It’s down on passing power. It’s boomy stereo rattles the door cards. The cabin smells like cheap plastics. Seating more than two passengers is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Calling the 2017 Toyota 86 a “nice” car is like calling a Corolla a sporty car. They share the badge, the build quality, the fuel economy, the price. That’s about it.
But when cruising through some mountains, dropping a gear before attacking a winding pass, or planning your path through traffic, basic comparisons end. Other conclusions are drawn, mostly measured in fun. Is the Toyota 86 the most fun you’ll have on the road? Let’s wax abstract.
To retread perhaps the most well worn automotive cliché, the 86 is a dance partner. Let me extend the metaphor: it is not a yawning ballerina, frustrated by your two left feet (911); it is not a pierced and tattooed brute who drags you through a mosh pit (Hellcat). Quiet and poised, the car smiles at you (see the front end), inviting you onto the floor for some graceful turns. It lets you lead, shifting smoothly with paddle pulls though it can take over with auto mode and cruise control on the highway.
The 86 is friendly. It just feels right. It’s torque-converter gear box is really a clutchless manual: actively shifting puts you in a flow state even on the way to the grocery store, and you won’t worry about getting a speeding ticket while sucked into the “racing” experience. Toyota and Subaru built us a go cart for the road, and, while that’s often a backhanded compliment, in this instance it’s a good thing.
More on flow–another enthusiast maxim, “it’s better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow,” is commonly etched into the wrinkled brow of frustrated 86/BRZ owners justifying their purchases to muscle car fans. It’s oft repeated because it’s true. Straight line speed is like doing shots; it’s fun until you barf and start crashing into things. Carrying momentum through corners makes you a sommelier, savoring right foot movement and every little steering input while still carrying on a conversation with the guest next to you. This type of enjoyment is truly special, but it takes practice and patience to be appreciated.
Would I personally buy one? Maybe. I have driven most of the important, daily-able, sporty cars–Mustang, Camaro, Charger, Challenger, WRX, GTI, Genesis Coupe, Stinger, Chevy SS, M235i, M240i, Carerra, Cayman, Panamera, Macan, S3, RS3. The Toyota 86 is by far the most fun and rewarding. Is it the best to do a two-hour daily commute? Home Depot runs? Impress a date? Not so much.
Combine all the worst attributes of a Honda Civic and a Jeep Wrangler, and you have a pretty convincing cons list. But if you love to drive and can live with a rough and low-rent ride, then buy a Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ right now. Get winter tires if needed. You will not be sorry. If you need a little more comfort or practicality, then your real shopping begins.
Because when it comes to fun and affordable performance, you really can’t find anything better than this.