Robert Pepper gets behind the wheel of the 2018 Toyota 86 with Toyota-approved modifications… is it worth the money?

THE TOYOTA 86 is pretty close to driving perfection right out of the box. But everyone has their own view of perfection, so a car can never be all things to all people. To make it your own, you’ll likely need to make some modifications, and that’s exactly what Toyota is now offering buyers.

Recently, Toyota lent us its modified GT (base model) for a week so we could see what buyers can get from their local dealer.

What is this modified Toyota 86?

Most accessories offered for vehicles by the manufacturer are cosmetic, but not in this case. The 86 we’re driving has some Toyota TRD modifications:

  • Thicker front and rear swaybars (anti-roll bars) – $731.73 plus fitting. The front has a diameter of 21mm and rear 16mm, increases of 2mm over stock.
  • Lowered springs (ride height reduction by 20mm, dampers remain the same) $409 for four plus fitting
  • 18-inch wheels with 225/40/18 tyres, 18×7 front and 18×7.5 rear, offset for both +35 vs the standard GT 16-inch wheel offset of +48mm and 16×6.5.  These cost $462 each and do not include tyres. Toyota recommend the Continental Contisport 2.

These are all dealer-fitted items and are compatible with any 86.

Here’s a table of the costs:

 Part price  
 Toyota RRPDealerDealer fit
Swaybars $731.73  $775.00  $600.00 
20mm lowered springs x 4 $409.00  $450.00  $135.00 
Wheels x 4 $1,848.00  $1,848.00 
Tyres x 4 (225/40/18 Contisport) inc fitN/A $1,100.00 
Wheel alignment (estimate)N/AN/A $70.00 
Total $2,988.73  $4,173.00  $805.00 
Total $4,978.00 

If you use the dealer prices as opposed to Toyota’s RRP and dealer labour then you’re looking at around $5000. We priced the tyres from a local tyre outlet, and used our last wheel alignment cost. With a bit of haggling you should be able to do better if you’re looking to buy this in one go, particularly if you’re buying a new car.

There are equivalent items available aftermarket, but the Toyota kit has the advantage of being covered by the factory warranty. To get a second opinion, Practical Motoring spoke with Import Monster, a specialist in aftermarket parts and modifications for its view on costs. They told us a swaybar and springs would be around $1000, and fitting around $400-450 including alignment.

What’s the point of the modifications?

That’s the kit list, now, how does it work? When a vehicle corners there’s weight transfer from inside to outside, so in the case of a left turn the right tyres carry far more weight than the left tyres. This is undesirable, as the traction gain from more weight on the outside tyres does not equal the traction loss from the unweighted inside tyres, and the more abrupt the weight shift, the greater the chance of losing control of the vehicle. 

One solution is a swaybar, which is basically a thick bit of metal pipe connecting the two wheels on an axle. When the car corners, the swaybar simultaneously helps prevents the outside spring/damper extending and the inside compressing, which in turns limits body roll – hence, it’s other name of anti-roll bar.

On the other hand, when driving in a straight line one wheel is still reasonably free to move up and down relative to bumps. A swaybar stiffens a car in corners, yet permits flexibility of suspension on straights. For this 86, Toyota have made the swaybars thicker, so they stiffen the car, giving a flatter ride in corners but at the expense of some ride comfort.

Image showing swaybars – a simple metal rod designed to twist a little, permitting independent suspension movement yet resisting body roll.

Toyota’s modifications also lower the ride height by 20mm, and this lowers the centre of gravity. That helps with cornering performance and even braking as there’s improved weight distribution front/rear. It also helps with weight shift under acceleration but the 86 is not exactly overpowered so the gains there are more theoretical than practical.

Coil springs on a Toyota 86.

The final change is wider and lower-profile wheels. The overall diameter of the wheel remains the same as stock, but there’s now more wheel and less tyre – these tyres are 225mm wide vs 205 for the stock GT and 215 for the GTS, and the wheel diameter is 18 inches not 16 for the GT and 17 for the GTS.

The contact patch of wider tyres is the same as narrow ones, just a different shape – the wider tyre has a wider and short contact patch relative to the narrow tyre. The effect of the change to lower-profile, wider tyre is improved cornering grip and responsiveness, but at the cost of overall wheel weight and drag in a straight line. 

It is interesting Toyota opted for slightly wider wheels at the rear than the front (18×7 front, 18×7.5 rear), yet kept the tyres the same width and diameter. I don’t really see the point of this, that said, running wider tyres at the rear opens up a can of balance and handling issues to explore which probably won’t end as well as using identical tyres on all four wheels.

Our test car came with Toyota’s recommended Contisport 2 tyres which are a significant grip improvement over the standard Yokohama Decibels on the GT, and also superior to the Michelin Primacys on the GTS. These are asymmetric-tread tyres so they can be swapped left and right on the car.

A space-saver spare. Better than nothing, and the car can take a full-size spare with a raised bootmat. We had to fit the spare as we picked up a puncture on the way back to Toyota!

What’s this modified Toyota 86 like to drive?

In two words: Very good. While the body is stiffer, Toyota softened the suspension slightly on the vehicle we’re testing for improved compliance and this vehicle rides much better than the older stock models. The greater grip from the Continental rubber is welcome as are the suspension changes, but it’s not so much grip that you’d feel the car has become boring.

There is a case to be made that the original tyres are insufficiently grippy to be safe, but others would argue that’s part of the fun of the car. If you’re in the former camp, you can now get more factory-approved grip yet find the car very much retains its fun-to-drive character, albeit slightly differently in that instead of driving for grip, you’re now driving for precision.

The 20mm ride height reduction is significant so you do need to be very careful with the front end over ditch-driveways now, but with care all will be well.

Is it worth paying for the modifications?

All up, with tyres, parts and fitting you’d be looking at around $4000-$5000 on top of the standard 86’s price. So, is it worth it?

If you just want your 86 because you like the looks or the car and have little interest in sporting driving, then no modification of this nature is worth it as the ride is slightly stiffer than stock and the lowered ride height does impact daily-drive usability. 

However, if you like the visual appeal – wider tyres which fill out the guards, and the lowered look – then you could just get the package without the swaybars, and get that look without much compromise. Any mechanic can easily fit the parts.

Remember that you can have any part of the kit fitted at any time, so there’s no need to spend it all up front. Do keep the original parts though, as come resale time you may wish to return the car to stock and sell the modified parts – this often nets you more cash than selling the parts on the car.

A stock-standard MY17 GT with 16-inch wheels next to the factory-modified GT.

What do you get with the refreshed 2017 Toyota 86

Compared to the previous model the refreshed Toyota 86 GT gets a digital speedometer, reversing camera, LED headlights, hill hold, gearshift indicator, change-up rev indicator and ‘upgraded’ infotainment unit, but no satnav, one extra USB port and the minor exterior body changes. There’s still no keyless entry.

The changes with the MY17 model are therefore minor and offer no particularly compelling reason to upgrade, particularly because you could fit a better reversing camera and infotainment unit using aftermarket parts. As with the GTS, the major reason to upgrade is the hugely improved stability and traction control calibration – we’ve covered that in great detail here.

There is also a hill-hold feature but that needs to be specially enabled by the driver. It is effective.

What do we think of the modified Toyota 86?

If you are a keen driver with trackdays in mind then these upgrades will deliver slightly quicker laptimes compared to a stock vehicle, and sharper handling. However, your first track upgrade should be track/street brakepads with high-performance brake fluid – more on that here. I’d also modify the wheel alignment – stock settings plus 0 degrees front toe and half the standard toe at the rear works well. And putting money into driver training is likely to improve laptimes more than swaybars.

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