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Quick Take: 2018 Toyota 86

The automatic is not a total deal breaker

Eleonor Segurawriter, photographer

The 2018 Toyota 86 is not in the top ranks of most sought after sports cars or as polished as the MX-5 Miata and yet this humble 2+2 coupe is an absolute joy to drive.

I had my first go in the Toyota 86 when I attended the Toyota Driving Academy at Willow Springs. Although I enjoyed letting loose on the track with this rear-wheel-drive coupe, my brief driving time didn't leave a lasting impression.

I heard a Toyota 86 had just arrived at our office and closing my eyes I prayed for a manual. To my discontent Automobile senior editor Kirill Ougarov informed that our tester was actually an automatic. But after a quick zip down the 110 Freeway on my way to my apartment I determined that the auto was not a total deal breaker.

With no special plans in place, I filled the 86's snug trunk with my belongings and drove to my getaway home in Bakersfield. At worst I'd stay indoors binge-watching episodes of Parts Unknown on Netflix with ice-cold beer on standby to dodge the summer heat. At best I'd hit play on my classic rock playlist featuring REO Speedwagon, The Zombies, and Pink Floyd while cruising on a multitude of deserted roads in Kern County's agricultural haven.

Starting at $26,975, the base model Toyota 86 has a 2.0-liter flat-four boxer engine that supplies 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. Standard on the 86 are 17-inch alloy wheels, LED taillights, a chrome-tipped dual exhaust, paddle shifters, LED projector-beam headlights, a 7-inch color touchscreen display, vehicle stability control, and an integrated rearview backup camera. Navigation is optional for $900 and is sold separately as an accessory.

The standard feature that I love the most is the integrated rearview backup camera because it forces you to actually use all your mirrors and not be lazy.

There is nothing remarkable about the Toyota 86's sporty interior and oddly enough that's what makes it badass. Its bare-bones cabin reminded me of the late 90s Toyota Celica, a car that I drooled over as a kid. Altogether, the analog cluster, manual adjustable bucket seats, cloth interior, and lack of technology in this sports car provide a breath of fresh air. With its tight interior, though, I wouldn't recommend it for more than two people—the rear seat is more useful when folded down for additional storage. Given how low the 86's roofline is, I expected to have visibility issues, but that didn't turn out to be the case.

Aside from the all-season tires there are no packages available for the 86. This, however, shouldn't discourage you, as there is an abundance of accessories from Toyota Racing Development to make your 2+2 coupe sparkle. Optional TRD accessories include 17-inch matte gray aluminum wheels, a performance dual exhaust, lowering springs, a sway bar kit, and brake pads. For a sharper appearance there are other non-TRD accessories such as LED fog lights, mudguards, and a rear lip spoiler.

I did a quick configuration with several accessories added and I'd be looking at $32,542, which is still a bargain for a sports car.

On my way to Bakersfield, I pushed the 86 as hard as I could. One annoyance that I had was the amount of engine noise while accelerating from anywhere below 50 mph. Frankly it made me look bad with all that ruckus and little progression. In spite of that, the lightweight coupe zipped around the stagnant traffic on Highway 99 with ease.

In the morning, a buddy and I drove to Red Wagon Café, an old-fashioned breakfast joint in the neighboring town of Shafter. As I flew past several orchards in the outskirts of Bakersfield, it had to be at least 100 degrees outside, but that didn't make the drive any less pleasant. Driving the Toyota 86 on the long stretches of two-lane roads was a liberating experience that I didn't want to end.

We arrived at a rocky dirt lot to what appeared to be a small converted passenger train car. I once heard that a pivotal scene from an Academy Award winning film had been shot near the Red Wagon. In the robbery scene of the film Thelma & Louise there is a glimpse of the Red Wagon in the background. When our server brought our order to the table I asked about the scene and she proudly confirmed it.

Feeling a few pounds heavier from the biscuits and gravy and hash browns, I took a detour to the infamous Kern River for an afternoon stroll in Hart Memorial Park. The roads in this isolated region were made for driving the miniature Toyota 86.

When I turned into corners I experienced a little bit of oversteer and could feel the rear tires lose traction. The rugged ride quality didn't bother me and gliding over the byways of the maze-like park was an entertaining experience. I suspect that the 86 is the type of sports car that can take a good beating and be unscathed at the end.

The 2018 Toyota 86 is back to basics type of sports car that isn't necessarily terrible with an automatic transmission. That said, every time I fired up the engine I would grasp the shifter with the desire of a manual. This is the kind of sports car that would definitely be more fun and rewarding in manual. Besides, a manual will save you a few hundred-dollar bills that can be used toward those TRD accessories.

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2018 Toyota 86 Specifications

PRICE $27,870 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve H-4/200 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 151 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 24/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 166.7 x 69.9 in x 50.6 in
WHEELBASE 101.2 in
WEIGHT 2,815 lb
0-60 MPH N/A