Toyota GR86 review: close to affordable sports car perfection

Published:Yesterday 15:19

Toyota GR86 review by CAR magazine
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By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet

► Toyota GR86 driven on road and track
► Final production version tested
► Bargain sub-£30k price – but sold out!

The new Toyota GR86 coupe enters a very different enthusiast marketplace. With many manufacturers retreating from performance models and shying away from high-CO2 emitters, there will soon be just the evergreen Mazda MX-5 and this on the affordable sports car shopping list. Hats off to Toyota for chasing this discerning – yet diminishing – buyer.

The stakes are high. The recently retired Toyota GT86 was the answer to enthusiasts’ prayers: a sports car that wasn’t over-powered, over-tyred or overpriced, and with a baked-in penchant for oversteer. It was a charming car, but it wasn’t without flaws. A lack of low-down torque meant it had to be worked hard to make progress on the road; while the interior was laudably basic (it was a car that was all about driving after all), it was so low-rent as to put some buyers off; the gearshift could be notchy when cold; and its overall rawness could make it a tiring car on a long journey, particularly on the motorway.

Now there’s a new 86, with a new name: the Toyota GR86. There won’t be a base GT86 model this time: it’s GR or nothing. The name comes from Toyota’s now-established Gazoo Racing sub-brand, as applied to the GR Supra and GR Yaris – making a trio of GR models, all available with a manual transmission.

What’s new?

More than two thirds of the GR86 is all-new compared with the GT86, says Toyota, although the hardware is fundamentally based around a joint-venture rear-wheel drive platform co-developed with (and built by) Subaru. 

Toyota GR86 review (2022)

Key highlights include a beefed-up, bigger-capacity engine, designed to deliver more performance and torque, a stiffer bodyshell to improve handling, benefiting from a fresh wardrobe and improved interior. Read on for a more detailed précis of what’s new in our 2022 Toyota GR86 review.

Powertrain: a flat four with character

The biggest change is to the GR86’s engine: it’s still a boxer, and it uses the same block as the previous GT86’s 2.0-litre lump, but bored out to 2.4 litres. Impressively, the engine is no heavier, thanks to thinner cylinder liners, resin rocker covers and a redesigned water jacket, among other measures.

Torque has risen from 151lb ft to a stout 184lb ft, and power has risen by 35bhp to 231bhp. A new fuel injection system and redesigned air intake and manifold have sharpened the throttle response, too. More to the point, peak torque is developed at 3700rpm rather than the GT86’s 6700rpm, making the engine far more flexible and muscular. Cooling has been improved too.

Toyota 2.4-litre flat four

The six-speed manual gearbox is the same as the previous car’s but its shift has been tightened up a touch, with a shorter throw and new synchroniser and bearings. A torque converter auto is an option; but this is very much a car about involvement and only really feels right with three pedals. The automatic was not available to drive at the European launch in Spain and we’ll update our Toyota GR86 review when we have tried it.

Suspension and body

As before, suspension is by MacPherson strut at the front axle, double wishbones at the rear but with reinforced mountings, altered springs, dampers, geometry and a 10mm lower ride height. The anti-roll bar is now connected directly to the rear subframe for increased stability. The rear track has increased slightly in width for the same reason, given the extra torque.

A great deal of extra bracing has been added between the suspension and frame, and together with new fasteners and internal stiffening measures within the shell, body rigidity has increased by as much as 60% at the front and 50% at the rear, Toyota claims. You can feel this on the road, with impressive engineering integrity and a lack of flex, even over rough surfaces. 

Using more aluminium in the construction means kerbweight has increased only slightly over the GT86, at 1275kg. Engineers claim that, like for like, the newcomer is actually 10 kilos lighter, thanks to details such as the new aluminium roof saving nearly 2kg.

New 2022 Toyota GR86 coupe

The wheelbase is 5mm longer, and the driver sits 5mm lower, the better for stability and centre of gravity respectively. You certainly feel snug and low-down when you slide over the sill and perch in the grippy, heavily bolstered sports seats. 

Do you feel the GR86’s extra torque on the road?

You feel it instantly. We’re testing the car on hilly and beautiful roads to the west of Seville, with climbs that would have necessitated a downshift or two in the GT86. In the GR, they’re loped up easily in fourth gear.

The torque delivery is smooth and flexible – enough to easily lug your way out of roundabouts in a higher gear without a struggle – and peak power is developed up at 7000rpm, so there’s a reward to extending the GR86 in every gear.

Does it sound nicer than before?

The GT86 could sound a bit industrial and the GR86 makes a slightly smoother, moderately more pleasant noise. It’s partly artificial, enhanced by the cabin’s speakers. That can be disabled if you don’t like it, but that might necessitate a trip to a dealer to switch it off.

Toyota GR86 review: prices, specs and more

It’s not as rumbly as you might expect from a Subaru-designed boxer engine (as with the GT86, the GR86 is a joint venture between Toyota and Subaru but only the Toyota version will be sold in Europe this time) but it’s less phlegmy than the old car, and more pleasant than a Porsche 718 to these ears.

