2019 Toyota 86 GTS owner review

Theo G
  • Looks. Decisive, but I think it looks neat.
  • Driving dynamics. It follows a simple recipe and gives a simple reward
  • It's the most human car I've driven.
  • It really is a 2012 car.
  • No, chicks don't care about cars like this
  • Engine. You already know why.

About the Toyota 86

Theo G purchased this Toyota 86 new with additional options for $42,000 (including all on-road costs). Theo G would buy this car again because: “It’s one the last expressions for a simple, fun driving experience. Light weight, rear wheel drive, manual gearbox. And on the eve of the release of the new GR86, the ‘old’ 86 is still one of the best driver’s cars around.”

How reliable has your car been? Tell us about any issues.

A famous adage: The less features, the less there is to go wrong.

And in something like an 86, there really is VERY little to go wrong. There are no real electronic safety systems, bar traction/stability control and maybe including a very low-res reversing camera. So that means there are no glitches or any real issues when driving, or just in general.

But more on from that, the car itself was designed under the philosophy that wannabe car people, getting into cars or working on cars for the first time, can learn how to modify and maintain a car with the safety blanket of the car being new. So the car itself was designed to be maintained easily.

So in terms of engine and drivetrain reliability, if you aren’t driving like the typical hoon driver, there will be zero problems, and in my tenure, it’s been nothing but plain sailing.

There are weak points to it. The Gearboxes are a weak point, as they supposedly are the ones that go first, depending on who’s driving. And Subaru’s boxer engines, when under stronger load when tuning (more boost), they aren’t as strong as most would like to believe.

So moral of the story, for anyone getting into 86’s: Don’t shift like you’re in a beat-up Honda, and ‘page up’ with caution (let’s see how many get the reference).

What do you think of the ownership experience with your car?

Ok, a bit of background story (for anybody willing to hear).

This car has been my dream car, since the initial FT-86 concepts back from pre-2010s. The idea of an affordable, cheap, sleek, rear-wheel drive sports car, coming from Toyota (this is from a guy whose entire family has been engrossed by Toyota/Lexus products for decades), there was nothing to dislike.

Sure enough, 7 years after a fateful family Japan trip where I got to ride passenger with a professional driver, hooning the daylights out of pre-production 86s, I got one of my own. To make matters worse, it was my first car.

Specced from new, in Pearlescent white, with the Dynamic Performance Pack, which includes:

  • Brembo brake calipers
  • Sachs dampers
  • Forged alloy wheels

To say I had high expectations for this car would’ve been an understatement. I still had the naïve, childhood feelings of that car that gave me my first taste of drifting back in 2012. More than that, it brought about high expectations of myself. I had the unrealistic expectations that I would be the next coming of Keiichi Tsuchiya, I expected to just jump into the car, and OWN it.

And that car blew my expectations out of the water. For better and for worse.

No, I am not the new Keiichi Tsuchiya, and the car was better than I could ever imagine. There are certain nuances, that only come from driving and living with a car, unbeknownst to my dumb-ass self beforehand. But beyond that, after being burned by two Mercs, it was a breath of fresh air to have a car so basic, and so fun.

Think of it like a friendship with a simpleton. Sure, you could be friends with intellectuals who are smarter, better looking, wealthier, etc. But, which would you rather be with for a Friday night on the town, or when you’re in the middle of nowhere trying to pass the time. It’s more fun. On paper it’s worse, but in execution… way more fun.

So, ownership experience: Fun. Just Fun.

How has the purchase and aftercare experience been with your car?

Leading up to this involved 25 test drives with 22 different cars, travelling around many random dealers, trying out such a wide range of cars, that I may as well be testing cars for a wholesale.

But in the end, I ordered the car late 2018 and the car took a whopping 6 months to get here. The actual handover experience however was a bit lacklustre.

Bearing in mind the dealership was small, the car was literally just sitting, outside, in the rain, next to all the demo cars unlocked. So even while I was there, there were people getting in and taking a look at the car (I get that the car is pretty, but c’mon man…)

But afterwards, all was okay. Just went for service, no BS or nothing. You pay pennies, you get pennies. So all was good afterwards.

Are you happy with the price and features of your car?

