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Driven: 6-speed manual spices the drive in Toyota’s 86 TRD

Driven: 6-speed manual spices the drive in Toyota’s 86 TRD

Special edition sports coupe comes only in black, and only with a stickshift transmission

With only 205 horsepower, and peak torque not available until the engine is turning 6,400 rpm, you might expect the 2019 Toyota 86 to belie its aggressive looks when it comes to dynamic performance, even when tuned by Toyota Racing Development. 

And you would be wrong, because — hallelujah! — this sports coupe comes only with a 6-speed manually shifted transmission. That, of course, means that since you don’t have to wait for a slushbox to wake up, you get to extract, when you want it, all the power this rev-happy little 2.0-liter 4-cylinder boxer engine provides to the rear wheels.

P.S. — You read that correctly. The 2.0-liter in this Toyota sports coupe has horizontally opposed cylinders. Let’s see, who makes such engines? Well, there’s Porsche, but there’s also Subaru, and the latter company worked with Toyota on the development of the 86 and its near-twin brother, the Subaru BRZ.

Car gets wonderful-sounding exhaust and Michelin summer tires

And three cheers for Toyota, which has realized that there likely isn’t enough sales volume even for such a huge company to undertake sports car development on its own, so it did the 86 in partnership with Subaru and it did the Supra in partnership with BMW, which calls its version the Z4.

By sharing such costs, Toyota gets an entry-level sports coupe that its dealers can offer for around $27,000 in base form and a high-performance sports coupe that starts at around $50,000.

Very smart moves in an automotive environment in which Ford is said to be contemplating a 4-door — heresy! — version of the Mustang and Chevrolet reportedly is considering, once again, if the Camaro will continue beyond its current generation.

The 86 comes in three versions — the standard 86, the 86 GT and the 86 TRD — and they will be joined this fall by the 86 Hakone Edition, so named in honor of the Hakone Turnpike, a famed sports car driving road a couple of hours southwest of Tokyo. (The GT-based Hakone version will wear Hakone green paint, ride on 17-inch “twisted spoke bronze wheels,” and will have a black-and-tan interior.)

Front lip spoiler has cool TRD emblem, but be careful about curbs

But it is the 86 TRD Special Edition that provides the ultimate performance for this platform in Toyota badges. In addition to its manual-only gearbox, it comes with Sachs dampers, Brembo brakes that are an inch or more larger than in the other versions, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires, a TRD exhaust system that sounds flat wonderful, and with a TRD body kit — be very careful because that front slip spoiler looks great but is low and forward enough that it will scrape parking blocks and angled driveways. 

Oh, and there also is that special TRD yellow/orange/red striping along each of the car’s shoulders.

And before we forget, the TRD edition comes only in Raven, Toyota’s name for black metallic paint. 

Inside, the TRD gets red-and-black upholstery with Granlux suede-like material not only on the seats but pretty much everywhere else you touch. Another sporty touch: The seatbelts are red.

Only 1,418 TRD Special Edition units are being produced for the 2019 model year.

Interior is black and red, and even the seat belts and shoulder harnesses are red | Toyota photo

The 86 interior is snug, and low, which makes egress a challenge but enhances the car’s center of gravity and dynamic performance. Once inside, the steering column adjusts and your right hand falls nicely from the steering wheel to the shifter. The clutch operates with light pressure and needs only a little depression allow quick, short and sure shifting.

New for the 2019 model year is electric power steering, and the car responds immediately to inputs. The suspension, big brakes and grippy tires also respond as you’d want in a sports car. 

The 86 TRD isn’t a rocket, but it is a fun-to-drive sports coupe that in TRD guise is more of a sports car.

At least that’s true at elevations of less than 7,500 feet. As we experienced in the thinner air of the Spring Mountain range west of Las Vegas, above that elevation, the normally aspirated engine needs more O2.

At elevation, and only 40 miles from the Las Vegas Strip

Fortunately, however, the 86 TRD comes with a manual gearbox so you can downshift to find the right gear to maintain your momentum. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing wrong with driving a little more slowly when you’re on two-lane mountain pavement with beautiful vistas to enjoy along the way.

2019 Toyota 86 TRD SE

Vehicle type: 4-passenger coupe, rear-wheel drive

Base price: $32,420 Price as tested: $33,340

Engine: 2.0-liter boxer 4 cylinder, 205 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm, 156 pound-feet of torque @ 6,400 rpm (premium fuel recommended) Transmission: 6-speed manual

Wheelbase: 101.2 inches Overall length/width: 168.8 inches / 50.6 inches

Curb weight: 2,837 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 21 city / 28 highway / 24 combined

Assembled in: Ota, Gunma, Japan

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