How does the Toyota GR86 handle?

Beautifully. The electric power steering is light but laser-accurate and there’s very little body roll, the GR86 settling quickly into a pancake-flat stance. You feel the low centre of gravity in every movement, and feel very much in tune with the car’s every movement. It’s responsive, yet predictable.

It’s firm but far from uncomfortable on the admittedly smooth roads in the hills west of Seville. Find a patch of broken asphalt and that stiff damping becomes apparent, but it’s a well judged balance, we’d say.

Tail-happy handling was part of the GT86’s appeal but its low-resistance Prius-spec Michelin Primacy tyres meant that when it did slide, it could do so in quite a binary way, and its stability control system then grabbed brakes to pull the car straight, which could make it feel clumsier than it really was. Versions fitted with wider, grippier tyres ironically felt more delicate and precise. 

For the GR86, sportier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres are standard on the 18-inch wheels that all UK models will wear; other markets can still pick a smaller 17in alloy shod with the lairier Primacy tyres or the bigger rims. 

The CAR guide to the best sports cars

What’s the GR86 like on track?

We peel off to the fabulous expanse of the Monteblanco circuit, where there’s space to explore the outer limits of the GR86’s handling safely. The gearchange is still a little knuckly in feel – an MX5’s shift is sweeter – but better than before, and it’s a joy to be using in combination with the nicely weighted and positioned pedals. Blipping the throttle on downshifts is a cinch.

The extra torque means the 86’s playfulness can be unlocked more easily and smoothly – oversteer is instigated much earlier and more precisely, and once it’s sliding, it’s easier to keep it going. And when you’re not being a hooligan it has a lovely neutral balance – very little understeer, positive front-end response and an eagerness to change direction without ever feeling nervous or spiky, even with the stability control turned off. And in its halfway-off track mode, you barely feel it intervene.

The brakes perhaps could be stronger; but then, carrying beefier brakes at each corner would spoil the unsprung mass. They’re fine for the road and should manage a trackday without too much nursing.

Is the interior nicer?

By just the right amount. It’s still full of hard plastics but it’s less dated-looking than the GT86’s cabin, and the bits your hands and elbows touch are padded, softened and upped in quality. There’s a touchscreen mid-dash which is small-ish but legible, and doesn’t dominate your view. Apple CarPlay is now standard, so you can sync your digital life and use Google Maps to navigate (although ours crashed repeatedly throughout our test).

Toyota GR86 interior

It’s roomy and even large passengers will find enough space and cubbies for a road trip. Those two rear seats are tiny, but perfect for slinging bags in and young kids will be fine (if you don’t expect much legroom… there is none when the seat is pushed back for a six-footer up front).

How much does a Toyota GR86 cost? UK pricing, availability

The manual GR86 costs just £29,995 in the UK, making entry into the GR club under £30k. PCP deals will see early buyers put down £4777 before 42 monthly payments of £299. The automatic GR86 is priced a little higher, at £32,085. Three new paint choices are available: a triple-layer lustrous red, black and white (the trio of GR branding colours).

However, there is a big stumbling block: the entire two-year allocation of GR86 coupes has already sold out, within hours of going on sale. Because of forthcoming changes to European safety regulations, this car will only be sold for two years before being withdrawn from European sale in 2024. The business case just doesn’t stack up to fit the new safety equipment such as road sign reading cameras – even the windscreen would have to be moved to meet the EU mandate, which is unviable.

It’s a crying shame and the only way to get hold of a GR86 is to join a waiting list – or chance your arm on what are likely to be stratospheric used prices. Toyota Europe is bidding to increase its allocation, but we wouldn’t hold out much hope…

Toyota GR86: verdict

This is a great sports car, period. And apart from making the 86 a greater entertainer, the evolution into the GR has made it more well-rounded and usable, too. A long journey in the GT86 could leave you drained but thanks to the stiffer structure and liquid-filled engine mounts, refinement has improved greatly. 

The new 2022 Toyota GR86 has a broader spread of ability: it’s still thrilling, yet it’s also less draining as there’s ample performance on tap to keep pace with traffic without the car feeling overpowered or too fast for public roads.

It’s good news all-round. Toyota has fixed what was broke, and lost none of the 86’s character in the process. Bravo!

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Specs

Price when new: £29,995
On sale in the UK: May 2022
Engine: 2387cc 16v four-cylinder boxer, 230bhp @ 7000rpm, 184lb ft @ 3700rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, Torsen limited-slip differential, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.3sec 0-62mph, 140mph
Weight / material: 1275kg/steel and aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4265/1775/1310

Rivals

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  • Toyota GR86 review: close to affordable sports car perfection
  • Toyota GR86 review: close to affordable sports car perfection
  • Toyota GR86 review: close to affordable sports car perfection
  • Toyota GR86 review: close to affordable sports car perfection

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, motoring news magnet

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