Toyota 86 In Snow & Winter Driving? (Solved & Explained)

The Toyota 86 is one of the best-selling entry level sports cars,  for average commuters and hardcore enthusiasts alike.  

The basis of its design and construction revolves around stability and cornering performance. Toyota really focused on balance and handling when reviving this cult-classic Japanese coupe. 

Let’s find out if this affordable two-door machine is fit for winter conditions…

Here is the short answer to whether the Toyota 86 is good  for snow and winter driving: 

The Toyota 86 is great for driving in snow, despite being rear-wheel-drive. Featuring traction control, ABS, vehicle stability control, snow mode and electronic brake force distribution, the 86 has excellent performance in winter conditions and is limited only by its 4.9 inch ground clearance.

Is a Toyota 86 Good in the Snow? 

People see the 86, and immediately conclude that with its rear-wheel-drive layout, and its ability to oversteer, it’s going to be a handful on snow-covered roads.

And while the 86 might like getting a little sideways around corners when its various traction control systems are turned off, it still performs well in the snow, so long as you leave all of the electronic assists on. 

I mean, let’s face it, it isn’t a crossover with AWD/4WD. Even front-wheel-drive cars might be more suited for those who only drive to get from point A  to point B.  

However, that isn’t the reason people buy the 86. Customers shopping for these cars, do so because they are spirited drivers; they enjoy the experience of being behind the wheel. And the 86 can offer an enjoyable driving experience, all while keeping its occupants safe and in their own lane. 

This is contributed to Toyota incorporating a substantial amount of electronic drivetrain and braking assists. Also, the balance of the car’s lightweight chassis is exceptional, meaning correcting a slide is fairly straight-forward. 

Another obvious downfall, other than the lack of AWD, would be the ground clearance. This car sits fairly low to the ground in comparison to an SUV. While plowed roads might be just fine, if you find yourself in a few feet of snow, you might be calling the tow truck. 

The 86’s low center of gravity can actually be beneficial in slippery conditions as it reduces the chance of a rollover, which are more common with SUV type vehicle.

Toyota has always taken occupant safety very seriously, and this car is no exception.

Even since its conception, improvements have been made to keep this car performing at its best in winter conditions. There is a stigma around rear-wheel-drive cars in the wintertime, but in this case, the 86 is an exception to the rule. 

What Features Will Improve Winter Driving? 

The 86 may not be an AWD crossover with immense ground clearance, but Toyota worked tirelessly to design electronic control features that would ensure your 86 stays out of the ditch.

In short, despite the car being rear-wheel drive, it’s still relatively easy to control even in the worst conditions, thanks to a long list of driving aids.

The 86 has a wealth of traction/stability features that will aid the driver with  winter driving. The 86’s features include: 

Traction Control 

Traction control measures the speed of the rear wheels, detects when they start to spin and reduces throttle.

Wheelspin is unfavourable because it can  quickly cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Though traction control is not a new system, its constantly being updated  and refined.  

The 86’s traction control system can detect wheelspin and adjust throttle input so quickly, the average driver would have yet to even react before the traction control has performed its task.  

If you do get your 86 stuck, you can turn off TRAC by pressing the button near the shifter. A light will illuminate on the dash letting you know the system is deactivated. You can turn it back on by pressing the button again. 

Vehicle Stability Control 

This system can detect when the car is going to either spin out, or run wide. 

The is referred to as “oversteer” and “understeer”. It does this using sensors  that measure wheel speed, and steering angle to detect a problem.

When it detects a problem like oversteer/understeer, it brakes individual wheels, and even reduces throttle if needed.

This, in simplicity, prevents the driver from losing control, and keeps the vehicle pointed in the direction the  driver intends.  

Anti-Lock Brakes 

This system has been around for eons. Locking of the wheels under braking  prevent the driver from being able to turn.

It also takes longer to slow the car down if the wheels are locked.

In slippery conditions, it is very easy to lock the wheels with the brakes. Also, a lot of inexperienced drivers will panic and hit the brakes much too hard, causing undesired lock up.  

If the ABS module (computer) detects lock up in the wheels, it will allow the  wheel to start moving again, and modulate brake pressure to ensure the  driver can still steer, and the vehicle slows down as quickly as possible.

An old system, but nevertheless constant improvements and refinements are made.  

