Hachi-Roku. The name 86 given to the continuation of the Scion FR-S isn’t all that new. It comes from the same car as it’s sold globally and from its spiritual father the Corolla AE-86.
Today as the 2017 Toyota 86 sits before me with key in hand, I admit I’m hoping for a bit of redemption for it in the drive. You see, this car and I have a history. The FR-S and its Subaru BRZ sibling I have felt is the best sports car you can buy for the money.
It’s pure. It’s light. It has a soul that you can reach in and touch or let it touch you by simply throwing yourself into it. Throw it into a curve with the engine wailing at high rpm and woof you’re hooked unless you have no soul. It has what many car makers have sought out time and again but never found.
The problem has been its box of rocks known as the 2.0 liter Boxer engine mostly sourced from Subaru. Its 200 horsepower and 151 pound feet of torque while on their own plenty, lie in the top strata of 7000 rpm with nothing but horrific noise between zero and those stratospheric heights.
On a track with a helmet on with the engine at full boil, it’s great because you can’t hear all the noise it makes that well. Driving in traffic from stop light to stop light however is about as fun as pedaling a tricycle with rusty wheels and sounds about as good. It has basically been an awesome ride in search of an awesome engine, a turbocharger perhaps.
This is where I lose it. How could they build such an awesome sports car and put such a nasty chainsaw under the hood? How could they? My OCD fits over this noisy fruitless powerplant both in print and on screen have essentially gotten me banned from testing Subarus and on the careful watch list at Toyota.
Enter the 2017 Toyota 86 and its Subaru BRZ sibling who have received a mild engine makeover. New bits and pieces include a revised intake, exhaust manifolds, a new valvetrain and a new tune. Backing this up is a 4.3:1 axle ratio instead of the still relatively winding 4.1:1 of previous year.
With now 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, the bump in power is but a rounding error. I’m told the torque now lasts longer. That’s a good thing. So what can I hope for? Is five horsepower going to make this car’s sins fall away? No.
After the first few miles on the mountain back roads outside of Ojai, California I have determined the new Toyota 86 is barely faster. The torque it offers up is really hard to discern more from before. The new axle ratio does however help you get over the humps from one gear to the next a bit quicker and easier.
What has changed is its song.
Yes it’s still loud, yes it still requires you to throttle it like a horse perhaps too small for your carriage. But now it sounds and feels dare I say pleasant. It revs with less graininess. The sensation of marbles in a blender under the hood has left. Now there’s something more desirable, even something you might ask for more than once like the lab monkey who presses the cocaine button till he unwittingly has a heart attack.
After 10 miles I’m smiling, feeling like I have gone through a cathartic experience. That friend I have always wanted to like but just couldn’t has come around and made me happy to know the kid is gonna finally be a good bean. Yep I’m certifiably nuts for this car now and all it took was knocking the edge off a little.
The one sin in this comeuppance is that only the six-speed manual gets this new revised engine. If you choose the automatic you get the old mill. But alas the automatic itself had always taken the thorns and barbs from it so nobody will notice.
Handling? It was always good. Toyota softened up the rear springs, stiffened the fronts, re-jiggered the dampers and re-tuned the anti-roll bars such that it feels a bit more tail happy which I happen to like. More neutral one might call it. It’s good.
Styling got the expected noodling. From initial blush some like it and some don’t. It’s certainly more aggressive but not severe. Interior upgrades come with faux suede trims here and there, now 86 logos about and white accent stitching instead of red. Little things, but nice.
As I have gone on way past the climax here, I should wrap up with the big question. Was there redemption for this noisy meat grinder? Oh my God yes.