Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 20, 2022
Toyota’s budget-friendly sports car has been revised from the ground up for 2022 with more power, less weight, and better aerodynamics. Sound like a recipe for success? You’re right. The new GR86 is one of the most engaging and heavily improved vehicles we have driven all year. Not to mention, it starts at $31,490, tempting enough for us to contemplate its monthly payments.
More power? That must mean Toyota finally added a turbocharger, right? Unfortunately, forced induction is still out of the question but they have cleverly found an alternative way to boost output and remedy one of our largest criticisms of the first-generation 86, in that its tepid acceleration always made us feel vulnerable on the road.
It starts with a bigger engine borrowed from Subaru, a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre flat-four that pushes out a healthy 228 hp and 184 lb-ft. That’s a significant 23 hp and 28 lb-ft more than the outgoing 2.0-litre engine. It might not seem like much but the extra torque and the fact that it comes on earlier at 3,700 rpm make all the difference in the way the GR86 now behaves. It no longer feels like you have to climb a mountain to get any kind of forward propulsion, the mid-range is now full of gusto, and the second to third gear rip is one of the most satisfying.
This is not to say that the GR86 rewards laziness. You still want to keep the needle hovering above 3,000 rpm for accessible thrust, and there’s little value in exploring past 7,000 rpm where the GR86 begins gasping for breath. It’s a more characterful and robust engine than the Mazda MX-5’s, though not as polished, refined, nor as rev-happy as it wanders around its powerband. Hammer it hard though, and the GR86 will reach 0-100 km/h in a swift 6.3 seconds, nearly a full second quicker than before (7.2 s). The automatic-equipped models will do that run in 6.8 seconds, 1.4 seconds less than before.
Even offering the option for three pedals is a rarity in today’s world - a necessity for some, a delicacy for others, and an unknown concept for the majority. Toyota’s GR department has been keeping this method of rowing gears alive longer than most, yet they’ve ensured that the GR86 isn’t a difficult vehicle to pilot, adding to its beginner’s appeal. Shifter travel is precise, short, and free from the notchiness that plagues some gates. The clutch bite point is consistent and forgiving as well. The gearing isn’t particularly tall and it rewards precise shifting at the correct RPMs and with quick inputs. The pedals are perfectly positioned for heel and toeing and the footwell doesn’t feel as cramped or as narrow as the MX-5. In fact, the whole cabin feels spacious for my slender six-foot figure, and the driving position is excellent - low down yet with excellent outward visibility. We do wish the steering wheel would telescope more towards the driver, though.
Of note, we have yet to test the automatic-equipped GR86, which commands a $2,400 premium and a 16 kg weight penalty, but it does come standard with all of Toyota’s advanced safety features like pre-collision braking, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure warning, sway warning, and lead vehicle start alert. These are not available in the manual gearbox models.
The GR86 does not emit the most flattering of exhaust noises, going up in volume rather than personality as the revs climb. Its vocals are gravelly like there’s sand and rocks choked up the larynx. We know many flat-four engines with more captivating voices but alas, we don’t expect many of these GR86s to keep their standard exhausts anyways. And Toyota does pipe in some noise through the cabin speakers, but we hardly noticed.
The steering breathes life into the drive - it’s rare that we hop into a car and instantly feel so connected to the machine. Turning the wheel gives you a sensation of both grip and speed as vibrations flow through your fingertips. The steering is light without being over-boosted, quick without being too twitchy, and is frankly one of the best electric steering setups at this price point. We wouldn’t mind a slightly quicker ratio, as it requires quite a bit of rotation at low speeds but otherwise, its crisp feedback and fidelity are perfect for a coupe of this size, making it easy to find harmony with the road.
The GR86 rides better than before thanks to a 50% increase in torsional rigidity and notable weight savings from an aluminum roof, hood, and fenders. In addition, Toyota tinkered with the chassis and suspension to take advantage of the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber. You can feel the weight transfer through your seat and the rear slowly slipping away under mid-corner throttle application. It gives you the confidence to push the GR86 to the edge of adhesion, and let the electronics guide you around like a hero.
