“The 86 in its natural habitat”
Welcome to Episode 2 of my multi-part 2017 Toyota 86 review. I’ve now owned the car for just over two months and I’m finally starting to come to grips with everything about the car and ultimately just becoming more comfortable living with the 86 everyday. I’ve spent a lot of time driving the 86 recently, in a variety of disciplines; chief of which was partaking in an autocross event with the Push it to the Limit (PITL) Group at the Powerade Centre in Brampton. For those that aren’t aware, autocross is essentially a gathering of like-minded car nuts who hang around a parking lot all day, contract a mean case of heat stroke, and perhaps due to pure dehydration and sleep deprecation talk about the “what ifs” of their previous attempt. This is all while trying not to run into the sea of cones laid out across the span of the Powerade Centre’s parking lot. The cones (literally, traffic cones) are setup in what looks like a miniature road course designed by someone who clearly enjoys antagonizing those with claustrophobia. The goal is to set the fastest time you can while avoiding hitting any of the cones and bored marshals all to prove your superiority to your peers waiting back on the other side of the lot. Sound like fun? You can be rest assured it is more than fun, barring actual on track driving, autocross is perhaps the most fun anyone can have in a car with their clothes on, and the 86 is happier than a pig in.. well you know the rest. That’s not to say autocross is reserved for sports cars, sure there are plentiful Miatas and other sports cars, but there are also plenty of people ripping around in their daily driven Civics and Focuses.
So how did the 86 fair on the autocross course? In short, exceptionally well. As previously stated, the 86 has a superb chassis and the low centre of gravity due to the low roof line and flat-four boxer engine; which means the 86 has virtually no body roll and really shines on the tight and complex autocross course layout. The superb limited slip differential ensures you have maximum traction from both rear wheels, and in a stock capacity it is more than suitable for the car and no issues were present under hard usage. The 86 has the agility of a Russian gymnast and surprisingly relied on a lot of careful throttle technique; essentially using the throttle to turn and rotate the car through the middle and exit stage of the “corners” setup on the autocross. Due to the relative slow speed and technical nature of autocross, momentum and patience is a key factor in just how fast a car and driver as one can go. The 86’s lightweight and usable power make it a real peach to drive on the autocross course, however just a bit more low-end torque would make it even sweeter.
The stock tires (Michelin Primacy HP 215/45R17) and brakes fitted to the 86 held up surprisingly well, the tires were set at 35 PSI (The stock manufacture recommended pressures, no adjustments were made to coincide with the stock nature of the review) and after a few runs, some rolling was noticeable, particularly from some wear on the outer edge of the sidewall, however this can cured with a slight tire pressure adjustment. The tires were also very predictable to drive and offered respectable grip, however in the competitive autocross environment I can’t help but fathom what something like a Bridgestone RE71 or Michelin Pilot Super Sport would do to the 86’s already superb balance and handling capabilities. However, in keeping with the stock nature of this test, the stock Michelin’s are more than capable of handling the abuse and even setting a competitive time. They are however prone to slight understeer, and this effect is even more exaggerated after a few simultaneous runs and a heat cycle; again however this can all mostly be cured with a slight tire pressure adjustment. The brake rotors and pads are completely stock, and much like the tires, performed surprisingly well. In autocross, due to its momentum based nature, braking is something you want to spend the least amount of time doing; however on this particular day the course was setup with a few medium speed braking areas and thus necessitated the usage of a little more brake pressure. The brakes held up just fine for the first few runs, but as expected gradually began to fade as the runs went on and the ambient temperature began to increase. The pedal travel also happened to noticeably increase; not enough to make the driver uncomfortable but enough to notice that something was different and that either the pads, braking fluid or brake lines (or all three) were slowly beginning to get just a bit too warm. Since the 86 is my daily driver and I’m still learning this whole new discipline that is autocross, swapping to a more aggressive brake pad isn’t something I want to do quite yet; however a higher viscosity brake fluid and perhaps a set of steel braided brake lines could be a near future, “subtle” mod to the 86.
Autocross is something that to my surprise is very mentally taxing and requires an immense amount of concentration, arguably more so than in road racing. To be completely focused for those 50 to 60 seconds is essential for driver and car to bond, become one, and work together. Modern cars are often criticized for feeling numb, and while the 86 isn’t a 1960s Formula 1 racer by any means, driver feedback is still optimal and communication from the tires, chassis, and entirety of the car is ever-present. With traction and stability control completely switched off (Don’t bother with “track” mode) the 86 has completely free rein, and if the driver is able to listen to the car, the reward is a car which not only rewards the driver, but also teaches the driver and makes said driver that much better after every run. The 86’s naturally responsive and communicative nature lessen the mental stress on its driver, allowing for focus on absolute speed and driveability all while weaving between that endless orange, pointy wall.
Toyota and Subaru have a real winner on their hands here, while some sacrifices are made to keep costs down and certain features of the 86 suffer as a result, the supreme chassis balance and responsiveness more than make up for this. The 86 is also more than capable of being a daily driven car; the ride is firm but not overly harsh, the gas mileage is respectable, and interior space and storage is respectful for the class. In regards to some of it’s shortcomings, you don’t buy this car to haul your family around or bring your dog to the park, the entire point of the 86 is something I simply cannot stress enough; pure driving pleasure. The 86 is a car by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts and hopefully its price point and relative usability will introduce a whole new demographic to not only car culture, but just how fun and rewarding pure and spirited driving can indeed be. This is a car that makes getting up at 4 a.m. to just simply go for a drive not a chore, but rather a privilege and your reward is a car that keeps begging for more and more while the empty streets become your canvas.