Electronic Brake Force Distribution 

This is a relatively new electronic braking system, in comparison to VSC and  ABS.

Under braking, cars, tend to tip forward, making the rear of the car  “loose” or have less traction. EBD can distribute brake pressure in a way that gets the most braking out of the car, without making it unstable. 

Furthermore, depending on passengers or vehicle load, the weight in the vehicle can change the characteristics of braking, creating longer stopping distances.

This system helps distribute optimal braking pressure between the  front and rear, in a way that helps shorten stopping distance. 

Please also read our article: Nissan 350Z in snow and winter driving

Does the 86 Have a Snow Mode? 

Only 86’s equipped with automatic transmissions have a snow mode. 

Snow mode has to be activated by pressing a button near the shifter, labeled “snow”. When starting from a stop, it starts the vehicle in second gear, rather than first, to optimize traction. 

The 86 does have a series of modes that affect the characteristics of  handling, especially during spirited driving. Though, it is not recommended that you try these modes during poor conditions. 

You can turn off TRAC, and put VSC into “Sport Mode” all by pressing the  buttons nearest the shifter.

If you want to deactivate traction control and put the VSC (vehicle stability control) into sport mode, you have to hold the TRAC button for longer than three seconds. The dash will illuminate with lights indicating the systems have been turned off.  

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on 86? 

You can install snow gear on the 86. Depending on what is available and  legal in your region, you can install: 

  • Snow tires 
  • Studded tires 
  • Snow socks 
  • Snow chains

Ensure you know what tires you need before buying snow tires/studded  tires. This includes knowing proper size, speed and weight ratings.  

Also, be wary of installing chains, studs or socks without knowing if your region allows them on the road. Many regions have strict laws regarding snow gear. 

How Much Snow Can an 86 Handle? 

Sitting at just 4.9 inches, the 86 is low by most standards, even that of  most sports cars. This limits the 86’s ability to travel roads that are not  well maintained.  

As such, only drive this vehicle in light snow. If you live in an area where  snowfall is always heavy, refrain from driving the 86 in the winter. 

How Do 86s Handle Low Winter Temperatures? 

Low temperatures are not an issue for the 86. It has a fuel injection system  that uses both port and direct injection, assisting with emissions in cold  start up.  

That means the 86 not only handles low temperatures well, it also is pretty  environmentally friendly during a cold start.

It also has the option for an  engine block heater to be installed, if you live in extreme cold climates. 

Can a Toyota 86 Drive on Ice?

The 86 will not perform well on ice, without the assistance of studded tires  and/or other snow gear mentioned above. 

That being said, with the help of the driving aids listed in this article, even though the 86 is rear-wheel drive, it should handle moderately well. It likely won’t fair as well as a 4WD/AWD vehicle, though. 

Does the 86 Have 4WD? 

No Toyota 86 comes equipped with 4WD. Even though 4WD helps in  slippery conditions, the 86 was intended to be a rear-wheel drive sports  car, and 4WD would have increased the vehicles weight and upset its  near-perfect balance. 

Nevertheless, rear-wheel drive is not impossible to drive in the winter.  Exercising caution and using the driving aids the car is equipped with,  can make driving the 86 in the winter very manageable. 

What About Older 86 Models and Winter Driving? 

The 86 used to be branded the Scion FR-S, before switching names to the  Toyota 86. Not much has changed with this vehicle since its revival.  

However, if you go far enough back to its predecessor, the AE86, you might find these vehicles poor for winter driving.

This is due to virtually no  driving assists, and some models being carbureted, which does not suit  winter driving by modern standards. 

Do 86s Need Snow Tires?

In short, yes. If you are considering winter driving an 86, snow tires will  greatly improve your driving experience, and make the car much safer to  boot. 

Can You Mount a Snow Plow on an 86? 

You cannot mount a snow plow on an 86. This car was intended for  spirited driving, not clearing snow.

Related: 6 Best & Worst Subaru BRZ Years (With Pictures)



  • Ian Sawyer

    Growing up with a father who was a mechanic I had an appreciation for cars and motorcycles from an early age. I shared my first bike with my brother that had little more than a 40cc engine but it opened up a world of excitement for me, I was hooked. As I grew older I progressed onto bigger bikes and...