2017 Toyota 86 Road Trip Review
For such an “underpowered” car, the Toyota 86 sure pulled like a champ.
Certainly, its enthusiasm waned as the speedometer needle swept past 200 km/h (125 mph), its meager 2.0-liters of displacement fighting heroically against the onslaught of air trying to halt its forward progress. But acceleration wasn’t the only dynamic attribute that was challenged by this brisk pace; the sports car felt noticeably more planted at around 175 km/h (109 mph), plus the hood didn’t look as if it were ready to go airborne.
Like a kid waiting patiently for Christmas morning, my perseverance was rewarded with sunny weather, minimal traffic and no construction to speak of. In short, the conditions were perfect for a rip down the vaunted Autobahn. All that stood between me and Munich was about 40 miles of billiard-table tarmac and no one telling me to slow down.
But as fun as ‘Bahn blitzing can be, it was hardly the most exciting part of this drive, nor is it a task the 86 is particularly well suited to. This is a car designed for sweeping back roads and autocross courses – a four-wheeled cruise missile it is not.
|205 horsepower, 156 lb-ft torque
|U.S. Fuel Economy (MPG):
|21 city, 28 highway, 24 combined
|CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km):
|11.3 city, 8.3 highway, 9.9 combined
|U.S. Base Price:
|$27,140 including $885 in delivery fees
|CAN Base Price:
In conjunction with the annual Geneva Motor Show, Toyota hosted a select group of media, giving us a chance to experience their enhanced 86 sports car on an extended drive through a large portion of the German-speaking world.
Our multinational journey started on a soggy morning in the city of Lausanne, a historic jewel on the shores of lac Léman, perhaps 45 minutes from downtown Geneva. From there, we headed east, chasing the sunrise on a meandering course that took us across the breadth of Switzerland, with stops in France, Germany, Austria and even Lichtenstein along the way. Our ultimate destination was Munich, Bavaria’s capital and home of Oktoberfest, though regrettably very little beer was consumed during our overnight stay there. At least we’d drink in plenty beautiful alpine scenery along the way as we got a feel for how Toyota improved the 86’s driving experience.
For an American habituated to sprawling Midwestern tarmac, navigating Europe’s oftentimes haphazardly arranged roads took a bit of adjustment. Mercifully, after a few minutes in the saddle, I found my rhythm and was at last able to relax as we departed the cobblestone congestion of Lausanne, snaking our way from one village to another.
For 2017, the Toyota 86’s structure has been strategically stiffened in a few important areas, making it a bit more rigid than before. But even the most dialed-in chassis engineer would be hard-pressed to notice any difference. However, what is fairly obvious is the retuned suspension, which exhibited no bad manners on Western Europe’s flawlessly maintained roads. In short, it is firm and composed.
SEE MORE: 2017 Toyota 86 First Drive Review
According to Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer of the 86 and head of Toyota’s Gazoo Racing Development Division, they stiffened the front springs slightly and softened the rears, a move designed to increase traction. He explained that the back-end can squat a little more under acceleration, helping the car more effectively put its power to the pavement. Rounding the suspension out, its dampers have lower friction and the stabilizer bars are new.
After an hour or so behind the wheel, it was time to bid Switzerland farewell as a border incursion to France was part of the drive route, though we wouldn’t be staying in the grand old republic for very long. As the lead car in our convoy, I cautiously rolled up to the frontier guard post as a squad of armed men loitered in the vicinity. Rolling to a stop, one of the security officials annoyedly came up to the window and asked for my passport – at least that’s what I assume he did since I speak no French. Glancing over my paperwork, he waved us along. I suspect we inadvertently disrupted their smoke break and probably could have just casually driven past, but not wanting to start an international incident, I stopped, an unfortunate precedent for my colleagues in tow.
Viva la FR-S!
Clear of the border, eastern France’s road network lay before us like an unraveled spool of ribbon. Every bit as a smooth and scenic as their Swiss counterparts, they nonetheless provided an unexpected secondary benefit: higher speed limits, something that allowed us to stretch the 86’s legs a bit more.