When the 86 first came out, it was coveted, and rightfully so, for being a genuinely affordable, new, true-purposed sports car. But as times changed, the 86 stuck to its roots. Through thick and thin it seems.

So as a result, this is a 2019 car, with no adaptive cruise control, no blind spot monitoring, no parking sensors, no road sign recognition, no collision avoidance, nothing.

In that idea then, paying upwards of $40k for a ‘metal tofu box’, as so lovingly dubbed by my mother, is quite steep. Worse still when you sit as a passenger.

Note: $40k now can get you some serious kit. Lightly-used Merc A-Classes, Audi A3s or BMW 1-series, fully specced Hyundai i30s, or just generally quite refined vehicles. So to jump into a harsh, loud, tinny, light machine, is quite a ‘downgrade’ for those in the passenger seat, getting thrown around when the driver releases their inner ‘Orido-style’. But then again, if you gauge a car from the passenger seat you ain’t doing it right.

Post-update 86s come standard with a Torsen limited-slip differential, revised gear ratios and improved suspension tuning. Couple that in with the fact that even now, the only rear-wheel drive sports car that you can get new, is this or an ND MX-5, makes this still not a terrible proposition.

What do you think of the performance and economy of your car?

Yes, the car is underpowered. You do have to push the car a bit at every stop light, to crest in front of others, and the torque dip in the middle of the rev range is quite annoying. And if you are unaware, you will be flat-lined by a raging tradie proving he was supposed to be in V8 Supercars.

Yes, the tyres are pathetic. The 86 has always been the more skiddish of the 86/BRZ twins, and those 205-section Michelin Primacy’s are next to useless in the wet, as simply turning a direction and setting off will result in ‘DGDGDGDG-‘ coming from the traction control, or a hella sick skid (accidental, obviously).

We all done now? Okay.

Momentum, momentum, momentum. That’s the key phrase with this. I’m gonna talk about the car in it’s most natural environment of a curvaceous mountain ‘touge’. Because of the skinny tyres, it’s not a car you can just chuck into corners like nothing, because the front and rear will give way first, as you ask it for something it just doesn’t have the grip for.

So the method is to feed it through. Brake, get the car settled early, then turn early and feed on the power. That way, the rear will be the one that will jut out, but so smoothly and gradually, all you have to do is just apply a touch of opposite lock, even with your foot quite into the ‘go-faster’ pedal.

Don’t try to shock the car, while it can do it, you’ll scrub off too much speed, and just understeer.

So if you can do be smooth, and manage the slip angle on certain corners, and get your shifts on the delicious 6-speed ‘box, then you’ve got yourself one hell of a weapon.

And the engine, well… It’s best to work around it. The reason I say momentum, is because you have to work around the fact revving the engine out feels like pushing a teen to do house chores. They’ll do it, but it never feels like they want to. And the issue it, because it lacks the turbo of its WRX/STI brethren, or even just a supercharger to smoothen out the torque curve, you are forced to rev the living daylights out of the car to get the most out of it.

So you have to rely on the chassis balance, and the playful nature of the car, to get you through.


What do you think of the technology in your car?

I don’t think this part is necessary tbh…

But I’ll do my best. The infotainment system is Toyota’s old ‘plug and play’ system (I call it that, because the unit is quite literally just taken out and used in any of their old-design cars, HiLux, C-HR, Prius C and V, Yaris, etc.). So as expected, it’s slow as hell, can’t do much, and is painful to navigate. But at least it plays Bluetooth music from a phone well, so that’s fine.

The screen in the gauge cluster is actually a nifty little device, as it shows both all your standard driving stats, such as fuel economy and trip data, but also has a performance suite, with a dyno graph (showing the infamous torque dip), g-meters and even a stopwatch, all coming as standard, instead of a $6k option (*ahem* Porsche *ahem*)

What do you think of the ride comfort and handling of your car?

I’ve been extremely lucky in my lifetime to drive, or ride some really nice sports cars. And in this, I’ll compare this humble little 86 to its bigger adopted brother, the A90 Toyota Supra, and the Porsche 718, because why not.

In my opinion, if you were to hand me the keys to either of the three, for a sprint on a mountain road, it’s too late. I’ve already dumped the clutch and sent it down the hill.

