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2017 Toyota 86: The Name Keeps Changing but the Fun Stays the Same

It’s not every day that a car company comes out with a truly pure, lightweight, sports car. Back in 2012, Toyota and Subaru got together and did just that. It was released under the name Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S and immediately gained cult status among enthusiasts. Light weight, a low center of gravity thanks to the boxer-4-cylinder engine and well-developed suspension led to a truly engaged driving experience. In the short time since they introduced the car, Subaru has already dropped it and Toyota has changed the name – now just the Toyota 86, but those subtle improvements mean that it’s better than ever.

New for 2018, the front and rear fascias are all new and a little bit more aggressive looking. Certainly there’s a bit of aerodynamic performance improvement as well that comes along with the improved appearance. The rear spring rates have been reduced a bit, which makes the ride a bit more compliant without harming the handling. In fact, in some ways it’s better because it’s more compliant over the lumpy Chicago roadways. It might be a tick slower on a racetrack or autocross course, but in everyday use it’s better.

I’m not sure why anyone would get one of these with an automatic transmission, but oddly that option exists. This car begs for the manual transmission so you can ensure that you keep the engaging engine in the powerband. Luckily our test car was so equipped, and having enjoyed some time behind the wheel, I strongly suggest you learn to drive manual so you can fully enjoy it.

On the inside, it’s all about the basics. There’s a really comfortable and supportive pair of seats with a pretty marginally-useful rear seat. The materials aren’t great, and the technology is sparse, but for a change we like it just like that. You buy a car like this worried more about how much it weighs than about how nice the trim is. Still, it’s quite a respectable cabin, and with a starting weight just over 2600lb, it delivers on light weight as well.

With 200hp from the compact engine, there’s a great power-to weight ratio. It’s not a rocket ship, but it’s quick and nimble. It’s nearly impossible to not smile ear to ear while tossing it through some twisty roads, something that we’re severely lacking in Chicago.

One thing that makes the car so fun to drive is that they resisted the urge to put huge tires on it. Sure, having a ton of grip is great, but it’s also great to have a lower limit so it’s easier to attain. When I started racing, I started in a low-powered car without much grip – and I credit that to some of my success.  You can’t learn the limit when the limit is too high. Car enthusiasts get hung up on skidpad numbers, 0-60 times and the like – but a car like this transcends those numbers. It’s accessible, and that makes it a perfect car for a young enthusiast who wants to learn to be a better driver.

I think this will be looked at as a really important car in the not-too-distant future. As cars get more computerized, self-driving, electric-powered and connected – they will become the polar opposite of this piece of analog history. It’s got some gadgets, but for the most part this is a pure driving machine. I am all for the progress we’re seeing in the industry, for the safety and convenience that all these advances will bring. I’m all for reducing our footprint on the planet and making it a better place. Hopefully, cars like this remain available because driving cars like this does makes the world feel like a better place, or at least a happier place!

Special thanks to Toyota Motor Corporation for providing the 2017 Toyota 86 for review