Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car

Published:15 November 2021

Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
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By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

► Toyota GR86 tested on road and track
► Driven as prototype close to final spec
► Will be cheaper than a GR Yaris

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.

As the jaunty camouflage graphics suggest, this is a prototype rather than the final production car. But it's very, very close to final trim and, as you read this, Toyota's product managers will be choosing the final specification for the UK. We've been behind the wheel in Spain, ahead of the car's official reveal in December 2021.

What's new?

More than two thirds of the GR86 is all-new compared with the GT86.

Powertrain
Starting with the 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.

gr86 rear

Torque has risen from 151lb ft to 184lb ft, and power has risen by 34bhp to 230bhp. A new fuel injection system and redesigned air intake and manifold has 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.

The manual gearbox is the same as the previous car 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.

Suspension and body
As before, suspension is MacPherson strut at the front, double-wishbone at the rear but with reinforced mountings, altered springs, dampers, geometry and a 10mm lower ride hight. 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.

Using more aluminium means kerb weight has increased only slightly over the GT86, at 1275kg.

The wheelbase is 5mm longer, and the driver sits 5mm lower, the better for stability and centre of gravity respectively.

Do you feel the extra torque on the road?

You feel it instantly. The roads are steep where we're testing the car, with climbs that would have necessitated a downshift or two in the GT86. In the GR, they're loped up easily in fourth gear.

gr86 road cornering

The torque delivery is smooth and flexible – enough to easily lug your way out of roundabouts in fourth 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.

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 the UK this time) but it's less phlegmy than the old car, and more pleasant than a Porsche 718 to these ears.

How does it 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 north of Barcelona.

gr86 track drift

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. Toyota's stuck with the Primacy tyres as standard for the GR86 but sportier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres are an option now, and fitted to the car fitted here.

We peel off to the fabulous figure-of-eight Castelloli circuit hidden in the hills, where there's space to explore the outer limits of the GR86's handling safely. It's 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. As for the shift, it's 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.

gr86 track cornering

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, 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.

gr86 interior

How much is a Toyota GR86?

At the time of writing, pricing is still being decided.

Toyota is positioning the GR86 as the entry point to the GR range, so it'll cost less than the £30k GR Yaris, and the £46k 2.0-litre Supra. If the monthly payments are tempting, here's hoping it gets the sales success it deserves.

Toyota GR86: prototype impressions

This is a great sports car. And apart 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. It's also less mentally draining as there's ample performance on tap to keep pace with traffic without the car feeling overpowered or too fast for public roads.

Based on this first prototype drive, there's good news, and there's good news. They've fixed what was broke, and lost none of the 86's character in the process.

Specs

Price when new: £29,000
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

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  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car
  • Toyota GR86 prototype (2022) review: a perfect sports car

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer

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