The Toyota 86 has been talked about in article, after article, after article. When Toyota told me one was was on the way, I knew nobody wanted to read another standard review. Sure, from a personal standpoint I had only done short drives in the Toyobaru twins before and I was interested in the car itself, but what I was really interested in was subjecting myself to the grind of daily driving a manual transmission. My commute consists of a 10 mile, 30 minute drive (on a good day). Now that is relatively short for some people, but at an average of 20mph and numerous hills with stop and go traffic, it steered me away from purchasing a manual vehicle last winter. I ended up with my Lexus ISF which I am very happy with, but since then I have wondered, how bad is it really?
FIrst I’ll talk about the car. Toyota dropped off a 2018 Toyota 86 GT Black. The “Toyota” and the “86” parts you probably know, if not read more here. The “GT Black” bit may be new to you, so I’ll focus on that. The “GT” part refers to the luxury (if you can call it that) option for the 86 which adds dual zone climate control, heated seats, Smart key, keyless start, and heated mirrors. Other changes include a leather wrapped steering wheel, seat bolsters, and e-brake handle. On the outside you get updated LED daytime running lamps and a wing. The “Black” just turns some of the bits including the mirror, wing supports and wing fins well… black.
In typical Toyobaru fashion, no engine changes or performance upgrades to speak of.
In terms of performance driving, I personally had more fun day to day in the Fiat 124 Abarth with its convertible roof and extra torque leading to a loose back end experience, but the 86 was absolutely still an awesome experience on the back roads. Taking a short drive with friend and his Dinan E93 M3, I found the car had no trouble keeping up around the corners. The “Prius” tires made some noise as if they were in pain, but never left me second guessing whether they were going to continue to point me in the direction I was traveling.
As far as livability, I thought the car was generally quite comfortable for what it is but similar to previous RFD reviewers, I didn’t think the radio or infotainment screen was up to the tasks of being my daily driver. Fuel economy was not great either, the stated 24 mpg for a 2.0L is not exactly impressive. The looks however, were top notch. The “Thunder” color, a non-metallic grey with a hint of blue underneath is fantastic. I got more compliments on that than anything else during my time in the two door sports car. Funny enough, for 2019 that color is not available any more, nor is the Black part of the GT package. Oh well. If you are in the market, a standard GT will do you just fine with its color matched wing and mirrors.
So for those of us who live with autos, how is it driving a manual daily? First the backstory of me and manuals, a situation many might find somewhat familiar. I’ve driven everything from a 1957 Porsche 356 to a Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, to a Citroen 2CV, all with three pedals. I wouldn’t say I am particularly good at driving manuals though, just serviceable. I’ve only driven them under fairly controlled circumstances such as light traffic and good weather. Forcing myself to commute is a different animal. People suck at driving and needing to pay attention to the road is often enough, but then also having to worry about my shifting skills and how they could get me into trouble while surrounded by hundreds of angry commuters just trying to get home is almost a nightmare. I had to get over this, and the Toyota was here to do the job.
The 86 arrived in exchange for a 2019 Avalon right before lunch. Perfect! I went for short country road blast and felt like I had the gist of it. Shifts are short and precise and the car loves to be revved. I parked the car after lunch and walked back in the office both happy about my drive and sad I couldn’t keep on going. As I left work that night, I was thrown straight into the fire – bumper to bumper standstill traffic. The 86’s lack of torque was obvious as the car tended to surge forward when revs dropped but as I continued to work through the three pedaled dance, I eventually somewhat figured it out and made it home just fine. No stalls, didn’t roll back too far, great. I’ll take it.
Day two was much the same but day three was a different story. Going to work was fine and dandy as traffic was amazingly light. Going home was a different animal, something went wrong at work and driving home with that stress on my mind didn’t help. I stalled the car three different times, each time getting me more and more flustered. I knew I could drive this car correctly as I had for the last couple days, but my mind wasn’t clear and it showed. I wanted the comfort of my auto appliance at that moment.
As the week continued I got better and I did not find myself having that automatic want again. I started to find the manual transmission to actually helped get my mind off of my work day. I would throw some music on and rip my way home. I found it to be quite theuropedic and on Monday, the challenge was suddenly gone. I left the 86 a home to be picked up, and jumped into my LS400 to mindlessly wind my way to work. It was a pleasant commute not having to worry about 1st gear or rolling back into people at a stoplight, but it lacked the sense of drama and accomplishment I had felt the week prior.
After my time with the manual, I think I could totally get behind it with my current commute. I can also absolutely say anyone that has to deal with stop and go traffic on a longer commute is absolutely crazy. I have recently had friends here in Nashville switch from manual to automatic for their daily drivers, and even under intense beratement they stood by the fact that they are indeed happy with their decision.