Just like its predecessor, the Scion FR-S, the updated 86 is motivated by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine developed by Subaru. Customers that opt for a manual transmission gain five horsepower and five lb-ft of torque compared to automatic-equipped models, a mild increase that brings the totals to 205 and 156, respectively.
Those extra horses are largely the result of better breathing. Both the intake and exhaust manifolds flow more than before, though reductions in valvetrain friction played a role as well.
Curiously, company representatives had fitted the half dozen or so 86s in our little troupe with portable Garmin navigation units even though there were perfectly functional Toyota systems integrated right into the dashboards. Supposedly they did this because the factory offering couldn’t handle all the waypoints required for our particular drive program, preferring instead to take you on direct routes to destinations.
Following our French field trip, we uneventfully crossed back into Switzerland for a scheduled lunch stop in Neuchatel. After the gastronomic interlude, we embarked once more, continuing eastward to Zürich in the German-speaking portion of the country, the place we’d be resting our weary noggins that night. This leg of the trip was largely highway and thus fairly uninteresting. Fortunately, something much better awaited.
The next day’s drive contained perhaps the most breathtaking scenery of the entire trip, complete with some of its most engaging roads. Departing Zürich, we headed for Liechtenstein, a postage stamp-sized principality most people have probably never heard of. Even following the speed limits, it passes in the blink of an eye.
After this, we sailed across the Austrian border, inaugurating the alpine leg of our European adventure tour. This portion of the drive started on lightly trafficked motorway that eventually brought us to the juicy back roads that wind through this country’s mountains, the kind of asphalt that’s ideal for evaluating the 86’s acceleration and agility.
Truth be told, this car’s meager power bump doesn’t do much to improve performance; revised gearing is what really makes a difference. Engineers swapped the 4.1-to-1 rear end for a set of 4.3 gears. This welcome change gives the 86 more squirt across its entire rev range, though it’s still hardly a fast car.
Aside from that, the transmission was also refined. Chief engineer Tada said its gears have been more finely polished and reworked synchronizers fitted. There’s also a new kind of lubricant, the capstone in a series of changes that work to enhance shifting quality, though the 86’s stick is still a little on the loose side; more precision in the mechanism would be appreciated.
SEE MORE: 5 Things Toyota Missed For 86 Perfection
One area of this car that needed no improvement was the steering. Sharper than a surgical blade with just the right amount of heft, the 86 has always been a joy to toss around, but this didn’t stop Toyota from making further refinements. For 2017, they’ve reduced the steering wheel’s overall diameter slightly and altered the rim’s cross-sectional shape for a meatier feel.
Snaking through Austria’s spectacular Alps was pure pleasure, with the car intuitively changing direction almost as if it could read your thoughts, nimbly darting from apex to apex. It was just a shame there was so much distracting scenery vying for my attention.
Following another lunch break, we put the mountains in our rear-views and headed north toward the final country on the list. Curiously, the border between Germany and Austria is unprotected and marked by little more than a small sign on the shoulder. Perhaps they don’t want to draw attention to their dark and intertwined past.
Once again on relatively flat terrain, we made quick work of the remaining kilometers, eventually merging onto the fabled Autobahn, which brought us all the way to downtown Munich where we’d spend our last night on the continent. A bittersweet end to one of the greatest drive programs I’ve ever covered; with an early morning flight home to Detroit, I had no free time to explore this beautiful and historic city.
Meanwhile, back in North America, Sami put an automatic-equipped 86 through its paces, and here is his take on this superb driver’s car:
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The Verdict: 2017 Toyota 86 Review
The 2017 Toyota 86 proved to be a capable and surprisingly comfortable road-trip machine. The ever-eager handling, dialed-in suspension, and improved acceleration further burnish its reputation as a true driver’s car. Trim dimensions and friendly sightlines made it a joy to pilot across large swaths of Western Europe. For the new model year, engineers have refined an already winning product, it’s just too bad that nothing they did here will placate the ravenous fans who will still demand more power. Oh well, maybe a turbo is in the works for model-year ‘18.
Discuss this story on our Toyota Forum
- Improved performance
- Retuned suspension
- Stiffened structure
- Still a joy to dive
- Update could have gone farther
- More power would be nice
- Loose shifter
Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
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