Knowing which 86 to pick
If you know anything about the Toyota 86 and TRD, your first question about this 2019 Toyota 86 TRD Special Edition will be whether it has more power, so let’s get it out of the way: No. Keep reading.
Lots of people think the 86 needs more power. They’ve been begging for it for years, but I’m not one of them. I’m on board with Toyota’s position that power is appropriate for the purpose and personality of the car. It’s already fun the way it is. So much so that in our 2017 comparison test, “The Leftovers,” I personally placed it first and wrote an impassioned defense when I was outvoted and it landed third.
I love the 86’s lively chassis. I love that it has just enough body roll to make a 30-mph (48-km/h) corner feel like a 60-mph corner. I love that power oversteer is at your beck and call, and that the chassis rewards with smooth, predictable, and easily controlled drifts. It’s an absurd amount of fun at $27,000 USD.
Part of what makes it so fun are its tires. Standard fitment is the Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 all-season tire, and optional is the Michelin Primacy HP grand touring summer tire. Neither is a performance tire by any measure, designed instead for long life and low rolling resistance for better fuel economy. Hard and skinny, they’re easily overpowered by the 86’s 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque (or 200 hp and 151 lb-ft if you go for the six-speed automatic).
Enter the TRD Special Edition. It features actual performance tires, Michelin Pilot Sport 4s on new 18-inch wheels. Behind them are Sachs dampers and Brembo brakes. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen this movie before when it was called the Subaru BRZ Limited Performance package. It’s not exactly a carbon copy, though, as the 86 TRD gets a new rear bumper, brushed stainless steel exhaust tips, and a front splitter/three-piece trunk lip spoiler combo that aren’t rated to produce actual downforce and don’t affect the car’s drag coefficient. This being a special edition, it’s limited to 1,418 copies, only comes in Raven black and with a manual transmission, and gets retro ’80s TRD stickers and badges. Also on the docket: red interior accents, red contrast stitching, and the yellow/orange/red TRD logo embroidered on the dashboard.
The tires, actually, you’ll recognize from the also limited-edition BRZ tS. That car we castigated for adding more grip without adding more power, which resulted in less drama and consequently less fun. We tried the same thing on our long-term Scion FR-S (now known as the Toyota 86) with a set of Dunlop Direzza ZII performance tires. Same result: more grip, faster laps, less fun.
If you’re wondering now if Toyota has managed to break the spell, the answer is, again, no. Like our old Scion and the BRZ tS, the 86 TRD Special Edition has more grip, goes around a track faster, feels like it needs more power, and doesn’t drift. Still, that doesn’t mean Toyota has ruined the car. Actually, it gives the car more range. Believe it or not, some people don’t want loose cars that oversteer at the drop of a hat. Plenty of people track their 86s, and going sideways isn’t fast.
With stickier tires, the 86 TRD simply grips and goes. In low-speed corners, you can pretty much wood it as soon as you clip the apex, and the car will put every last pony and pound-foot to the ground. In high-speed corners, it’s chef’s choice whether you lift at all, and if you do need to use the brake, you really just wave at it. With all that stick, you can carry a ton of speed without losing the line. Although understeer is always easy to induce with ham-fisted driving, no amount of prodding would provoke more than a few degrees of rotation from the rear end. No, it’s not silly fun like the standard car, but it’s faster and it forces you to drive like a professional and not a hooligan. Getting braking points, turn-in, and cornering lines perfect takes practice, and this car will get you there. Once you get there, though, you can’t help feeling that no matter how much you like the car the way it is, it could use lots more power for the straights.
Even though I’m certainly glad the autocross set have a new arrow in their quiver, it’s not for me. I still love the loosey-goosey 86, because driving slow cars fast is more fun when they’re playful. The 86 feels like it’s going a million mph in the same corner where an 86 TRD feels like it needs another 50 horsepower. I like being able to control the 86 mid-corner with only the throttle, and I like driving off a sweet drift more than I like trying to avoid the midrange torque dip accelerating out of a corner.
So no, the 86 TRD Special Edition isn’t bad, and putting sticky tires on it didn’t ruin the car. It’s different, and it appeals to a different sort than the traditional 86 crowd. Being a part of that crowd, though, I’ll save the nearly $5,000 USD base price jump over an 86 GT for extra rear tires. I do love those old-school TRD badges, though.