By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
We blinked and suddenly the Scion brand was gone from the Toyota dealerships.
The Scion brand was created by Toyota in 2003 to appeal to a younger market and to explore different new product ideas. Over a period of 13 years there were more than one million Scions sold with 70 percent being purchased by customers new to Toyota, and with 50 percent sold to customers under 35 years old, so the experiment was a success.
Moving along, Toyota decided in the second half of 2016 to rebadge the existing Scion models and bring them into the Toyota family. The most unique and exciting model to get the name change to Toyota was the Scion FR-S sports car which became the Toyota 86.
Toyota and Subaru jointly developed the Scion FR-S and it is manufactured by Subaru (the Subaru version is called the BRZ). It has the same flat (boxer) four-cylinder engine that Subaru is famous for. It’s the front engine, rear-wheel drive drivetrain and 2+2 seating that has set the Scion FR-S (now Toyota 86) apart from both Toyota and Subaru’s existing lineups, and it’s that configuration that helps make it such an impressive and fun-to-drive sports car.
With its classic long nose sports car styling, large wide lower air intake and low, wide stance the two-door coupe not only looks the part, but it handles like a sports car should. This is the kind of car most auto enthusiasts would love to have ready for weekend drives or even more serious racing pursuits. It corners flat, stops quickly, and makes driving fun.
With the name change comes a revised shock tuning and spring rate changes which have enhanced the drivability and performance of the 2017 Toyota 86. The version equipped with a six-speed manual transmission gets a performance boost with a change in the differential gearing, plus the engine is tuned for more torque boost and five more horsepower. That might not sound like much but when the car tips the scale under 2,800 pounds, the difference is magnified.
The high-revving 205-hp, 2.0-liter aluminum boxer-design engine sits low in the front engine compartment, helping keep a low center of gravity. The engine has direct and port injection technologies boosting its efficiency.
The coupe is offered with two six-speed transmission variants, a manual and quick shifting automatic. The manual earns an EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. We averaged 25.6 mpg during a fun week of exuberant driving. Interestingly the automatic transmission gets much better EPA numbers – 24/32 mpg, so if commuting is in the plans it might be a better choice. The automatic does come with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a Sport Mode and Dynamic Rev Management technology that “blips” the throttle on downshifts. Either way the driver is guaranteed driving fun. A standard Torsen® limited-slip differential maximizes traction between the rear wheels which is especially helpful during hard cornering.
Wide, low-profile 17-inch wheels and tires are attached to a sophisticated MacPherson strut front suspension (compete with strut brace) and has a double-wishbone independent rear suspension. The steering is an electric assist system with a quick 2.48 turns lock-to-lock and a nice tight 36.1 ft. turning radius.
Because this is a low-slung sports car with a 2+2 designation, the driver and passenger must “go low and drop” into the 86 seats and, of course, exiting requires a similar reverse maneuver. This task gets more difficult as you get older, we discovered.
Yes, the 86 has a rear seat, but with a +2 label translates to, “there are seats back there, but don’t even think about sitting in the rear seat unless there is an emergency.” An infant would fit, but it would be a challenge for the parent to get the child in and properly strapped down. We think the rear seat is best used as a place to put things or as an extension of the cargo space. As a bonus, the rear seatback folds down to expanding the 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space significantly. We like this configuration much better than a two-seater, which often has room for nearly nothing behind the seat back.
Well-designed controls and gauges give the driver easy access to vehicle information and to control functions. We like the large tachometer mounted in the center of the instrument panel, with its large digital speedometer readout on the right side of the dial. When the driver is busy shifting, and turning it allows her/his eyes to get a quick briefing on vehicle and engine speed by the tachometer needle position. There’s also a traditional speedometer in the left position of the three-pod layout. The climate controls are also a traditional manual configuration and easy to use.
The Toyota 86 comes in one model, five colors and with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. There are no option packages available. What Toyota does offer is a couple of dozen accessories to add more bling and zing to the 86. The base price and only price is $27,120, including the destination charge. We suspect Toyota will offer more variations in the future, but for now this is a fun car that enthusiasts will love, like we did.