- Nate Kuhn
The new 86 is close
In this day and age, it’s rare that driving enthusiasts with normal means get much love in terms of new sports car offerings in the marketplace. There has been the mainstay of the Mazda MX5/Miata of course. This genuinely great little car has survived for 30+ years because aside from being a wonderful driver’s car, it has also catered to the modest-budget weekend cruiser crowd who may never see a racetrack but enjoy open air motoring in fair weather.
But in the last 20 years, nearly every single alternative to the Miata has come and gone. Honda’s lovely S2000, Mazda’s own RX8, Toyota’s MR2 and the not-dead-but close enough Nissan 350/370z have all gone from terrific driver’s cars that most people can afford to being gone from the market.
With one major exception. The “86 Twins”. The Scion FRS/Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ. It’s undeniable that they are perhaps the absolute best modern sports car in terms of daily/only car use that cost under $50,000 dollars, let alone the fact they barely cost over half that number.
Most of us at Everyday Driver adore these little cars. And by most of us, I am counting Paul’s 50% acceptance of it. They’re VERY affordable, have terrific dynamics, handling, response and feel and most of us (Todd, Myself, Chance, and a few more of the writing staff) have owned one at some point. If you are a regular consumer of our brand’s content (TV show, YouTube, Podcast) you are WELL aware of our adoration of this platform.
The only real issue anybody ever has with it is the Subaru derived engine - and while the DEGREE of issue any specific person holds against it is variable depending on who you ask, I don’t think anybody would say that an upgrade would be unwelcome.
Well, in recent months Toyota and Subaru have announced that for 2022 there is in fact going to be a second generation of the “twins”. We had seen imagery of the cars (with mixed opinions as most things get) but nobody really got IN them much at all. They’ve pretty much been at arm’s length for a while now. Well, until recently that is. I was allowed to see, touch, sit in, walk around and even ride along a hot lap on a racetrack in the new Toyota 86 this month.
I’ll spare you most of the recap because everybody knows plenty about the current car already. I’ll also spare you most of the “spec sheet” stuff that you can read anywhere else - most people at this stage will just be regurgitating numbers, features and essentially reading a brochure to you. That’s not really what “WE” do here.
Sadly nobody outside of Toyota has been given permission to drive the new car yet, but as the most seasoned owner in the Everyday Driver staff (arguably with the most experience with the current car in the entire automotive journalism world), I am excited to give you the impressions of the new car as best as anyone not involved in the development possibly can, and offer my thoughts from the time I got with the car to put some feeling with the brochure info the best I can to tie you all over until you can get in one and form your own opinion.
So, let’s just get a few nuts and bolts first: The new car is built on the same basic architecture and body as the old car. There has been a laundry list of improvements (extra welds, some support braces here and there, a few parts now made of aluminum that weren’t before to help gain as little weight as possible with the new additions. Apparently the car is roughly 50% stiffer overall.
The engine is a new unit - gone is the old 2.0l boxer 4 and replaced with a new 2.4l of similar architecture. Power output is up about 15% to nearly 230hp at the crank and torque is up about 30% to about 180lb-ft.
The car comes in a couple different trim models now - the GR86 and GR86 PREMIUM. There are some fairly large differences this time around, but the main points are that the base model still comes with 17” wheels, Michelin Primacy (the same as before) tires akin to those from a Prius and the same type of brakes the base car has always had. The PREMIUM comes standard with 18” wheels and Michelin PS4 tires, slightly upgraded brakes, and some interior upgrades. There are a few other minor things here and there but in terms of the main parts that make the car GO, they’re nearly identical. Both get the same engine, trans options and torsen-style limited slip differential.
So that’s the standard brochure stuff you can read about anywhere else. It is a lot of details that really don’t tell you much of anything. BUT, here’s what it’s really like though.
Firstly, the looks. I personally was NOT a fan of the looks of the new car when they had a media reveal a few months back. Looks are subjective, but the main points to my eyes were that the front looked a bit bloated around the wheel wells (in their attempt to mimic a widebody style flare), the front looked a bit dull and the overall styling looked a lot like a body kit on the old car.