‘Natural’. That’s the reason why I’ll always love this car to death. Every single action you put into the car. Throttle response, braking, shifter feel, clutch weight, is all so natural. It’s isn’t overly jumpy, nor sluggish. Nothing too heavy, or too light. Just… perfect. As a result, the car isn’t intimidating in the slightest.

Yes, while that’s helped out by the price gap between it and the other two, the 718 can be too loud and ‘industrial’ for some, and the terrible visibility and sometimes sensitive behaviour of the Supra can be unsettling.

Think about it like Goldilocks. If the Supra is too light, 718 too heavy, the 86 is just right.

And the steering. The Supra’s steering, while frenetic and making the car feel ultra light, can feel numb, due to the over-assistance and thicker front tyres. And for that reason, the 718 uses smaller front tyres, and the steering is less-assisted feeling; maybe a touch too far.

The 86 is just right. It is electrically assisted, but the weighting is so natural, and with an extremely small front tyre, the feeling you get from the steering wheel is crazy (also, take note BMW: A smaller and thinner steering wheel rim leads to better road feeling).

I should probably talk about the the Dynamic Performance Pack. So with the pack, comes Brembo brakes, Sachs dampers and forged wheels. And if you’re a stickler for particular driving feel, the Dynamic Performance Pack takes the 86 experiences, and just tightens it.

The brakes have more bite to it, and better feel, the Sachs dampers really get rid of any unwanted body roll, but don’t overly ruin any ride characteristics, and the forged wheels… just look nice I guess. But the car rarely gets truly unsettled over undulations, and the jolt of a pothole wouldn’t shake the daylights out of the cabin.

But the bit I love most: The car is honest, and has fun even at low speeds.

The other cars need so much speed in order to have fun, and the fun is over so quickly, that you don’t even have the time to enjoy it. Worse still, at low speeds, they are just… normal cars.

It’s easy to see why most non-car people don’t see the point of fast performance cars; they just sit in the same traffic as everyone else.

But the 86 is different… to me, it makes every trip an event. You have to work for your speed, and work for your satisfaction; to nail every shift, to nail every rev-match, to cut and dive through traffic. You have to work with the car, every time; something lost in new cars today.

Every drive in that car is more memorable that way. When you make the car slide, it’s you doing that. When you slip it through a backroad, it’s you doing that. When you downshift into 2nd, nail the throttle and slip through a gap in traffic, it’s you doing that.

And while yes, that’s the case in every car, none will make such an event from it, like this.

Summary for the whole car: It’s the most human car I’ve ever had the privilege of owning. And it has been a pleasure.

Do you have any additional comments about your car?

So this is the last of my little trio of reviews. If you haven’t seen the other two reviews, click the link below for a written review for:

I’ll also mention my use of past-tense in the final paragraph. Hopefully, once this review is released, this car has been sold and has gone, or is going to its new owner. I do mean it when I say that this car was a privilege to own and drive, nearly everyday at one point. And I do sincerely hope that the new owner has as much fun with the car I have.

And no, I did not sell the car to get the new GR86.

Speaking of, I know some would want a direct comparison between the GR86 and my 86, and while I’m yet to drive one, from most reviews made online, I can gather this.

The GR86 is an evolution of the older platform, and from that, everything has just been perfected. The old Primacys give way to wider Pilot Sport 4s (I think), the new 2.4L flat-4 fixes the torque dip, and overall the car is more refined.
So what’s left for the old 86? Well, according to YouTube channel ‘TheTopher’, himself a previous owner of a BRZ, said in a track review of the GR86, that ‘it has lost a little bit of character, though it has more power, though it has more capability and torque…”.

So from that, it’s safe to say that for 99.9 per cent of people, the new GR86 is a no-brainer, over the previous gen. But for those looking at the delicacies of driving (idiots like me), then maybe a previous-generation 86, plus the cash saved for modifications is still the way to go.

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Show Breakdown
Technology 6
Reliability 9.1
Ride & Handling 9.9
Price & Features 7.9
Purchase & Aftercare 7.5
Performance & Economy 8.7
Ownership Experience 9.1
Top Line Specs
5 ★
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