Many people buy Toyotas because they are Toyotas – which have a reputation for being durable, reliable cars that are known to depreciate less fast than other cars.
But how about a Subaru with a Toyota badge?
Does the mojo transfer?
The “Toyota” 86 sport coupe is the only Toyota made by another car company – with another car company’s engine under its hood.
But a Toyota badge on its hood.
It’s functionally identical – and nearly cosmetically identical – to the Subaru BRZ.
Both are similar to the Mazda Miata – their primary rival – in terms of being affordably priced rear-drive sports cars. But the “twins” have back seats – which the Miata doesn’t – aren’t convertibles (the Miata is) are powered by low-mounted/horizontally opposed “boxer” engines (Porsches are the only other cars that have these) and have large trunks for small, purpose-built sports cars – unlike the Miata, which doesn’t have one of those, either.
As to why Toyota is selling Subarus . . .
At first, it wasn’t.
Scion – Toyota’s small car brand, sold it – as the Scion FR-S. But Toyota cancelled Scion – leaving the FR-S (which was the one “Scion” that sold well) without a place to be sold. Which is why it is now sold under the Toyota label as the 86.
Which is slightly higher than the same car sold under the Subaru label.
You can buy the BRZ for $25,795 to start vs. $26,655 for the lowest-priced version of the same thing wearing a Toyota badge.
A top-trim BRZ Gray Series stickers for $30,140 – vs. $32,420 for the equivalent “Toyota” 86 TRD.
Toyota’s rep doesn’t come free.
But this is good news – if you want to avoid some of the new driver-pre-emption tech (styled “assist”) such as Lane Keep Assist, Automated Emergency Braking and, of course, ASS – the unintentional acronym for automated stop/starting of the engine at every traffic light.
Almost very new-design new car comes standard with these “assists” – which are really nudges toward acceptance of the car being in the driver’s seat rather than you.
The 86 doesn’t even offer them as options. Huzzah!
Avoid them while you still can – because it won’t be for much longer.
You can also get a firmer-riding suspension, upgraded (Brembo) brakes a more aggressive-sounding exhaust system and high-performance summer tires on 18-inch wheels – the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) package, which is new for 2019.
Seats four. Not comfortably. But possibly.
Isn’t a convertible. Not everyone wants a soft-top.
Low-mounted “boxer” engine – just like a Porsche – without the Porsche price.
What’s Not So Good
Toyota rep adds to the price. Get the same car for less at a Subaru dealer.
Some want a soft-top.
Not as light on its feet as Miata – because it’s 500 lbs. heavier than a Miata. Really.
All 86s – like all BRZs – are powered by the same Subaru-built 2.0 liter horizontally opposed four cylinder engine, which makes 205 horsepower when paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission and 200 when paired with the optionally available six-speed automatic.
Both cars get to 60 in the same 7 seconds – with the manual. Automatic-equipped versions are noticeably less speedy. Not because of the mere 5 horsepower deficit but because of the absence of a turbocharger.
The Twins don’t have them – or offer them. Which means the engine has to be revved to make power – to get the car going. Peak horsepower occurs at a sport bike-like 7,000 RPM and the maximum (and meager) 156 ft.-lbs. of torque it produces isn’t produced until you spin the engine to 6,4000 RPM.
Which is easy to do . . . with a manual transmission. Just rev it up.
But with an automatic, it takes longer for the engine to build speed – and make power- which is why it takes more time for acceleration to occur. A turbo corrects for this by lowering the point at which peak torque, especially, is made. Modern turbocharged gas engines often make their peak power at very low RPM – almost like diesel engines. In many cases, below 1,500 RPM. Which means it’s not necessary to rev them to get power out of them – and so they work excellently with automatics.
Here, not so much.
Mileage with the automatic is, however, noticeably better: 24 city, 32 highway – vs. 21 city, 28 highway with the manual.
The 86 isn’t very quick, even by family sedan standards. A V6 Camry gets to 60 two seconds sooner.
This absence of quickness has been the basis of criticism from the general car press, which does not grok that different standards apply.
Quickness isn’t the measure of a sports car. How it handles – and how it sounds and feels – is.
Using those metrics, the 86 (and its Subaru-badged twin) more than deliver the goods. The boxer engine is both growly and revvy. It practically insists you hold each of the six-speed’s gears until the engine bumps up against the rev limiter; then stab the clutch, grab the next gear . . . and do it again.
You can just drive this car. There’s torque enough for stop-and-going.
But it is a car that wants to be driven. You will want to do that, too. For the same reason you don’t order a salad and a diet Coke at a steak house.
It is also unique – a least in this price range.
The 86 and BRZ are the only rear-wheel-drive sports cars with a boxer engine that you can buy for less than $59,000 – the base price of the Porsche Boxster (which is the least expensive of Porsche’s models). You could buy a pair of His n’ Hers 86s – or one in white and another in red, for yourself – and have almost $10k left over for gas.
