Every time I see a Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ or the Scion FR-S on the road, I can't help but whine about how dated it looks. Launched in 2012, the FR-S and BRZ were the cars to get back then—an ode to the original hachiroku AE86 with a rear-wheel-drive, naturally aspirated, two-door layout. But... it's halfway through 2020 now, and quite frankly, the 86 feels like old news despite several minor tweaks and limited-edition offerings over the years. For example, this 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.
STILL HANDLES AWESOME
First things first, the driving dynamics of the 86 has remained relatively the same, if not slightly better since the FR-S/BRZ first hit the ground running eight years ago. Its appeal comes from its strengths in being a lightweight feel, precise steering and nimble handling (at an affordable price; the 2013 Scion FR-S went for under $25K). I always felt it was a great starter car to learn how to drive in, especially since a six-speed manual is still offered. Power is modest but still enough to keep up momentum and speed with more expensive sports cars.
STILL LACKS TORQUE
Speaking of "modest power", that's where the car lacked and has always lacked. The 2.0-liter FA20 Boxer four-cylinder makes 205hp, but a more disappointing 156 lb-ft of torque. Come in too hot in a corner, hit the brakes hard and you won't be able to get back up to the speed like the turbocharged or bigger displacement cars next to you. It's a story I know all too well as Super Street has our own FR-S "Ratchet Bunny" project car where we were quick to order an HKS supercharger kit, eventually boosting the 2.0-liter FA20 up to 324whp on E85 and 255whp on 91-octane pump gas. A $4-5K investment that gave us the push we needed.
Back to this Hakone Edition... Like I mentioned earlier, it carries over the same blueprint of 86 and BRZ, with only marginal improvements made to its handling, styling and overall feel. Toyota's product planning department likes to get clever and offer limited edition models with a slightly higher premium from time to time, knowing they're at the mercy of management and bean counters that won't approve of the special edition, higher horsepower model enthusiasts demand. So, they've created these special editions that included the Scion FR-S and the Release Series, as well as the 860 Special Edition and TRD Special Edition in recent years. The Hakone Edition is the latest and it might be the last one before Toyota potentially builds the long-awaited turbocharged GR86 in 2021-2022.
WHAT IS HAKONE
Most people don't know what the word "Hakone" is, and it's actually derived from a famous turnpike in Japan. I was lucky enough to go for a ride along a few years ago in a Ferrari 360 Modena on the famed highway, and let me just say, it's perhaps the most beautiful winding toll road I've ever been on with nothing but the smoothest pavement and beautiful forest surroundings, plus, you even get a nice view of Mt. Fuji. While everybody knows about it, it's still so peaceful and not regularly commuted. During my two-hour experience there, I only saw a handful of modified sports cars and sport bikes go back and forth. Having been there first-hand, I have no squabbles with Toyota's naming of their latest special edition 86.
WHAT MAKES A HAKONE EDITION
What separates the Hakone from a standard 86 is its Hakone green—a dark emerald color that's easily reminiscent of all the trees you see driving through the Hakone Turnpike. Different 17-inch bronze wheels are a nice contrast (standard Michelin all-season tires equipped), and inside, there's nice alacantara/leather updates like the tan seats, dash and interior trim. Throw in some special badging, premium options like LED lights, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and keyless entry and voila, there's your Hakone Edition.
NICE TOUCHES BUT BRING ON THE TURBO
At a hair below $31K MSRP, it's still a noble, affordable sports car considering its competition in a similar price range (i.e. spec'd out versions of the Subaru WRX and Mazda MX-5, or the Nissan 370Z). But with used decent condition FR-S/86/BRZs going for $15K or less with the same performance (and let's face it, you're probably going to modify it anyway), the 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone might be something to hold off on, and something that's a little too late. Perhaps I'm a little jaded as an original FR-S owner, but at least the Hakone is a reminder to us that Toyota engineered a damn good car to begin with, and the FR-S/86 has been proven time and time again that it's a capable 'n fun track car...but let's bring on the turbo GR86 already!