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2017 Toyota 86 Drivers' Notes | Fun, even with an automatic

The FR-S is dead, long live the 86.

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  • Engine
    2.0L H4
  • Power
    200 HP / 151 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    Six-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    Rear-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
  • Seating
  • MPG
    24 City / 32 Highway
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
The Toyota 86 is a car that enthusiasts begged Toyota to build for decades. It's small, lightweight and rear-wheel drive. Thanks to a partnership with Subaru that resulted in the BRZ, this stylish coupe hit the streets in 2012. In the U.S., the car was originally known as the Scion FR-S but was rebadged as a Toyota after Scion was axed last year. Along with a new name, the 86 received updated styling both inside and out as well as a revised suspension and a slight bump in power, at least for the manual models.

This Hot Lava-colored car doesn't feature Toyota's slick six-speed manual. Instead it rocks a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. While some enthusiasts may look down at that, automatics make up more than half of 86 sales. Still, the bones are there, and some people don't think the automatic is all that bad. Either way, we can't encourage enough people to buy these cars, as we want Toyota and Subaru to keep building them.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: When I first slid behind the wheel of the 86, I was surprised to see the gear selector and paddles. It's one of those cars that you don't think of as having anything but a manual transmission. Also, in an interior where all the controls and displays are underwhelming, a set of paddle shifters stands out as one of the few tactile objects in the cabin.

I ended up using the paddles quite a bit, and found that I actually enjoyed using them, so much so that I'd actually consider opting for the automatic transmission were I to buy an 86. Despite shifts that aren't as razor sharp as they could be, the car's high-revving engine means that it still feels great to use. Riding an engine like this up to its redline, filling the cabin with noise, is the sort of thing that'll give you goosebumps. Being able to keep both hands on the wheel while shifting is a good thing for engagement in this car, based on my time with it. Plus, when I got stuck in traffic, I didn't have to wear out my left leg.

The other brilliant thing about the Toyota 86 is its sense of balance. I loved the way it communicated its load distribution when cornering, whether on or off the throttle or brake. The fact that the nose of this car snaps right to where you want it when you start dialing in steering angle is satisfying. And its low stance and good view out the windshield make it really easy to place on the road. Like the Mazda MX-5, on the spectrum ranging from driving machine to transportation device, the Toyota 86 (despite the brand name) is skewed about as far toward the former as one can get.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: So when I learned that our short-term Toyota 86 had an automatic transmission, my heart sank. I'm a manual transmission diehard, and a light, back-to-basics, rear-drive sports car should have a manual transmission. But, despite the auto shifter, I still had fun with the 86.

The chassis is just so eager and controllable. There's hardly any body roll, and the ride is definitely stiff but not punishing. The steering is possibly the best in the industry. It's incredibly precise and clearly informs the driver of what the front tires are up to. It's just heavy enough to feel involving, too. Add in the very comfortable driving position, and you have a car can bring a smile to your face regardless of the transmission.

And as for that transmission, it's ... acceptable. It's not great, but it's not bad. I do appreciate that the torque converter seems to stay locked in Sport mode and in manual mode, which makes the car much more responsive to throttle inputs, and you even get some good engine braking. The shifts themselves are pretty quick and sharp, but in manual mode, it sometimes varies how quickly it responds to paddle presses or level pushes; sometimes it'll be near-instant, other times it takes a second to consider the request. So if you can, definitely get the manual transmission; you won't regret it. But if for some reason you simply can't operate a manual, this will get the job done.

I do actually have one last gripe about the 86, and that's with the engine. And it's not about the amount of power (though I would still welcome forced induction). It's actually about the power delivery. Right in the middle of the rev band, torque and power fall off a cliff, and they don't pick back up until getting even higher up the tachometer. It's bizarre, and it's frustrating. For brisk driving in town, that midrange is important for having some fun, since you probably don't want to wind out first and second gear every time, and you might not even have enough road to redline second in town. But if you don't want to be a total slug, you have to keep the revs low, or pinned to the top. If this power pit were ironed out, it would make a world of difference to the 86.

Other than that, though, the 86 is still a lot of fun. Just be sure to get the manual.

Associate Editor Reese Counts: Few cars on the road communicate like the Toyota 86 (and Subaru BRZ). This car talks to you like a lover, whispering in your ear, grabbing your hands and wrapping its arms around your waist, letting you know just what it plans to do and giving you enough time to respond. The 86 is rewarding and forgiving, encouraging you to push it faster and faster. If it wants to break the rear end loose, you'll feel it in the seat and the steering. If you do end up sideways, it's so easy to reel back in.

The suspension is stiff but not punishing. The steering is firm but not heavy. It speaks with a clarity that's nearly unmatched in a car at this price point. The engine, though a little dead in the middle, wants to have its neck wrung. The right pedal feels like it's connected straight to your nerves. Synapses fire straight from your brain to the throttle body. The tires provide just enough slip to make you feel like a hero. The driving position is nearly perfect, with the pedals, wheel, seat and shifter all exactly where you want them. Nothing requires strain or effort. Keep the revs up and the 86 feels like the perfect tango partner.

It's not perfect. The interior feels cheap, and Toyota's infotainment is one of the worst in the business. I'm personally not a big fan of the new front end, and I miss the opposed piston badges on the fenders. The stock exhaust doesn't sound all that great, but I know an aftermarket system can rectify that. Still, I want one. Few cars today are this fun, and most of the time that's really all I need.

Managing Editor Greg Rasa: What they said. Joel's right, driving in automatic mode, the car feels anemic through a certain band. Going to the paddle shifters and keeping the revs up, the 86 suddenly drives like a different car. If you live in a city with terrible stop-and-go traffic, a case could be made for the automatic. Just know that you'll want to take control to get the most out of this setup.

Likewise, yes, the interior feels cheap, an impression I've had with other Toyotas. With little touches of velour (or suede ... either way, seemed odd), including a little putting green of the stuff on the passenger dash. The interior was somewhat reminiscent of a Porsche Boxster — from 20 years ago. But the driving position is great. This is another nice conservative orange color not unlike the BMW 230i we drove recently. And overall, the experience of driving the Toyota 86 is pretty Miata-like. Except you can't take the top down.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: The Toyota 86 is one of the most rewarding cars you can drive. You feel the response in the steering, brakes and suspension. You're low to the ground yet have good visibility. It's just powerful enough that you can have some fun with it. It looks sporty but it's not overdone. I've enjoyed this car for a few years now, when it was badged the Scion FR-S and now as the 86, which I think is the best name for it.

Our tester has the automatic, which is not the feature I'd want, but it's a decent gearbox. Driving around in manual mode and tapping the paddles to make the revs go up and down is rather fun. The interior is spartan, for sure, and some of the hard pieces on the door panels and the head unit look dated. I also don't like that it asks for premium fuel. I do like the suede overlay on the dashboard and the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Those are some of the details you pick up after a night in this car. Overall, it's a blast. It has great reflexes. The brake-pedal travel is short and the grab is quick. The suspension is taut and the car goes exactly where you point it. You look for twisty roads. It's a pure driver's car. There's not that many left.

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