The flat four doesn’t sound like other fours, which mostly sound the same. It has an obstreperous, thrashy-clashy sound – almost like an air-cooled flat four but without the overheating.
And there is a balance advantage to the design, because the engine sits wider in the chassis as well as lower – the weight of its cylinders split evenly across the front-to-rear centerline of the car. Two on the driver’s side, the other set on the passenger side – each boxing (hence the name) as well as counterbalancing the other.
It is a heavier-feeling car than rival Miata, which makes sense because it is. By a shocking 500 lbs – the equivalent of one fully dressed cast iron Chevy V8.
But it’s still a very fun car to drive – which is ultimately what matters.
The 86 is – per above – one of the very few new cars you can still buy with plastic on the seats and zero miles on the odo that doesn’t try to “assist” you when you drive. If your tires touch a painted line on the inside corner of an apex, the steering wheel won’t vibrate – or pull in the opposite direction (Lane Keep Assist). If you thread the needle through traffic, the car will not slam on the brakes – and cut throttle – because it thinks you got too close to another car for saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety (Automated Emergency Braking).
And best of all, the engine stays on until you cut it off.
The whole thing is refreshingly retro – not in the stylistic sense but the functional sense. A set of analog gauges that expect you to mind them. A short-throw six-speed shifter. Very little else.
Nothing else, that is to say, to distract you from the business at hand.
An LCD screen is present in the center stack but it’s clearly an afterthought and more to the point, easily ignored. Because you can.
None of which is necessary when the car itself is entertaining.
We are losing this infinitely valuable aspect of getting from A to B. An escalator is transportation.
The 86 is something different.
The 86’s backseats are almost as tight as the Miata’s tiny trunk (4.9 cubic feet, for the record). But they are there – which they aren’t in the Miata. Which means you can’t carry more than one person besides yourself – which makes the Miata a much less flexible car than the 86.
The Toyota’s back seats actually have more legroom (29.9 inches) than the back seats in the much larger Chevy Camaro – which has about 24 inches. If there were more headroom, the 86’s backseats would almost be . . . comfortable.
But the point is, you have them – which means you have options. Being able to carry even two passengers (vs. the Miata’s one) is the difference between needing one car and two.
You also have a startlingly roomy trunk – which can swallow amazingly large items because of the full-sized pass-through you can create by lowering the backs of the rear seats. When you do, you’ve got almost twice the space for stuff as the Miata does.
Which is no small thing.
On the pro side, a hardtop doesn’t stain or tear and is much less vulnerable to thieves. It is also much less likely to leak. Even the tightest fitting/best-sealed convertible top will almost inevitably leak, eventually. The opening and closing creates fatigue points or points that just don’t fit as snugly as they once did. Seals shrink and crack. Water comes.
The 86 has excellent forward visibility and even to the rear – unusual for a hardtop sports coupe – because the glass area is comparatively large. But the view to the sides isn’t great because of the taper of the roofline, the huge C pillars and the very small rear quarter glass. Look twice – at least – before you pull out into traffic from a side street.
Then, punch it!
Physically, the 86 is a bigger car than the Miata. It’s almost a foot longer overall (166.7 inches vs. 154.1 inches) but it’s still a very tight package that has a huge advantage swimming among today’s lunkers – and parking among them.
And when you do park it, you can pull up the manual parking brake. Another functionality blessing that’s becoming absent among new cars. The manual-lever brake is simpler, obviously. No electrics involved – and so no electrical parts to inevitably stop working one fine (and probably expensive) day.
But also, the pull-up brake gives you more control over the car – an important attribute in a sports car. You can use it to lock the rear wheels up while the car is moving, for instance. Not to slow the car down – but to change the car’s direction.
This is important to people who still like to drive – and know how to – and prefer a car that doesn’t prevent them from doing it.
This “Toyota” will probably hold its value better over time – even though it’s a Subaru. Just because of the badge.
Which makes amends for this badge’s higher price tag.
Still, it is a Subaru – which means Subaru parts. And – arguably – service. No slam on Toyota service, but Toyota stores specialize in Toyotas. Here, the badge may matter – because Subaru techs are trained to work on Subaru engines and without question work on them more regularly than Toyota techs and so have more experience dealing with the unusual boxer engine and its quirks.
Speaking of working on it.
If you pop the hood you will find the oil filter – without having to look for it. It’s right there on the top of the engine (right side) and easily removed/installed by hand, without tools and without having to do more than raise the hood. This is a Subaru Thing and a commendable thing.
The rest of the engine is remarkably accessible as well. And – even more commendable – it isn’t covered by an ugly plastic shroud. You can see the engine – which is made beautiful to see by red powder coating of the intake manifold.
As we descend into Electric Car Homogeneity, we are not likely to see much of this sort thing again.
Seize the day – before it’s gone.
The Bottom Line
If you like the idea of a Subaru sports car – with a Toyota rep – the 86 ticks both boxes.
Regardless of the badge.
Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
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