The Toyota 86, along with its platform sibling, the Subaru BRZ, remains one of the most fun-to-drive cars money can buy for those of us who grew up in the golden age of Japanese sport coupes. No other cars on the market so precisely channel the driving feel of greats like the Nissan 240SX, Honda Prelude, and Toyota’s own Corolla GT-S. However, the Toyobaru twins have been around for more than six years. For 2019, Toyota wants to add a little spice to the familiar recipe by introducing a new 86 TRD Special Edition.
The Toyota 86 started life as a Scion FR-S, but when Toyota closed down its youth marketing experiment in 2016, the brand’s semi-regular “Release Edition” models died with it. The FR-S, along with other Scion models, was absorbed into the Toyota family, where it became the 86, a name that holds quite a bit of weight with the Toyota faithful.
However, Toyota representatives assured us that while parts were sourced from the same supplier, they’re not identical. And unlike with Subaru’s BRZ, the three trim levels of the 86 — base, GT, and Black — all have the same suspension equipment underneath. That makes the TRD Special Edition the only 86 model available with improved hardware, and it’s available, according to Toyota, with is own unique tune.
The company says that TRD engineers calibrated the dampers to their own tune. During a drive at Toyota’s behest on a short road course at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, I found the dampers were somewhat softer than those of the top-spec BRZ tS, and on par with those found in the BRZ Limited Performance Package.
It’s no coincidence that original AE86 became synonymous with mountain road battles, dirt-throwing rally stages, and the then-nascent art of drifting. It possessed a supernatural deftness for blacktop maneuvers, transmitting subtleties of road surface directly into the driver’s basal ganglia. I know, because I happen to own one, and I maintain that it is one of the most fun-to-drive cars in motoring history, despite having all of 112 horsepower, 14-inch wheels, and a live rear axle suspension designed in the 1970s.
Likewise, the cosmetic add-ons and, yes, even the ultra-cool TRD badging, aren’t there to improve the car’s dynamics. It kind of makes you wonder what it’s all for. After all, you could at one time turn your AE86 into a race car or supercharge your Camry by placing an order from the TRD catalog. In recent years, though, Toyota has let the brand languish, offering little more than lowering springs and shift knobs. TRD hasn’t really been making hard-core performance parts for a decade, and Toyota seems content to let Gazoo Racing take up the mantle of Toyota’s performance brand.
Where the 86 TRD Special Edition truly shines is as a reminder of heyday of Toyota motorsports, when the TRD tricolor graced everything from IMSA Celicas to Ironman Stewart Baja Trucks to Eagle GTP racers. For some, it will be worth the extra dough to secure one of only 1,418 of these 86 TRDs allocated for the mainland U.S. (Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Canada will get a few more) when it goes on sale this month. For the rest, stick with the tried and true standard models, and relive that heyday every time you get behind the wheel.