The Scion FR-S was one of the best affordable sports cars in the world when Toyota killed it, along with the rest of its youth-oriented brand, last year.
But don’t worry. Toyota has a new one.
I didn’t say all-new.
It’s all-good, though, because the Toyota 86 is essentially the FR-S with a new name and a couple of overdue tweaks.
Along with a fresh set of Toyota badges, the two-door, 2+2 coupe gets redesigned front and rear bumpers that improve aerodynamics; a retuned suspension to improve its ride and handling; and an extra five horsepower and five pound-feet of torque in manual transmission models. Considering the FR-S had only 200 hp and 151 lb-ft, that’s more significant than it sounds. The 86 also sports a lower final drive ratio, which makes the power bump feel even bigger.
The 86 is a slip of a thing, just a foot longer than a Mazda MX-5 Miata. Still, it’s a Toyota, so it’s practical. The rear seats are very suitable for children, and they fold down to turn an already decent trunk into enough space for an extra set of tires to bring to the track.
The cabin is mostly carry-over, but it does get improved upholstery to replace the FR-S’ crumb-gathering rat fur, plus a patch of racy Granlux faux-suede on the passenger side dash. The infotainment system is upgraded, but it lacks the latest features and looks like you ordered it from an old Crutchfield catalog you found in the garage and installed it in the driveway.
There’s probably intention there, as Toyota was fully aware when it built this car that it would be a pallet for modifications. In fact, it sells a few itself. My $27,120 test car came equipped with TRD (Toyota Racing Development) lowering springs, sway bar, exhaust and 17-inch matte gray rims at an out-the-door price of $31,544, and there are many more goodies available from Toyota and the aftermarket.
The 86 gets the looks. It has a curvy, European style, and since the FR-S was never a huge seller, there’s still an exotic air about it. The exhaust is an earworm, too. It gives the Subaru-designed 2.0-liter flat-four a deep, rich voice.
Even with the lower, stiffer suspension, the 86 is an acceptable daily driver. I didn’t pay too high a price on the city streets I had to navigate to get out to the good roads where it likes to play.
The clutch is light, the shifter changes gears with bolt-action accuracy and a new, smaller steering wheel makes it feel more like a competition car than a Camry. On the highway, that low gearing means the engine revs high and loud in sixth gear, which results in a so-so 28 mpg fuel economy rating. But the direct connection between your right foot and the rear wheels is uncanny.
The 86 is a bit more stable than the ridiculously easy-to-drift FR-S was in the twisty stuff, but it’s still happy to hang its tail out. It just takes a little more effort on your part to get it loose.
It doesn’t roll as much as a Miata in curves, and it attacks corners with more seriousness. While they are surely the two closest competitors (along with their Subaru BRZ and Fiat 124 Spider twins), the difference is more like the Beatles and The Rolling Stones than Fifth Harmony and Little Mix. You will not confuse them for the same thing.
The 86 and the FR-S pretty much are, and that’s fine.
It’s a good thing Toyota didn’t eighty-six it with Scion.
2016 Toyota 86
Base price: $27,120
As tested: $31,544
Type: 2-door 2+2 coupe
Engine: 2.0-liter flat 4-cylinder
Power: 205 hp, 156 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
MPG: 21 city/28 hwy