Inspired by and named after the petrolhead favourite from the 80s, the AE86, the 86 is Toyota’s latest entry into the small sports car segment. With a front engined, rear wheel drive layout, it has a 57/43% weight distribution and a low centre of gravity. The GT comes equipped with a six speed manual gearbox and a torque sensing limited slip differential. An automatic version is also available.

Power is provided by a flat four DOHC boxer engine co-developed by Subaru and Toyota. It has Toyota’s D-4s direct injection with VVT, and produces 147kW and 205Nm of torque. 0-100 is achieved in 7.6 seconds. Not blisteringly fast by current standards but according to Toyota this is deliberate. It’s all about driving fun, not chasing big power figures.


I arrived to pick up the car from Rutherford and Bond Toyota, was handed the keys and pointed in the direction of the car park. I had a quick walk around the car. The white paint has a lovely pearl metallic sheen to it which catches the eye as you walk around the car. There are some nice little touches: the 86 badge on the wing has little pistons sticking out of it to represent the boxer engine; The GT rear spoiler has little aircraft style fins at each side; the roof has an indent in the middle which helps channel air over the car.

There’s no need to unlock the door as the 86 GT has keyless entry and ignition as standard, so as long as the keys are in your pocket, touching the handle unlocks the car. The interior is nicely trimmed in a sporty-looking combination of leather and alcantara with contrasting panels of black and red. There is the occasional highlight trim made of aluminium-look plastic.

The dashboard console is fairly simple. No screens in sight, just a few dials with LED number displays for the dual-zone climate control.


Slide yourself into the low-mounted driver’s seat, close the door, and you’re cocooned by the dark grey roof lining, black centre console and dashboard. The seats, handles and controls generally feel solid and good quality but there’s the odd piece that feels lighter and a little flimsy, such as the carbon fibre-look panel in the dash which hides the passenger airbag.

The two-tone leather steering wheel adjusts for reach and height and is nicely shaped and pleasant to hold. The seat adjusts for height as well as forward and back. I was able to find a comfortable driving position with no trouble. The seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, and hold you in place well on twisty roads.

In front of the driver, the central dial is a rev counter, with a smaller analogue speedo to the left. In the rev counter dial is an LED digital speedo. I really liked the digital speedo and never really looked at the analogue dial.

There’s a trip computer which can display outside temperature, instantaneous or average fuel consumption and that’s about it! It’s pretty basic and I would have liked to have seen a range remaining readout as well, maybe some other information.

I pressed the clutch, pushed the engine start/stop button and headed off across town. The low seating position and the bulges on the sides of the bonnet combined to give the initial impression that it was a big car, but this feeling soon passed as I got used to the layout. The ride was solid but never crashy or harsh. The gear shifter has a weighted knob and a short throw, making changing gear a real pleasure. The electric power steering is light, but not over-light when driving at motorway speeds.

The handbrake is very close to the driver at the edge of the centre console. I noticed the same in the latest Corolla so maybe that’s just a Toyota design thing. It never got in my way or seemed uncomfortable to use.


I drove home, getting used to the car. On the motorway it’s pretty quiet and refined, happy to cruise at 100kph in 6th gear. The clutch is light and easy to use too, so driving in slow moving traffic is no hardship either. This is definitely a car you could drive daily.

Once I was home I had more time for a proper look around the car. The boot was bigger than I expected. Not much height but a good sized floor area for the weekly shop. Under the boot floor is a space where the spare wheel would have fitted. The early 86’s had a full sized spare covered by a rubber mat but it took up too much space, making it impossible to get a full sized overnight bag into the boot. It was replaced by a flat boot floor and a storage cubby which is partly filled by a tyre repair kit. The usual towing eye, jack and wheel brace are neatly fitted in at the sides.


Toyota lists this as a four seater car but with the driver’s seat in a comfortable position for someone of average height there’s about 4cm between the front and rear seats. So it’s really a 2+2. You could safely fit three adults in there for a short trip but four would be pushing it.

There are ISOfix mounts in both rear seats for a child seat as well as bolts for a rear tether, so it’s well equipped for smaller children. I did note that the covers for the rear tethers seem overly-chunky and catch your eye in the rear view mirror. For a feature that will probably be used rarely in a car like this they’re a bit in-your-face.


The engine sits low and far back. It’s all on view with no engine covers like the European cars. There’s a fair bit of room in there too. I noticed that the oil filter is in a great easy-access place for changing.

Back inside the car, there’s quite a big storage cubby in the centre console with a charger socket and a removable double drink holder. There are also bottle-sized holders in the doors and a decent sized glove compartment. Both sun visors have a lighted mirror under a flap. Other than that it’s pretty basic inside. Front electric windows, heated front seats and electric mirrors are all the luxuries you get. Plus the aforementioned dual zone climate control. One nice little touch that I really liked was the frameless rear-view mirror. The Toyota head unit isn’t bad, with six speakers around the car. It has aux and USB inputs, can pair to your phone and accepts voice commands. I didn’t have it on very often as I preferred to listen to the engine.

In keeping with proper usage of a sports car I installed my daughter’s booster seat, and my wife and we set off to pick the little one up from kindergarten. The car’s looks got very positive comments from all of the teachers and staff at the kindergarten! This is something I noticed while driving around too: people often gave it a second look, and I saw a few people taking photos of it with their phones.

My 4 year-old had to cross her legs to be able to sit comfortably on the ride home, highlighting how little room there is in the back. The next day when I dropped her off, we only went around half a dozen corners before she announced that she felt sick. This prompted a rapid pulling-over and moving her to the front seat! There is very little side view out of the back seats because of the thick B and C pillars and tiny rear side windows.


