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

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Five 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.

But 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 and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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2 of 79 comments

    I was the 1st out the Door with a Red Manual 86 down in Florida. Still have it, and is my Daily Driver. I love the thing. I have 5 other Cars that almost all of them go faster, but the 86 out handles and feels more like a Race Car than my other Track Ready cars. Over in Japan they are still very much a popular car. The point of the car is clearly missed from anyone other than serious drivers that understand that this car was designed to help you not get arrested, and still hoon the living crap out of it all day long. I like it much better than the S2000. Sorry guys, but the 86 is a real Race Car. You just don't realize it. I'm just putting in a ten thousand dollar upgrade to mine. After 5 years, it's time for some more goodies. There aren't any parts available for these cars at all. LOL.

  • Hebekiah Hebekiah on Aug 03, 2017

    BIGDDESIGN, love your enthusiasm. Don't know about $10K upgrade, I thought the point was that it was inexpensive? Well, till I saw one all luxuried out at a dealers. It was sweet but not what I'd imagined. What I had imagined was a Datsun 240Z. Even the 280Z. Enough zip to get you into interesting situations, excellent at high speed, with an ass you can wiggle around to make a screeching stop when you didn't realize you were going triple the speed limit because it was smooth. Indeed, maybe because it was one of my first cars I have fond memories of how it fit me, sitting in it, and the car would disappear, it was just driving. Know what I mean? Got to regularly drive a Boss 302 and Shelby Mach 1 (shop owner's cars that he liked to have driven) but they put the focus on them, the vehicle. The Datsun Zs were different and was hoping for that feeling again, realizing that it would have to be somewhat updated to be translated to this time. But the one I saw, probably a special TRD something, was way too busy interior to ever "disappear".

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.