A new year, a new name, a revised car. The turning of the model-year calendar has seen the 2016 Scion FR-S become the 2017 Toyota 86, the result of the Scion brand being discontinued and the car adopting the moniker used everywhere else outside North America. Let’s take a look at what else has changed for 2017.
For the transformation from FR-S to 86, more was done than just swapping Scion badges for Toyota ones. The car’s face was made a bit more aggressive, with a more sharply contoured bumper highlighted by a widened lower air dam. Everything’s just a little pointier. The headlight shape has generally remained the same, but the lighting elements inside have changed considerably with the addition of standard LED headlights and running lights. The taillights also get a new LED lighting design, but other changes are subtler, such as the revised rear diffuser trim, the tailpipe design and the optional lip spoiler. There are new wheel designs, and the FR-S’s old 86 badge (yes, there was one) has lost its boxer cylinder wings and been relocated from the upper front fender’s small vent area to just below it. That vent area itself has also been redesigned, although now it looks even more similar to the one found on the 86’s mechanical twin, the Subaru BRZ.
The FR-S’s interior was never its strong point, and we can’t say that the Toyota 86 transformation has really changed that. There are nevertheless some noteworthy differences. The 86’s steering wheel is new — its diameter is 3 millimeters smaller, and it now has basic radio controls. The FR-S regretfully went without those, but to our hands at least, we slightly preferred the chunkier grips on the Scion’s steering wheel. The 86’s are a little more contoured, but overall, the steering wheel is excellent and remains refreshingly vertical in its placement. It gets an 86 badge as well.
Although hard plastic continues to dominate the cabin, it’s been cut down a bit — the grey plastic trim that dominates the FR-S dashboard facing has been replaced by one trimmed in a black suedelike material embossed with “86” on its lower right corner. That same material is also found on the door tops and seat bolsters (the FR-S had different microfiber upholstery). And whereas every FR-S apart from certain special editions came equipped with red stitching and seat-shoulder trim, the 86 has all-black seats with grey stitching.
Everything else, including the excellent front seats and the standard touchscreen interface, remains unchanged.
When equipped with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, the 2017 Toyota 86’s 2.0-liter horizontally opposed boxer 4-cylinder engine produces 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. That’s up from the 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque found in automatic-equipped cars and every Scion FR-S.
Frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two cars, even with the 86’s shorter rear-differential gear ratio. These are responsive engines with commendable low-end power as you pull away and plenty of zing as you approach the upper reaches of the tachometer, but they have insufficient midrange, resulting in a sagging feeling in the middle of any hard-acceleration run. It’s the same with both FR-S and 86 — calls for more power have certainly not been answered. See the 2016 Scion FR-S models for sale near you
Elsewhere, Toyota has revised the suspension’s shock tuning and spring rate and fitted a thicker anti-roll bar to the rear. The resulting difference isn’t huge, but the rear of the car does remain a bit more planted on rougher roads. See the 2017 Toyota 86 models for sale near you
Features & Technology
Apart from the Toyota’s new LED headlights, the FR-S and 86 come with the same standard features. And just as with the Scion, there are no options apart from transmission and a variety of dealer-installed items like the rear lip spoiler, navigation software, forged alloy wheels, fog lights and several suspension- and performance-enhancing parts.
Key standard features on both cars include a rearview camera, air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB and auxiliary audio inputs and an 8-speaker sound system. There’s also a standard 7-inch touchscreen, but it looks rather aftermarket in its appearance, and its small size can make it difficult to press both the touchscreen’s virtual buttons and the physical buttons mounted on its side — especially when you’re being jostled about in a car with such a firm suspension.
One thing that definitely hasn’t changed from the 2016 Scion FR-S to the 2017 Toyota 86 is the fact that both can be uproariously fun to drive. These lightweight, rear-wheel-drive coupes have wonderfully responsive steering that allows you to feel the road that you’re being adhered to by an ably tuned suspension. At the same time, the relatively skinny tires let you slide about a bit (especially when the car’s track mode is engaged and the stability-control reigns are eased) without any grave fear of overdoing it and ending up in a ditch. As the old adage goes, it can be more fun to drive a slow car fast.
The driving experience, however, greatly depends on the transmission you choose. We think the 6-speed manual remains the transmission to get, despite more than half of FR-S buyers taking the 6-speed automatic home. It features paddle shifters, perfectly acceptable responsiveness and slightly better fuel economy than the manual, but it robs the FR-S and the 86 of much of the engagement you can wring out of the little boxer 4-cylinder. With the automatic, the 86 feels more like a small, loud, underpowered, cramped coupe and less like a budget sports car. If you’re worried that you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission, don’t worry — the 86 makes it easy, with a forgiving clutch and a direct, pleasingly mechanical gearbox.
Now, as alluded to above, the FR-S and 86 can be a bit unpleasant at times, regardless of transmission. There’s an abundance of road, wind and engine noise, which gets tiresome, especially on long highway journeys. More sound deadening would probably be worth a few extra pounds. This lack of auditory refinement is a shame, since the ride is actually quite good. And although you certainly feel the road more than the typical car, this isn’t some hardcore sports car that’s the enemy of spines everywhere.
Apart from the 86’s superior headlights, there were no safety-feature changes. Both cars come with the usual traction and stability control, as well as front, front-side and side-curtain airbags. There are no safety options, including accident-avoidance technologies. Both cars receive top crash-test scores from the government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, with the exception of a second-best Acceptable score in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new small-overlap front crash test.
As is almost always the case, the new 2017 Toyota 86 is technically a better car than the Scion FR-S it replaces. However, with only subtle suspension changes and such a small power boost (which only comes on manual-equipped cars, for that matter), you’d be hard-pressed to really tell the difference between the two cars while driving. That means it really comes down to those LED headlights, the styling differences and the badge. Oh, and the fact you should be able to get a 2016 anything cheaper than its equivalent 2017. Find a Used Scion FR-S for sale or Find a Used Toyota 86 for sale