Most automotive nameplates can only dream of the kind of customer engagement that the Toyota 86 (formerly the Scion FR-S) and its twin, the Subaru BRZ, have achieved. Case in point: Two of the dozen automotive journalists assembled for the reveal of the 86’s new TRD special edition drove their own personal 86s to the event, both of which featured mechanical and cosmetic modifications. Not to mention the innumerable lowered and bewinged examples that can be spotted in practically every American metropolis and many other places besides. But why let the customers do all the wrenching? Toyota is getting in on the fun with the 2019 Toyota 86 TRD special edition.
For even deeper coverage of the 86, view our Buyer’s Guide in-depth review.
Limited to 1418 examples and seated on the top branch of the 86 family tree, the TRD shares its powertrain and basic chassis with its siblings but features a few significant equipment upgrades and several distinctive design elements. Let’s start with the equipment. By nabbing one of these manual-transmission-only $33,340 coupes, drivers will enjoy Sachs dampers, front and rear Brembo brakes, and standard 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Never mind that the BRZ has been available with that damper and brake combination since 2017; Toyota assures us that its Sachs dampers have been tuned specifically for the car by the good people at Toyota Racing Development (TRD).
Our experience with the 86 TRD was limited to a few laps on a short track with a few more laps of an 86 GT for the sake of comparison, so we’ll need to spend more time with-and test-the car to fully quantify this performance setup. But even in that short time, it’s clear that the changes have a real impact on the driving experience. Compared with the 86 GT, the TRD edition rolls less in corners and is less likely to be unsettled by braking inputs. The brakes feel firmer but are never grabby, and the Pilot Sport 4 tires keep the car firmly planted under aggressive driving. By comparison, the GT we drove felt looser, with more body motions, softer responses from the brakes, and a lot less stick.
Toyota assembled a team of professional drift drivers to accompany us at the launch of this latest 86, and-unsurprisingly perhaps-all of them extolled the benefits of the TRD edition’s performance enhancements. But one conceded that the GT’s lower threshold makes it a little more pliable, easier to coax into a drift, and thus more fun in certain applications. Drifting is in our nature, he told us. We couldn’t disagree.
The 86 GT may better capitalize on the joy of driving a slow car fast, but drivers who plan to autocross an 86 will be better served by the increased competence of the TRD model. It remains to be seen whether they will also be better served by its looks. The 86 TRD is available only in black and adorned with yellow, orange, and red TRD graphics on both doors. A body kit for the front and rear bumpers and side sills and a modest three-piece spoiler make the TRD look just slightly more menacing than the stock 86. The interior is black, too, with bright-red accents on the seats, shifter, and steering wheel. The car is not unattractive, but when so many 86 owners customize their cars with unique paint jobs, bolt-on spoilers, and lowering kits, it’s easy to imagine some of them being disappointed that they won’t get to make any design decisions on the special-edition model.
Multiple paint colors or no, we look forward to spending more time with the 86 TRD and measuring the impact of its special equipment on our tests. Maybe we can even find some local 86 enthusiasts to hoon around with-after all, sports cars love company.