Many know the line “it’s not easy being green,” courtesy of Kermit the Frog. Kermit sings about green being the color of blending in among leaves and other “ordinary things.” Toyota took that phrase and stood it on its head with the introduction of the 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone. Though the Toyota 86 itself is not a new car, the Hakone Edition is new for 2020 and only available in anything-but-blending-in Hakone Green.

What Is It?

The 2020 Toyota 86 is Toyota’s take on the familiar “twins” that we’ve known and generally loved since 2013, the Subaru BR-Z and Scion FR-S. When Toyota-owned Scion closed its doors a few years ago, Toyota picked up the FR-S, made a few small styling changes, and continued to sell it as the Toyota 86.

New for 2020 is the Hakone Editon (say ha-ko-nay, not ha-cone like I did). Toyota designers paid tribute to the Hakone Turnpike in Japan with this special version of the 86. The 86 Hakone receives unique Hakone Green paint, special 17″ wheels with a bronze finish, two-tone seats with black Alcantara centers and tan leather bolsters, and some unique accessories – owners’ manual folio, key fob cover – in the same tan leather as those seat bolsters.

All 2020 Toyota 86s come with a 2.0 liter boxer four-cylinder, sourced from Subaru. A revised intake manifold allows for a few more ponies (205) and pound-feet (156) on manual-transmission cars. 86s with the optional six-speed automatic lose a few of each figure.

The 86 Hakone comes as “loaded” as you can get for an 86, though options are relatively limited in the first place. Heated seats are a nice touch, and the standard touchscreen head unit supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but does not offer built-in navigation of its own. Toyota offers a “TRD Suspension” package, but only on the 86 GT and not the Hakone. If you must have the Hakone Green paint (more on that in a bit), the aftermarket for the 86 is strong and offers plenty of suspension choices for upgrade.

My 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone came in with a MSRP of $30,825.

Driving the 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone

It’s no secret that the Toyota 86, Scion FR-S and Subaru BR-Z are excellent to drive. They’re on the same playing field as the Mazda Miata, in that they offer an eager, lower-power drivetrain with a classic manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive, and limited slip differential. So, my lofty expectations were met with the 86 Hakone as Toyota didn’t change the “magic formula” for an inexpensive, fun car when adding the gorgeous, deep green metallic paint.

The car itself is generally wonderful. The engine, previously criticized as having a dip in torque halfway through the rev range, now pulls strong all the way to redline. The clutch is easy to modulate and pedals are spaced perfectly for a nice heel-toe downshift. I found the throttle to be a bit touchy, though I suspect owners would adapt quickly. The manual transmission, while good, was notchy and a bit resistant on some downshifts.

Regardless, it’s all a classic combination of parts that works very well. This is a car where the optional torque-converter automatic transmission would make the driving experience markedly worse. It’s not the fastest thing on the road (though not slow) and part of the joy of driving the 86 Hakone comes from winding out the little boxer four and choosing the next gear. Yes, you’ll choose it slower than a computer, but the windows are down and the music is up and it just doesn’t matter.

Speaking of music, my experience with the sound system in the 86 Hakone was just average. Though vocals were crisp thanks to dash-mounted tweeters, the mids and lows weren’t as punchy as I’d prefer. The car was actually delivered to me with non-functional door speakers. Given I took delivery with 1,500 miles on the odometer, it was surprising. Some brief research revealed other 2020 Toyota 86 owners are finding the same problem, in which the trunk-mounted amplifier doesn’t turn on to power the door speakers (the others are amplified directly from the head unit). Toyota includes a “bypass wiring harness” next to the amplifier, and I was able to use it to get the door speakers working. Our local fleet management team took the 86 Hakone to a dealership for investigation after my loan ended. A working amplifier may make the system sing a bit more.

Beyond the sound system and heated seats, the 86 Hakone’s interior is all business with few frills – appropriate, given the car’s purpose. The steering wheel has controls for sound, cruise, and gauge cluster information screens, though the small buttons are hard to press. There is a backseat, but you’ll likely never use it given the complete lack of legroom. The backseat does fold down, which allows a full set of tires to ride along to your track weekend.

Hakone Green is the Color to Have

Given social distancing and stay-at-home efforts, I didn’t interact with many people while out in the 86 Hakone for errands. It was impressive, then, that every time I parked the car, I had someone ask (from six feet away) about the color. I even got into a stoplight conversation with two construction workers about the Hakone Green paint.

Toyota and Subaru (and in years’ past, Scion) offer a decent selection of paint colors for the 86 and BR-Z. Many offerings are really good choices and make the car stand out in a sea of silver and gray. The Hakone Green paint offered on this special edition, though, has a depth and a metallic “pop” that highlights the 86’s lines in a way no other color can.

My one visual challenge was between the bronze wheels and tan leather. It strikes me as a little clashy, but it does work enough. Perhaps a darker brown leather choice would be a better match, if we’re being picky. In any case, the paint color elevates the 86 and makes it stand out quite a bit.

Attractive, Attainable Fun

I’ve had my eye on a Porsche Cayman for a while now. The small two-seat coupe is fun to drive and has a very clear focus of “driving first, everything else second.” Spending a week with the Toyota 86 Hakone truly made me question how much I’d value the “Porsche-ness” of jumping up in price compared to a well-executed, simple sports car like this.

Inexpensive sports coupes have gone by the wayside for most brands. Mazda offers the Miata RF, many brands offer hot hatchbacks like the Hyundai Veloster N, and the “pony car” Mustang and Camaro are attainable for most, but larger and less tossable than cars like the 86.

It’s refreshing to get into a brand-new car that is so simple, yet so well-executed, and realize that the most expensive variant with the special paint job still comes in at a price point that many can handle.

I didn’t mind the “lower” power figures, either. I think the ideal Toyota 86 would have about 230 horsepower, but even at 205, the car is plenty quick. There is a joy to be found in attainable power, when you can use all of the tachometer’s range in the first few gears and stick to speeds that won’t put you in jail.

This joy was doubled given I had this car in an environment that demands we suspend track days and autocrosses for the greater good. I’d have had a blast at a sanctioned event, yes, but I had just as much fun on local, twisty roads on the way to H-Mart.

The Toyota 86 Hakone nails the basics and looks fantastic while doing it. Who says fun has to cost more than $50k?

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