Toyota had several goals while designing the 86, but the primary ones seemed to be affordability, handling and performance. The car's rear-wheel drive orientation and compact, lightweight platform is mated to a torquey but efficient powertrain, presenting a very fun to drive package.
Toyota started by building the 86 as rear-wheel-drive from the ground up. The performance benefits of rear-wheel-drive are numerous but can most easily be summed up by the word "balance." Like much more expensive performance cars, the 86's "tossable" nature allows the driver to play with the limits of grip. The front tires only have to steer and help slow down the car, rather than splitting their available grip between acceleration, steering and braking like on any front driver.
Rear-wheel drive on its own though is not enough to create a car with world-class handling. Thankfully, the 86 has the rest of the package as well. Weighing around 2,800 pounds, the car is extremely light. This lightness is aided by 4-wheel independent suspension and 17-inch wheels. In fact, the 86 has been bestowed with agility that is rare for performance cars costing two to three times as much.
Fine-tuning the 86's handling was clearly a top priority in the vehicle's development, but that does not mean it's slow in a straight line. The 2.0L horizontally opposed engine was designed by Subaru, makes 200 horsepower and is capable of revving all the way to 7,500 RPM. Coupled with the car's light weight and a precise 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, this engine is enough to give the Toyota more than adequate straight-line thrust while still returning a combined 25 mpg when equipped with the manual and 28 mpg with the automatic. For 2017, models equipped with a manual transmission get a small horsepower bump up to 205.
While the exterior of the 86 is swoopy, low and evocative of classic sports cars, the interior features four seats. The rear seats can be folded forward to create more trunk room and a fairly usable interior for a car of its size. Though the car may at first seem slightly spartan, the 86 comes decently equipped. A premium sound system with USB input and voice recognition is standard, as is air-conditioning, a 7-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, power windows and door locks and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
From a safety standpoint, the 86 has plenty of electronic assistance. Anti-lock brakes, traction control and stability control are all standard, though traction and stability control can be switched off for serious track work. The 86 also comes standard with six airbags, including side curtain airbags and dual-stage advanced driver and passenger airbags.