Five Years on, Scion FR-S/Toyota 86 Has Few Buyers Left, But Still There’s a Comparison Test Win up Its Sleeve


2017 Toyota 86 sunset - Image: ToyotaFive years have passed since the Scion FR-S — known elsewhere as the Toyota GT86 and known now in America as the Toyota 86 (and at Subaru as the BRZ) — arrived in America. Buyers, never particularly numerous to begin with, are few and far between. Toyota now sells 62 percent fewer Toyota 86s in America than the Scion FR-S managed during its first year.

You expect to see sports cars peak early and then gradually fade. The degree to which the Toyota 86 née Scion FR-S has faded, however, has been more than a little striking. FR-S/86 sales have fallen so far, so fast, that U.S. car buyers are now ten times more likely to acquire a new Chevrolet Camaro, three times more likely to acquire a new Volkswagen Golf GTI, and twice as likely to acquire a new Mazda MX-5.

But is the Toyota 86 deserving of such rejection? Not according to a just-completed CAR Magazine comparison test in which the five-year-old Toyota claimed victory — ahead of the Mazda MX-5 RF and BMW 2 Series.

Even in victory, CAR hands the Toyota GT86 a fair helping of criticism.

“You’d better be willing to get manic if you want to get anywhere,” Chris Chilton writes. “It never quite manages to feel fast.”

The Mazda’s gearbox, “makes the GT86’s feel clumsy and agricultural.”

“If you hated it before, a bunch of LEDs isn’t going to make a difference,” Chilton says in CAR’s verdict.2017 Toyota 86 front - Image: ToyotaBut the GT86 — or 86 as we now know it on this side of the Atlantic — won CAR’s comparison for three reasons. First, the MX-5 RF didn’t live up to expectations, failing “to deliver a properly resolved convertible experience while not matching the refinement of a proper coupe either.” CAR complained about the lack of coupe-like characteristics in the Mazda, especially since it lacks the full top-down benefits of the soft-top MX-5.

Second, the BMW, tested by CAR in a 182-horsepower 220i spec not sold in the U.S., lost despite its refinement and practicality and leaseability; despite quite obviously being the best car in the test. The BMW, Chilton writes, “fails to deliver that final level of interaction.”

Finally, the Toyota won on merit. “If you’re serious about buying a coupe because of the way it drives and not merely the way it looks, this is your car.”

Problem is, there aren’t many people who are that serious about driving. Toyota found 2,684 excited U.S. buyers for the Scion FR-S in its first full month on the market: June 2012. Yet never since has demand risen above 2,000/month. In fact, Toyota hasn’t sold more than 1,000 copies of the FR-S/86 since July 2015. Year-over-year, FR-S/86 volume has declined 44 times in the last 48 months.

CAR recognizes the victory handed to the Toyota GT86 is not in keeping with the way of the automotive world at the moment. Naturally aspirated? Rear-wheel drive? Narrow tires? In this world of grippy, all-wheel drive crossovers with small displacement turbos, the Scion FR-S has become a Toyota 86 that’s entirely not what 99.9 percent of car buyers want.

“Collectively, we’ve been asking for cars like this,” Chilton says, “and when they disappear because we didn’t fill our garages with them, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.”

[Images: Toyota]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.



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