Car Reviews

Episode 2: 2017 Toyota 86 Review- Autocross Experience

“The 86 in its natural habitat”

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 1: 2017 Toyota 86 Review (Happy 86 Day!)

Driver Focused, Not For Everyone”

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The Toyota 86 (and Subaru BRZ) are a throwback to cars of a bygone era; lightweight, low horsepower, and a sublime chassis developed by people who “get it” with minimal involvement from the bean counters, at least where it counts. This doesn’t mean the 86 platform hasn’t been met with some criticism since it debuted back in 2013, some of which is justified but most of which is short sighted at best.

The Toyota 86 is something that enthusiasts claim to want, harking back to performance heroes of the past that put performance and driver involvement first. Examples include things such as the original Mazda Miata/MX-5, Honda S2000, Lotus Elise, Toyota MR2, and perhaps even the god father of the segment; the BMW E30 M3. The 86 is a way of paying respect to the performance benchmarks of the past by utilizing the fun to drive, rear wheel drive, affordable formula but while also updating it to fit into modern times. Like its older brother the AE86 ‘Hachi-Roku”; the 86 focuses on driving dynamics, lightweight, and affordability and this allows the 86 the luxury of having very few competitors, with the Mazda MX-5 being perhaps the only serious contender in the segment.

The Toyota 86 is what I refer to as a “commitment car”, meaning that if you’re committed and willing to explore the limits of the chassis, then you’ll be rewarded with an experience that can be had in very few cars, at least at this price range. This is down to the fine tuning of the chassis and suspension system to maximize fun and performance, combined with Subaru’s Boxer engine platform to reduce body roll to something often only seen in purpose built race and track cars. This is something very impressive at any price range, and even more so for a sub $30,000 street car.

The 86 is also completely liveable as a daily driver; sure it doesn’t dual zone climate control, lane change assist, or cup holders large enough for the over-caffeinated soccer mom’s double XL caramel fudge mint coffee contraption but in short; that isn’t why you purchase this car. The 86 is easy to drive around town, easy to park, and has a respectable cargo capacity for the style of car. On the highway, the 86 cruises like any other car; and in many ways in similar to my previous car; the Mazda 3. Sure, the cruising RPM in 6th gear is a bit high (3000 RPM) but this is a small sacrifice to make for a slightly adjusted final drive ratio that better compliments the gear ratios and relative power and torque bands of the car respectively.

Speaking of power and torque, this is one aspect the 86 platform that is widely criticized. In my personal opinion; for what the car is, what it costs, and its intended purpose I feel it has plenty of power. It isn’t going to win drag races against.. Well anything really but that isn’t the point, again see “intended purpose”. However, what the 86 lacks is not power, contrary to popular opinion, but torque. Torque is something the 86 platform lacks, and the “torque dip” between 3,000 and 4,000 RPM is still present in the 2017 model 86 and BRZ. This can be fixed with a header and tune, however this may be what is putting potential customers off the car in stock form. They don’t know what they’re missing. Shame.

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This doesn’t mean that the 86 is without its shortcomings. The infotainment system is lackluster and is extremely frustrating to use, especially when trying to play music via Bluetooth. A software update would fix this, but this same system is used on large number of models in Toyota’s range and has been for some time, and no software update appears to be on the horizon sadly. The next two are minor gripes; there is no fuel range indicator, but instead an old school gauge, I feel that this is something the car should have had, especially when it comes on cars that cost much less. Additionally, there is nothing that indicates on the instrument panel that the headlights are illuminated, however one exists to indicate when the high beams are active. I’m not going to get into other things, such as the “backseat”, styling, etc. as I believe this is something that is subjective and down to an individual’s own personal discretion.

From my perspective as a race car driver, the 86 represents what performance cars should be, and it just so happens to be the very discipline of car I enjoy driving the most. The driving position is superb, the clutch and shifter are extremely responsive, reminding me almost of my Honda Civic race car, and the feedback the overall car provides is extremely impressive for a street car running with dampers and bushing tuned for primarily street use and not for setting blistering lap times on track. The Michelin Primacy tires the car comes equipped with as standard are a summer performance tire and are indeed tires directly off a Toyota Prius (but as an option, and only on Prius models sold in Japan).

The tire compound is an aspect of the 86 I’m still not settled on, the internal conflict of race car driver and driving enthusiast is a struggle, and these tires don’t help that. Both aspects of me appreciate that the car was developed around these tires to highlight the agility and capabilities of the chassis platform while maximizing fun for the driver. However, the racing driver side of me feels that the tires are limiting the true performance potential of the car, and given a proper set of grippy rubber, I feel that the 86 platform could embarrass cars costing twice its price on any twisty road or race track even more so than it already does. That being said, the driver enthusiast side of me feels that the tires are perfect for the car (at least in a stock capacity) and really highlight the characteristics of the car.  The brakes are very responsive, but after some “spirited” driving, slowly begin to fade which is slightly surprising, but some braided brake lines and possibly some upgraded brake pads could remedy this (more to come..)  I’ll be autocrossing the car very soon, so all its relative shortcomings will be exposed and adjustments and modifications will be made where I see fit. Look for more of that in the second part of this review.

In summary, the Toyota 86 represents a real #TBT to sports cars of the past, and is something that anyone who considers themselves an enthusiast owes to themselves to take a spin in. The 86 platform has struck a balance between sports car driving characteristics and daily practicality while also being competitively priced allowing it to access a younger consumer demographic that other vehicles in the class will ultimately struggle to reach.  Driving the 86 really does make every day feel like an episode of Initial D or Best Motoring and reminds me just how much joy can be had in the automobile.

Look for part two soon, which will focus more on my own personal experiences with the Toyota 86 after a few months of ownership. I will also cover how my first autocross event (PITL) went, and plans for any mods in the future as a result. This also means a “before and after test” of sorts will be conducted from one respective autocross event to the next.

Stay tuned..

-Mac Korince