Anyway enough about kindy runs, this car is designed for fun on the back roads, so the next trip was a longer one to find some twisty roads. At very low speeds, crawling along in traffic, the boxer engine makes an almost diesel-like sound. Start to accelerate, and over the top of that faint engine noise comes a much nicer throaty growl. Continue accelerating and the growl increases to a grin-inducing level. It’s never intrusively loud, but loud enough to remind you what sort of car you’re driving. The 86 has a sound generator system, which explains the twin sounds you hear at low speeds, but it’s not one of those systems where the speakers are used to play fake noises. On the air intake there’s an extra pipe which channels induction noise directly from the airbox to the front footwell. This is a good compromise enabling you to have a sporty sound inside the car without waking up the neighbours every morning.

After a drive around some winding roads, I was really impressed with the steering and handling. The 86GT has both traction control and vehicle stability control. With these on it allows a very small amount of slip when setting off or on a tight corner, then swiftly kicks in and sorts everything out. The car turns in really well, with good feedback from the steering so you know exactly what the car is doing. The gear change is really excellent, it has a very satisfying feel.

But I have to admit after that first evening drive I felt a bit underwhelmed by the performance, and didn’t like the car as much as I wanted to. I started to read up on the specs of the car and realised that it makes maximum power at 7000rpm and maximum torque at 6400-6600rpm. I had been driving it like I drive my turbo car where all of the power is in the 2000-4500rpm range.

The next day I decided I would set out up the coast for a longer drive. I set off early, and with the rear window covered in condensation I realised that you have to rely completely on the wing mirrors when reversing. Because of those fat C pillars, rear ¾ visibility is almost nonexistent. I’d be tempted to fit rear parking sensors or a reversing camera if this was my car to help avoid any reversing incidents.


After a stop for photos I pulled onto the road and accelerated enthusiastically, discovering the change-up light in the rev counter. Unlike my turbo car, which has a burst of power then tails off towards the red line, the 86 really gets into its stride towards the top of the range. I started to realise how much of the power band I had been missing out on by changing up too early. The extra power and noise was great and I looked forward to the twisty bits again.

There were some pretty ropey road surfaces on the way there which highlighted the 86’s solid ride. Everything was well damped but some sections of road made things a bit jiggly.

On the way back it was time to take the back roads. In VSC Sport mode with the traction control on, the climb up Paekakariki Hill was exhilarating! Now I was driving the car properly it was everything I had hoped. Grip on the corners was excellent, with an occasional chirp of the tyres on tight corners, but never feeling as if the car wanted to go too sideways. I think you’d have to turn off the traction control and really throw the car around to make it misbehave on a dry road. In the wet it can be a bit squirmier on corners but the traction and stability control sort out any wayward behaviour. The brakes slow the car well with good feel, and keeping the engine on the boil gives a much better response and a great sound. The engine note is a lovely growl. In the twisty sections I wasn’t going that fast, but in second gear it sounded like I was going faster than I was. It’s a really satisfying car to drive on roads like this.


I did find myself looking out of the window at the 86. It’s a really good looking car. Well proportioned, low but not so low that it struggles on drives or speedbumps, subtle but sporty, with hints of the old Supra and Celica as well as other cars from Toyota’s sports car history. I also found myself looking back at it every time I parked and walked away.

The 86 has a five star ANCAP safety rating. It has airbags everywhere: driver and passenger front, front side, front/rear curtain shield and driver’s knee. Seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, whiplash injury lessening seat design and comfy head rests.

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km 0-100 km/h Price
Toyota 86GT 2.0l flat four 147kW/205Nm 8.1 7.6 $49,000
Hyundai Veloster Turbo 1.6l 4 cyl turbo 150kW/265Nm 6.8 approx 7.0 $49,990
Mini Coupe Cooper S 1.6l 4 cyl turbo 135kW/240Nm 6.3 6.9 $51,000
Mazda MX-5 2.0l 4 cyl 118Kw/118Nm 8.1 7.9 $55,190
Peugeot RCZ 2.0l 4 cyl 147kW/275Nm 6.9 7.5 $59,990
Nissan 370Z 3.7l 6 cyl 245kW/363Nm 10.5l 5.8 $59,995
BMW 220i 2.0l 4 cyl turbo 137kW/270Nm 6.3 7.0 $66,700
Pros Cons
  • Excellent gear change
  • Great handling
  • Looks good
  • Nice leather and alcantara interior
  • Very firm ride
  • Rear seats barely usable
  • Not the best on fuel
  • Some interior plastics a bit flimsy


What do we think?

After a couple of hundred kilometres of mixed driving I started to understand what the Toyota 86 is about. It’s a great entry-level sports car. Nice looking but not too flash. Comfortable to cruise in on most roads but great fun once you get out on some more challenging back roads. Not spacious but practical enough for most people for day-to-day use. It feels well engineered and solid, and gives the impression the chassis could handle a lot more power. I like it a lot, but I know if I bought one, after a few months I’d be itching to modify it.


Vehicle Type Front Engined, RWD Coupe
Starting Price $ 49,000 NZD (approx inc. on-road costs)
Tested Price $ 49,000 NZD
Engine Petrol 2.0l flat four
Transmission 6 speed manual
0 – 100 kph 7.6 seconds
Kerb Weight 1275 kg
Length x Width x Height 4240 x 1755 x 11285 mm
Fuel Tank 50 L
Fuel Efficiency Combined – 8.1 L/100km
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars
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Rob Clubley
I love everything about cars! Driving, looking at them, modifying. It's great to see what people do with cars, the different car cultures. If I was rich, my garage would be bigger than my house!


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