Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
  • The Toyota 86 Hakone is a special-edition version with green paint and bronze wheels.
  • The Hakone starts at $29,870 while the regular 86 starts at $27,060.
  • Like its twin at Subaru, the BRZ, the Toyota 86 is aging. But its ability to age gracefully is part of the appeal.

As I crawled around the parking lot of a local construction project abandoned long before the windows even went in, camera in one hand and trying to avoid a trail of ants with the other, a familiar red car pulled up. Some old friends had spotted me as they drove by, pulling into the lot to check out my funky green car for the week. It was, admittedly, a hard car to miss.

It was golden hour on the last day of my loan - that nail-biting time when the sun is not too high, not too low, and emitting the perfect amount of color to accentuate a vehicle with a good paint job - and I didn't have much time to finish my photo set. I didn't really have the extra minutes to let them tour the car, but I also didn't have the extra minutes to explain that.

I tossed over the key and decided to talk and take detail shots at the same time, hopefully leaving me a few minutes for some final exterior photos once the tour was done. They hopped into the front seats while telling me about their search for a sporty new car like this one. I slid along the rear spoiler for photos.
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Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
It only took a few seconds for a confused cry to echo my way.

"What year is this car from?" they yelled.

"This one," I said.
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"For real?!"

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
For real. The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition, or the "Ha-what?" for those who don't regularly keep up with the Cult of Green Cars and Gold Wheels (I keep telling my comrades we need a shorter name if we want to grow our membership), arrived in the US as one of the final hurrahs for the first generation of the Toyota 86 and its mirror image at Subaru, the BRZ. The cars share a 205-horsepower, four-cylinder Subaru boxer engine and offer a choice between two six-speed transmissions: a manual or an automatic. While the regular 86 starts at $27,060, the special-edition Hakone's base model will run you $29,870.
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With options like a $1,100 exhaust system, $550 sway bar, and $75 air filter from the Toyota's TRD performance arm, my loaner for the week came to $32,778.

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 (left), 2019 Subaru BRZ (middle), and second-generation 2022 BRZ (right).Toyota, Subaru

The jointly developed Toyobaru Twins, as they're called, debuted way back in 2011 - making them so old that the 86 was branded as the Scion FR-S when it came onto the market. Scion, Toyota's largely failed attempt to appeal to the kids, has been dead for five years.

The Toyobaru Twins have aged well nonetheless, to the point that Subaru's second-generation BRZ for 2022, which will arrive in dealerships this fall, doesn't look much different than the outgoing car. A second-generation Toyota 86 hasn't debuted yet.
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Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King

But my bewildered friends were right. The 86 was showing its age - not so much on the outside, but on the inside, which likely would have been subpar even in 2011 among people who value volume knobs and clock displays from this century.

Inside, the red glow of the buttons is more reminiscent of an old alarm clock than anything meant to add sporty appeal. The user friendliness of the infotainment screen reminds me of the days when I regularly used an iPod shuffle, minus the nostalgia. The interior buttons and switches don't have a nice, weighted clink; they feel like relative improvement over a Barbie cash register. Rather than a volume knob, the 86 has volume buttons.

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
Have you ever sat in a car and poked your grimy index finger at a little plus sign instead of cranking the volume knob when a real banger comes on the radio? Dear reader, it is the opposite of cool.
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And yet, when my friends noticed the very same surface flaws I did, I felt the need to justify them - and justify the 86 itself.
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King

See, the 86 is beautiful, both literally and metaphorically. Its deep British Racing Green paint - inspired by, you guessed it, British motor racing - sparkles with all of the warm yellows it can pick up in its reflection. Its bronze wheels contain more shades than the color grey (oh, were they not talking about colors there?), and when the golden hour sun strikes them, they glow.

When you open the door, you're greeted with an interior so gorgeously styled that you almost don't notice its aging features. Strips of tan material slice through the black upholstery, and the contrast stitching truly contrasts: On black leather, it's tan, on tan leather, it's black. That, accompanied by the tan leather key holder with black contrast stitching and an "86" imprint so deep an ant could swim in it, makes the car feel like it was designed with care, not just put through a color configurator to please car nerds who like green and gold.
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Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King

The car's exhaust sound will alert everyone around you to the proven fact that you're a Very Serious Driver without being too obnoxious, which is a plus for your neighbors. From inside, its loud, low growl feels almost numb, like you're in the mouth of a dinosaur whose limbs you control.

And those limbs are jumpy. Nothing about the 86 feels particularly smooth. Shifting is less buttery throw, more notchy placement. The catch point on the clutch is short, making it feel less like engaging first gear and more like swiping at it, hoping you'll catch something.
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
For a casual street car, the 86 Hakone is rigid. The seats are hard; the driving position is stiff. The throttle is bitey. Despite car enthusiasts complaining about the car's low power output for as long as it's had a power output, the 86 feels like it would take a chunk out of you if it had teeth - perfect for a buyer who prefers something a little raw over the refined six-speed manuals that can be found elsewhere.
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What makes the 86 so special, I told my friends as their eyes betrayed boredom, is that Toyota doesn't need the car in its lineup. It was the brand's second-worst seller in the US in 2020, saved only by the 2021 Mirai, a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that debuted as a California-only offering. Toyota sold 499 Mirais in 2020, while sales for the 86 and any leftover Scion FR-S models totaled 2,476. The Yaris, which was discontinued in 2020, sold 6,437 units.

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King

The all-powerful Camry? Toyota sold more than 294,000 of them last year, down from nearly 337,000 in 2019.

At 2,267 US units sold in 2020, Subaru of America moved even fewer BRZ models than Toyota did the 86. It was Subaru of America's worst seller last year, with the WRX sport compact car bringing up second-to-last place at 21,178 - a difference of nearly 19,000 cars.
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Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King

The 86 is not a car Toyota is going to put all of its research and development into because it's not a car that gets shoveled on and off of dealership lots, meaning its features and appeal are going to age while it's on the market.

Sure, the 86 is a machine created for profit by a company that exists for profit. But to have the 86 on market at all is a blessing upon car enthusiasts, and the Hakone Edition is a stunning way to bestow it.

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
As my friends drove off and the sun slipped behind the Planet Fitness, taking my camera out of commission for the day, I fired up the 86 to head home.
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Its low growl gurgled around me as I drove through the trail of ants I'd tried so hard to avoid before, and I thought about what a special place it occupied on the car market: just on the cusp of obsolete as manual transmissions fade and electrification rises, yet still preparing for a new generation in the meantime.
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King

The Toyobaru Twins are like wine, and that probably has something to do with their survival. They're enjoyable once you've gained the acquired taste, and even if the labels look a little outdated, the people who know them well know their insides age just fine.

For products that warrant a long shelf life, that's exactly what they need to be.
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♦♦♦

Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone Edition.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
Review: The $30,000 Toyota 86 Hakone's elegant green and gold makeover proves modern cars can age gracefully
The Toyota 86 Hakone Edition 2020.Alanis King
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