A rear-drive coupe and a front-drive microcar are two unlikely competitors, but Toyota 86 Vs Fiat 500 Pop is still a fair comparison…

THE TOYOTA 86 HAS BEEN universally, and deservedly so, lauded for its purist, rear-drive sportscar approach which eschews complexity and power in favour of handling and simplicity. On a racetrack there would be no contest, the 86 would not only be a lot quicker – even though it’s slow on the straights by sportscar standards – and it’d be more fun in the corners too… than the Fiat 500.
But around town (in the real-world), what’s it like compared to the 500? That’s a more interesting comparison. First off, while the 86 is practical, by the standards of two-door coupes, it’s nowhere near the liveability of the 500. The turning circle of the 86 is 10.8 metres, the 500 is 9.3m, significantly less.  The 500 is 3.5 metres long, a massive 700mm less than the 86. The 86 has a low-slung driving position, the 500 is high and clear, with easy visibility in all directions. You also don’t need to angle off driveways to avoid scraping the noise in the 500. I could go on, but you get the idea.
But let’s get back to around-town and suburb driving. Those of us with small kids will spend a lot of time ferrying them to and fro, and there’s the daily commute for many others. I’m a big fan of making such chore-journeys as enjoyable as possible. So, leaving aside the practicality, 500 or 86?
Well, I’m sat here hesitating to write the next sentence, so I guess that says something already. I reckon it’s this – the slower the roads, the more the 500 is better than than the 86, and as the roads get faster – say beyond 60km/h – the advantage swings to the Toyota. That’s because the 86’s strengths of high-rev fun and rear-drive oversteer need some speed before they can be fully appreciated. It’s like driving a really quick car like a GT-R or AMG C63 on anything other than a racetrack, it just feels boring, requires no effort at all and those cars have round-town practical disadvantages that take the shine off any other enjoyment you might get from the drive itself. I’d take the 86 for an out-of-town drive, but the 500 for anywhere in the ‘burbs.
Still, either way be assured that either car will be a better drive than their cheaper peers, but both will cost more to buy if not run.  And the agile maneuverability of the 500 will also put an extra wide-smile on your face when you pull  improbable u-turns and slot into tiny parallel parks, instead of the frustration with the 86’s rear visibility and long, low, doors that aren’t easy to open when parked close to another vehicle.
I know! The answer is an Fiat 500 Abarth…

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  1. “..around town..” and “..rear-drive oversteer..’ surely makes as much sense as a pairing as this car comparison.

    1. It’s always surprising what people cross-shop, Douglas.

      I have seen people consider the Jeep Wrangler against the 86 for example. I recently considered a Discovery against a Ranger. Comparisons first have to happen across different types of vehicle, and then having decided on a type a further comparison can be made within specific models of the type.

      So the comparison of 86 vs 500 is quite valid if you’re looking for a cheapish, fun, towncar. If you then decide that small hatches are the go, then the 86 and its ilk drop out and you can think 500 vs Fiesta vs whatever else you think is cool.

      As for rear-drive oversteer, well, that’s exactly what I meant, and that necessarily doesn’t meant a full-on opposite-lock drift, just fractional extra slip of the rear relative to the front so slight even the ETC doesn’t kick in. The 86 can do that, and it’s fun. There are multiple ways to induce oversteer, and not all need a rear-drive car.

  2. I would have put this as your last sentence in this article:

    I know! The answer is a Fiat 500.

    I would remove the Abarth part. The standard 500 is MUCH more liveable and daily driver friendly than the Abarth, and also has a much smaller turning radius than the Abarth. And for myself, it is MUCH more appealing in looks. The standard base 500 has plenty of pep for a urban environment.

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