Car and Driver test drove the 2020 86 GT and according to their article "simplicity is refreshing amidst the bigger and heavier approach that's rampant among performance vehicles today."
Toyota's lightweight, rear-drive sports coupe still nails the driving fundamentals eight years in.
As a testament to the Toyota 86's simplicity, its center armrest is optional ($199). Simple is usually better when it comes to generating smiles behind the wheel. For those who enjoy driving, the lightweight and pure-handling 86 still delivers.
A quick recap: For the 2013 model year, a collaboration between Subaru and Toyota spawned a pair of lightweight affordable, rear-drive sports coupes that were, at the time, outliers in both brand's lineups. Now, however, the 86 sits below the Supra in Toyota's burgeoning sports-car hierarchy. Previously badged as a Scion FR-S, the 86 is the only vehicle to survive the Scion brand's demise.
As proof of its original rightness, the 86, now in its eighth model year, still impresses with its quick reflexes and pure handling, plus a great view forward over its low hood. New for the 2020 model year, GT models like our test car—which starts at $31,145, a $3130 upcharge—include 18-inch wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires. This is essentially a continuation of the 2019 TRD Special Edition and similar to Subaru's BRZ tS. This is particularly true when the Toyota's new $1270 TRD handling package is included, which brings firmer damping and larger Brembo brake rotors with fixed calipers front and rear. The fixed rear calipers are especially impressive at this price point, as the $133,995 BMW M8 doesn't have them, even when you tick the $8150 box for carbon-ceramic rotors. Although the 86's middle pedal has a small dead zone at the top of its travel, the brakes are otherwise spectacular and help to bring the 86 to a halt from 70 mph in an impressive 151 feet.
GT models also get a number of other of niceties, including heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and passive entry. Thankfully, the handling package is also available on the base 86, although there it costs $2320 because it also includes the 18-inch wheels and summer Michelins. It isn't available with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, however, nor on the Hakone special edition.
Too much power can create bad habits. Witness the track-day yahoos who are slow in corners yet insist on keeping you behind them by means of obnoxious straight-line thrust. There's no chance of the 86 ever doing that. However, its wonderfully neutral cornering will make you a better driver by teaching you the thrill of conserving momentum. Our car also had slightly larger TRD anti-roll bars ($550), which helps it to corner more flatly, but remember that anti-roll bars do their flattening and balancing by reducing grip, and this 86, at 0.96 g on our skidpad, fell slightly short of the BRZ tS's 0.98-g measurement. That level of grip is up substantially from the 0.90 g on the previous all-season tires. Power oversteer is now pretty much out of the question, but that isn't entirely a bad thing. The 86 is the rare sporty car in today's power-crazy and tall-gearing times where you can partake in a few shifts of its excellent six-speed manual transmission and still be at a sane speed. Just getting to 60 mph requires third gear.
Once the dynamic education is complete, however, you'll be pining for more power, which brings us to the 86's familiar flaws. Its 205-hp 2.0-liter flat-four doesn't sing. There's no crescendo as it approaches its 7400-rpm redline. You work it hard because you have to, not because you want to. The TRD exhaust, which is priced dearly at $1100, is instantly recognizable in the way it amps up the engine's startup presence, but it doesn't do much to improve the exhaust note at higher revs. Although there's plenty of drone around 2500 rpm, normal highway cruising speeds are well above that. At 75 mph, for example, the engine is spinning at 3600 rpm.
This 2.0-liter's familiar torque hole between about 3500 and 4500 rpm is still there, which is amusingly depicted by power and torque-curve displays on the 4.2-inch digital screen in the gauge cluster that's also part of the GT model's upgrades. The 86's infotainment system is low rent, but at least it includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. And the 86 is noisy at highway speeds. You'll get used to turning up the radio after an invigorating blast down an onramp.
Making a quick start with that dip in torque requires a 6500-rpm launch sufficient to spin the tires all the way through first gear. It's certainly unusual—and had us grinning—that the quickest acceleration runs (zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds) involve adding a little countersteer as the car scrabbles for traction. Without that dramatic clutch drop, the 86 gets to 60 mph from a rolling 5-mph start in 7.4 seconds. When comparing it to the Miata, the Mazda's additional tractability shows up in the gap between its zero-to-60-mph and 5-to-60-mph times: The Mazda has a 0.8-second difference to the Toyota's 1.2 seconds.
Speaking of the Miata, it is the vehicle that's most similar to the 86 in spirit. To justify the Toyota's extra 500 pounds, the 2845-pound 86 has far more front-seat space and considerably more trunk room. When the small rear seats are folded flat, there's room to fit an extra set of wheels and tires for the track. Try doing that with a Miata. Both cars have a simplicity that cuts to the core of what matters to those who love driving. Simplicity pays off in other ways, too. The 86's lightweight and modestly sized wheels and tires benefit ride quality. Despite its very narrow sidewalls, there's no harshness over most roads.
In the 86, simplicity is refreshing amidst the bigger and heavier approach that's rampant among performance vehicles today. More cars should have optional armrests.