened in the last couple of years, as other brands launched their own products to compete against a Toyota; a brand that is easily able to dominate almost every single category it participates in. Honda launched the CR-Z hybrid, Subaru launched their own 86 -err- BRZ, and even Mazda came out with their new MX-5, now lighter and more powerful.
Toyota is not a carmaker that would sit on their successes and take a breather. No, they decided to give their 86 a bit of an update and upgrade for the new model year. They did this, not because they needed to (they really didn't), but because it's at the core of what the brand stands for: continuous improvement. Or kaizen.
Technically this is a facelift, and so there are some changes to the exterior, the most noticeable were made to the front. The headlights are new; showing off more intricate attention to detail and neater LEDs. The bumper is likewise new with a much larger opening and a more aggressive look. If anything the redesign — in this shade of White Pearl — makes the 2017 Toyota 86's front end appears to have been inspired by the front of the LFA. Well, almost.
The rest of the body was unchanged, though the 86 badge on the fender gills have been replaced with a small roundel with 86 scribed onto it. The wheels are of a new design and so are the taillights. Overall its a subtle update to the car, but that's cool.
It's still a low-slung sports car, so getting in and out might be more difficult to most of us, but once you're in, the seats just grab hold of you. The steering wheel is fresh and reminiscent of the style found in a modern Lotus, and there are even controls for the audio system and a stalk for the cruise control. I actually wasn't a fan of the previous wheel; I found it too large for this lightweight sports coupe. The new one is more like it, and feels much better made.
The new gauges are cool though the controls around are still the same, save for the new paddleshifters, the revised button panel for the stability program settings, the knobs and toggle switches for the dual zone climate system as well as the gate-type shifter. As before, there isn't much space in the back seats for most adults, but kids can do just fine. One notable upgrade is the audio system; the new touchscreen unit is more apt to the 86 when compared to the previous version; it was the same (or similar) unit found in the IMV series.
Press the starter button and the 2.0-liter boxer engine springs to life; yes, like before, this one is powered by a Subaru motor as the 86 is a product of the joint project between Toyota and Subaru. Heck, they even make it at Subaru's plant in Gunma, Japan.
The engine we're getting is actually the same as the one launched in 2012. It's naturally aspirated, but it makes 200 PS at 7000 rpm and 205 Nm at 6400 to 6600 rpm, and comes matched with a 6-speed automatic. There are those who say that the 86 is underpowered; I disagree. What it's low on is torque, but that just means that the 86 is a car meant to be driven hard, and revved high.
It's not a track-only toy as the 86 was developed for the street, just not ours. On smoother roads the 86 has great manners, but the suspension meant to deliver performance won't be enjoyable on rutted concrete, potholed avenues, or our penchant for the use of abruptly high speed bumps. On the expressways it's better, and surprisingly, the 86 fared pretty well for a low slung car.
On a mountain pass or a long, flowing circuit are places where the 86 comes alive. It's not a quick car, but it has a nice and long powerband that you can explore and toy with. The brakes are good, and a skilled driver can easily master the threshold before activating the ABS. With VSC in track mode, it allows you a measure of sideways play time before kicking in.
The linear characteristics of the non-turbo boxer are so easy to manage around a track, and makes me wish this one had the three pedals I can heel-and-toe with instead of this paddle-shifted auto. Mostly, what's truly enjoyable about the 86 is the way it can be danced with on the limit. And that's where its true strength lies.
There are many who say that the 86 is underpowered and overrated. I disagree. The 86 is a driver's car through and through. They tuned in a balance that is so hard to achieve, one that factors in how the brakes perform, how it accelerates, how it feels into the corners, how it stays stable on the straights and everything else in between.
This is one of those cars that are perfect for an aspiring automotive enthusiast to hone his or her skills behind the wheel, not to test how much the credit cards can take on in upgrade parts. That is the beauty of the 86; a true sports car meant to be enjoyable, and one that can serve as a stepping stone to something more powerful in the future.
Perfect timing then. Aren't they building a new Supra?