What I can tell you is that if you don’t like it, don’t worry just yet. No matter what you think, the car looks infinitely better in person. The proportions are far less divergent to the old car than pics suggest, the swollen fenders are far less bulbous than you’d think and the front of the car is more dynamic looking and less slab-like than photos suggest. Honestly, I’m not sure if I whole-heartedly love it, but I certainly like it far more than I had in the supplied photos before. The rear in particular is the biggest change, and while people have compared it to many other current cars, it has far more presence and bold style than the old car from the doors back, all while having familiar dimensions and shape to the current car.
Inside, there’s a mostly new interior. The dash, instrument cluster, radio, center stack, and door card design is all new. In my opinion, the look and design of the first generation is more pleasing to the eyes - the curving shapes around the dash sections has been replaced with very straight and bold horizontal lines and breaks. It does not flow in an organic manner as the prior car, however EVERY SINGLE TOUCHPOINT is vastly more premium in feel and design-aside, the perceived quality of the interior has risen substantially.
They have finally made a fantastic solution to the cup holder/arm rest on the tunnel from the first generation car as well. Instead of the void trough with the plastic removable/repositionable cup holder organizer, there is a fixed 2-cup holder underneath a trick retractable arm rest that has a split seam with padded surface. It’s extremely usable, functional, and a brilliant solution to a complaint many people had about the original setup.
End result inside the cabin is that while the looks and touch is updated, if you close your eyes, sit down, grab the wheel, adjust the seat and get ready to drive, it feels like home. This is a very good thing, because the ergonomics of the old car needed NO changes to fit nearly anybody like a glove. It’s still one of the best cabins to USE in the business.
The next day of the press event was held at a local racetrack. As mentioned we did not get a chance to drive the new car but were invited to have a ride-along with Ken Gushi - world class drifter, and part of the development team for the new (and old) 86.
We had a nice chat as he flew us around the racetrack - and after hearing that I was not only a current FRS owner but that I actually drove my own car on track not a week prior to this, was equally excited to hear my comments as I was to experience the car with him at the helm. Check it out below:
So what's the end result? At this point, I’m going to separate two things here, namely the engine from the rest of the car. This is the most divisive point in this new vehicle, and it’s fair to differentiate my commentary here.
First, the car:
They may have a list of 30 places where they nipped/tucked/strengthened/supported the chassis, but in my honest opinion it felt the same. I totally mean this in a good way - nobody would’ve ever called a stock FRS/86 floppy or wallowy. I’m not entirely sure they needed all these structural upgrades at all - but the good news is the end result is that the car still feels crisp, responsive, agile and terrific. The ride was in the Premium trim, so it had the upgraded tires which as we have covered her ad-nauseum only helps the car in stock trim. Nothing you liked about the chassis of the current car has been ruined. The added weight (something like 75lbs or so) is imperceptible - so don’t worry, nothing has been ruined. I admit the numerous changes aren’t readily noticeable but in a good way - It’s still absolutely lovely.
Now, lets talk about the engine:
Going into this, my main question about the car was how would this new engine feel? The posted peak numbers were a gain, but not so much that it was going to suddenly become a FAST car. The hope is that it’s just not a SLOW car anymore.
My own FRS has the standard list of bolt-on engine upgrades. It has a catless header and exhaust, has been tuned to run e85 fuel for more power, etc. We can get to numbers in a moment but we don’t love spec-sheet bench racing - all I can tell you is that my car (which is very similar to many current owners out there) is substantially more powerful than a bone stock 2.0l gen-1 car. It’s “Fixed” to the point that if the original 2013 car had the power curve that mine does, nobody ever would have complained.
There is NO torque dip in my car. Usually headers can flatten it out, but the addition of e85 fueling actually gives the car some pull through the rev range where it used to fall on its face like you lifted the throttle.
If you weren’t aware of this yet, Dyno numbers measured at the wheels (after friction/drivetrain loss) are usually 10-20% lower than manufacturer claimed numbers which are engine/crank figures because well, big numbers sell.
On a dyno that a normal bone-stock car will pull about 162hp which is pretty normal, mine rolls just shy of 200 at 196. The torque of my car has been increased by a bit over 10% as well.
This is not a weird flex - it’s still significantly less power than most new cars sold today - but knowing the claimed 228 hp of the new 2.4 engine in the new 86, I was honestly wondering if it would feel any more powerful than my current car does… Which is why I bring it up. Mainly, is this new engine going to be any more enticing than the modified one I already have?