Handling-wise, it’s not particularly neutral feeling and its cornering antics are significantly less forgiving when you turn off the stability and traction control, but we had more fun in the new GR86 than any other budget sports car in the class. That says something. The Volkswagen Golf GTI provides a similarly grippy experience and is nicely complemented by its torquey turbo-four engine, but its frustrating infotainment experience and mundane front-wheel-drive behaviour can be a hard sell. The same goes for the angry and belligerent Hyundai Veloster N, which we just couldn’t gel with and grow to love on a back road. We have yet to drive the new Honda Civic Si.
Cruising at discreet speeds reveals a surprising degree of road and tire noise. The GR86 rides rougher than a Golf GTI but is more sorted than the Veloster N. It adores hugging the road and exploring the bottom of every pothole, but it’s tolerable and most of the time, we were so engaged in the road flowing below us that we ultimately preferred the GR86’s compromise of comfort for excellent road-holding ability.
And have we mentioned how good it looks? The overall design is much softer than before, an exercise in restraint, because not every sports car needs a massive rear wing and comically flared fenders like the Honda Civic Type R. The sculpted rear end is accentuated by that ducktail spoiler and the new side air intakes give it extra visual depth compared to the outgoing 86 that did without one.
While not the focus of Toyota’s R&D department, the interior no longer feels like an afterthought. The digital driver’s gauges are high in definition, and we prefer its info layout better than the GR Supra’s surprisingly. A somewhat basic 8-inch touchscreen graces the center console and it’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for those that prefer a more familiar interface. Speaking of familiar elements, Toyota has also borrowed the keyfob and gear shifter from Subaru.
Ergonomics come into play nicely with perfectly positioned cupholders and a foldable cover for the center armrest that doesn’t get in the way of the shifter or handbrake. Some materials used are questionable - the plastic toggles for the HVAC feel as thin and as fragile as a sheet of paper, but there’s some mid-grade leather and soft suede to aesthetically garnish it all up. Just don’t go expecting the Audi-grade quality that you will find in the Golf.
The seats are supportive but feel like they need more padding, though they complement the thin-rimmed steering wheel replete with buttons to control the infotainment. A part of us wished they offered a more simple, bare-bones steering wheel without any buttons just like the outgoing models.
A few more minor gripes. The gear indicator on the instrument cluster lags behind the actual gear change by about a full second, which can be offputting at times. And the rear seats cannot fit any humans that we know of but are still helpful for storing groceries and driving paraphernalia. What does make us happy, however, is having the peace of mind that our GR86 test vehicle is safe and deterred from theft. That’s why we always recommend having a miTrail vehicle tracker in your vehicle. It’s a simple device that simply plugs into the car’s OBD11 port, and you can track its real-time location via a computer or smartphone. In the same light as dash cams or steering wheel locks, it’s an additional layer of automotive security, and we wouldn’t set foot out of our garage without one. You can check out miTrail’s devices here.
The Gazoo Racing badge sets a high standard for Toyota’s performance models, as shown by the GR Supra and the GR Yaris from the other side of the pond. Yet the new GR86 is a welcome and significant improvement over the first-generation model, delivering a Whole Foods driving experience at a No Frills price. Retaining the raw formula of having three pedals, a naturally aspirated engine, and rear-wheel drive, only amplifies its ability to involve and engage the driver even further, but now with more power, less weight, and the same stunning value. The GR86 is the performance deal of the year.
Model: 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium MT
Paint Type: TRUENO Blue
Base Price: $34,490
Price as Tested: $34,490
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,265 / 1,775 / 1,310
Curb weight (kg): 1,285
Engine: 2.4-litre flat-four
Horsepower: 228 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 3,700 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 11.9 / 8.7 / 10.5
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 9.7
Tires: 215/40R18; Michelin Pilot Sport 4