Toyota GR86 review: Ascent to affordable sports car heaven
A more powerful engine boosts performance while a stiffer chassis improves handling to create a truly affordable sports car.
Not for what he did but for what he represents, which is to say the end of something great.
The dinky two-door 2+2 will only be on sale for two years and when it’s gone there won’t be a direct replacement. Worse still, the entire UK allocation has already been exhausted.
As the world becomes more and more electric and tech-driven, there’s seemingly no room left for simple, light and sporty gas-powered cars.
Which is a tragedy when they can be that good.
Priced at £29,995, the GR86 is, predictably, the successor to the GT86, which won accolades for being a relatively cheap and massively entertaining small sports car with little power and little fuel. grip, but lots of character and thrills behind the wheel.
Based on the same platform, the GR86 is a well-modified car nonetheless, with a bigger and more powerful engine, more grip and a whole lot of chassis engineering designed to address the few criticisms of the old car.
Chief among these criticisms has always been that the GT86’s 197 hp just wasn’t enough.
To answer that, engineers bored out the old 2.0-liter flat-four to 2.4-liters and threw a bunch of engineering expertise at it. Everything from the fuel pump to the valve stems has been reworked to make the engine lighter and more efficient. The result is 231 hp and a torque increase of 151 lb-ft to 184 lb-ft. The torque curve has also been flattened, providing a more linear progression and welcome extra low-end traction.
The chassis and bodywork have also been extensively revised to manage the excess power, reduce weight, improve rigidity and lower the car’s center of gravity, all in the name of agility.
There are lighter, high-strength materials and additional bindings and reinforcements, which have helped improve lateral stiffness by 50%. The use of aluminum for the roof, fenders and bonnet lowered the car’s center of gravity, and the suspension was tuned and stiffened. Even the driver’s seat has been redesigned in the name of weight saving.
The result of all this work is something more powerful and grippy than before, but still eminently playful and fun.
At 1,276 kg, the GR86 proves that less mass is more important than tons of power. The benefits of a low curb weight are that it’s nimble and nimble in a way that many “faster” cars aren’t.
Whether you’re sweeping a twisty mountain pass or making the most of a trail day, the GR86 flies with seductive skill, flowing with the road rather than fighting it. Directional changes via the slim steering wheel are immediate and faithful to driver input, while the body stays flat and controlled – or as controlled as you want it to be. Like its predecessor, the GR86 is happy to dance and wiggle as much or as little as you want.
And you have the confidence to harness that because the whole car is so communicative. From the pleasingly light yet pleasing steering to the pant-seat sensations that the best sports cars deliver, you’re constantly fed information about exactly what the car is doing.
Buyers in Europe have the option of a 17-inch wheel with the same low-grip Michelin Primacy tire fitted to the old GT, but the UK only gets the 18-inch wheel with a Pilot Sport 4 specially designed to provide more grip. Any concerns that this gripping tire might make the GR86 too planted are unfounded, and the GR offers the same delightful balance of grip and slip as its predecessor.
The extra power from this larger engine brings welcome extra pace – 0-62mph is reduced from 7.6 to 6.3 seconds and the extra torque means you can spend less time fumbling through gears. That said, the flat-four will still spin happily up to 7,000 rpm and the manual shifting is so light and quick that there’s a real joy to shift through gears.
The engine sound is now synthesized rather than being fed directly from the manifold into the cabin via a tube and while it’s not the smoothest sound in the world, it has a raw, throaty edge to match to the sparkling attitude of the car on the road.
As a package, it’s simply a happily direct and nimble experience that puts the driver at the center of everything and leaves you grinning from ear to ear.
Despite all the reengineering and redesigning under the skin, from the outside, the GR86 is clearly related to the GT86. From a distance, the cabin’s low, set-back silhouette is easily recognizable. However, there are relatively significant changes up close, designed to refresh the car’s appearance and improve aerodynamics. The front features new headlights and a new grille with a unique “G” shaped mesh that echoes the design of the GR Supra and Yaris. There are huge air dams flanking the grille and active air intakes behind the front wheels. Out back, the fenders have been reshaped and a subtle ducktail spoiler apes the swept-back rear of the big brother Supra.
Inside, the GR86 emphasizes its mission to be a simple sports car. There are all the mod cons you’d expect – from a seven-inch touchscreen and USB ports to heated seats and digital dials, but it’s plain and simple, maybe even a little basic. There’s a good handbrake, the heater controls are big dials, and the digital instruments are a huge tachometer that incorporates the speedometer and is flanked by a trip computer and fuel and speed data. temperature. Seats and doors are finished in a mix of “Ultrasuede” and perforated leather and elsewhere solid but dull black plastics dominate.
Despite its relatively small size, you don’t feel overwhelmed in the cabin. Even those over six feet will fit and although the +2 rear seats are a waste of space, the interior is surprisingly accommodating. Fold down the rear seats and it’ll even pack a set of four extra rear wheels for track days – another nod to Toyota’s vision as an enthusiast’s car.
Toyota is pitching the GR86 as an analog car for the digital world, which is, of course, a catchy marketing line. But he has a point. The GR86 feels connected and communicative in a way so few cars do anymore. It’s really just that and the smaller, less powerful Mazda MX-5 that’s left to show just how great affordable small sports cars can be.
So yes, we should shed a tear that the GR86 is the last of a dying breed, but while it’s here we should celebrate and enjoy it.
Price: £29,995; Engine: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, gasoline; Power: 231 hp; Couple : 184 lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 140mph; 0-62mph: 6.3 seconds; Economy: 32.1mpg; CO2 emissions: 200g/km