On a racetrack, you only really get into the lower half of the rev range once, maybe twice. Usually once you take off, you never see sub-3500rpm ever again - so even a bone stock old 86 doesn’t feel THAT bad when lapping a road course as opposed to stop and go traffic where it is absolutely a dog. In this respect, the new car felt EXACTLY like my modified car does. The engineer team also verified that the new car’s wheel dyno output numbers are indeed right at that 195-200 mark as my car is. This is not a dig, the car absolutely rips in a way the old one felt like it was dragging an anchor around, and the money all current owners have to spend to get that kind of power is now part of the initial purchase.
Now, the biggest difference the extra 400cc of engine displacement makes is in it’s torque output. It pulls like a completely different car just off idle. Now it doesn’t replicate a swell of power like a turbocharged engine does, but If you’ve ever driven a v6 car from about 20yrs ago - something with a 3.0l or close - that’s how cleanly, smoothly and readily the car pulls right from redline and takes off in a way no 2.0L current 86 (stock or modified) can mimic. It’s the absolute biggest difference this new generation has compared to the old and wow is it instantly noticeable.
At one point in the track ride, Ken short shifted the transmission while going up a steep hill to illustrate just how different the new engine behaves. I joked with him that in my car I'd have been worried about rolling backwards with such a move, the new car didn’t hiccup, sputter or strain, it just climbed the hill with decent acceleration and went on its way.
The internet would have you believe that this car needed to have a turbo. Well, that same day I drove the 2.0 turbo supra and there is no comparison. The supra with the turbo is more powerful and faster in a straight line but the engine lacks feel, dynamic personality and there is no way I'd rather lap it around a track than the new 2.4 engine in the upcoming 86. There are OTHER reasons I prefer the 86 chassis to the Supra but I’ll leave that tangent out of this conversation.
So, how excited should you be about this new second generation Toyota 86? The short answer is plenty. It remains a terrific handling sports car that you can afford to buy, drive every day and offers dynamics superior to cars costing 2-3 times more. Now, it’s far less likely to get walked by a minivan. Hooray!
But there are definitely some people who need a bit more detail in that answer…
If you are currently considering buying a GEN-1 car: I’d hold off and wait for the new car unless your budget is low. Used 13-20 cars can be had for less than HALF of what a new one costs. It’s not HALF the car compared to the upcoming model. If you’re shopping with less than 20 thousand dollars - don’t worry, a gen-1 car will be a lovely purchase. The new car isn’t worth a 10 grand difference. You can make up for most of the power differential for well under 1500.
If you’re a current owner driving a stock or MOSTLY stock GEN-1 86 and is considering upgrading: I would say that there IS enough of an upgrade in the GEN-2 car to warrant the upgrade. If you’re still mostly stock and haven’t got a lot of money tied up into mods that may or may not carry over, the new car will blow your socks off. The engine upgrade alone is really that good. In the end it’s your money, but if you’re the kind of person to buy a new car every few years the new car DOES feel like a great jump from a stock first gen car.
Now the BIG question…
If you’re currently driving a modified FRS/BRZ/86 like I am: It’s…. A bit more complicated. I asked about components that will carry over from the old to new car and got a bit of a muddled answer on a few things… I wouldn’t expect anything in terms of 2.0l engine bolt-ons to work on the new car, and no tuning solutions have emerged on it either (obviously not yet) so there is definitely some potential “loss” there in terms of having to re-buy things you already have. Your current wheels will work (even aftermarket 17” units in place of the optional 18” the new car has), and I got a 80% confirmation on suspension parts - namely your old coilovers will work but sway bars, end links, etc might not - makes this a bit harder to quantify honestly. It’s been over two weeks as I write this, and I am not sure exactly if I feel like the upgrade is worth it for ME and my car vs the new one.
HOWEVER, I remind myself that my ‘maxed out’ n/a 2.0L car is just barely keeping up with the bone stock upgraded engine. Once the tuning market gets a hold of it (and assuming the same type of gains are found with the 2.4 as were with the 2.0l in mine), a retuned GEN-2 car could have nearly the power output of a low-boost supercharger on the cars on the road now…
I can’t wait to actually drive this thing soon. I think it’s the perfect reasonable upgrade to the first car we love so much, and a hell of a second act for a special little sports car.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.