If you’re going to build a sports car, you better do it right.
Yeah, weight distribution and that sort of stuff is important, but the same applies philosophically just as it does fundamentally. That means sticking to the mission as it was set out, and striking the often delicate balance between listening to customer feedback and not relenting to unrealistic pressure.
Mazda’s MX-5 has been the poster child for the progress that can be made when it’s done well, with incremental change – and righting past wrongs – adding up in the best ways possible. Then there’s the 2022 Toyota GR86 that happens to feel very much like its predecessor, but with just enough of the right improvements to make this a proper evolution of the sports car experience.
The Toyota 86 (née Scion FR-S) that came before this – plus the Subaru BRZ that’s identical in almost every way except the badges – didn’t need much in terms of improvements. If there was one weakness it was under the hood, with the Subaru-sourced engine feeling at least a little underpowered.
At most, this car needed only a slight bump in output, and that’s exactly what it got – no more, no less. Bored out to 2.4L this time around, the horizontally opposed four-cylinder makes 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. No, those increases aren’t exactly significant – the old 2.0L made 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque – but they’re enough to be noticeable when driving the GR86 as it was intended. (Besides, if you’re looking for a sports car that feels an awful lot like this but delivers more power, check out the new Nissan Z.)
There’s still a torque dip about midway through the rev range, although it’s not nearly as pronounced as it was before, but it surges hard from 5,000 rpm to redline at 7,000 rpm – and that’s where you really want to play in a car like this. While gear ratios are unchanged in both the manual and automatic transmissions, the former gets to 100 km/h about a second quicker for a claimed time of 6.3 seconds. (The latter does it in 6.8 seconds.)
Driving Feel: 10/10
That the engine is horizontally opposed – colloquially called a boxer – means the pistons move side to side instead of up and down, leading to inherent balance while also helping create an impossibly low centre of gravity. Few cars feel as planted and poised as this one, and even fewer do it this side of, say, $70,000.
The drive itself is sort of raw yet relenting, with forgiveness galore to go with responsive steering and a revised clutch that’s been tweaked for better feel and engagement. On that note, yes – the six-speed manual is very much the way to go in order to maximize the potential of this pint-sized sports car.
The platform is practically the same as the old car’s although it’s a little stiffer, as is the suspension. It leads to the kind of ride quality that’s expected of a coupe like this, with car control prioritized over comfort. Even so, hidden beneath that rigid ride is a bit of springiness that’s accessible beyond certain speeds.
That means heaves in the highway result in surprisingly soft landings. More importantly, it also improves weight transfer, allowing the front or rear springs to be loaded up when driving spiritedly. The former allows the GR86 to pivot more easily on its front wheels under braking as the nose dives, while the latter sees it hunker down in the back to maximize traction while accelerating.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
While matters of efficiency are close to inconsequential in any kind of performance car, that the GR86 is such a cooperative daily driver means they’re worth mentioning – albeit briefly. Officially, the manual-equipped version is rated for a combined 10.5 L/100 km, a number that drops to 9.6 with the six-speed automatic transmission. This week-long test saw the manual car come in at 9.0 L/100 km across a total of nearly 550 km. It runs on pricey premium-grade gas.
Should this coupe be under consideration for daily driving, know that it’s limited in its usefulness. No, that’s not surprising – or at least it shouldn’t be – but it also means back seats that are barely usable and a small-ish trunk, although it managed to hold a camping chair, cargo tote, and tool box with some room to spare.
The cabin offers occupants easy access and enough space to get settled, although small-item storage isn’t especially abundant or well sorted. Covered cupholders on the console are moot in the manual car, making the ones in the door panels the go-to for that morning coffee. There also aren’t any cubbies or compartments for stuff like sunglasses or a wallet, all of which will be relegated to the passenger seat or glovebox.
Wrapped in leather and synthetic suede in the Premium trim tested here, the sport seats hug occupants with just enough bolstering to feel special. There’s more microfibre material on the window sills, as well as the instrument hood, although the steering wheel could stand to benefit from the same treatment to keep clammy hands from slipping and sliding during white-knuckle driving.
Some of the plastic surfaces inside don’t feel especially impressive, a trait shared with the last car, while the ambience of the cockpit is a little noisy. Add in the rigid ride and it’s not exactly a pleasant place to be – at least not in conventional terms. And yet the drive itself is rewarding enough to make that stuff nothing but a footnote.
There’s something timeless about the low and long look of a coupe like this, and yet a decade is a long time for any car to exist with only minor updates. That makes the changes here welcome in more ways than one, with the same proportions and flowing lines as before that have been matched with modern – and slightly menacing – details.
The fascia is more aggressive this time, with a gaping grille and squinting headlights, while the Premium trim’s duckbill spoiler is absolute perfection. Inside isn’t any more or less special than before, but it looks good nonetheless. More importantly, it’s still the kind of driver-centric cabin it should be.
User Friendliness: 9/10
Of the change points inside, the new eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is fine, although it was mired with Apple CarPlay connectivity issues all week (Android Auto is included, too). The climate controls are made up of a trio of dials, just as before, although they’re bigger this time and feature easy-to-see central displays. Otherwise, the interior has been stripped back to just about the bare minimum – as it should be – in the name of driving fun. No, the windows and locks aren’t manually adjustable, but it’s clear by the very configuration that nothing is more important than the road (or track) ahead.
The GR86 lineup is a simple one, with two trims to choose from – both of which can be optioned with a six-speed automatic. A limited-slip rear differential is standard either way, but amenities aren’t exactly abundant. The base trim has the same dual-zone automatic climate control system as the pricier Premium version, but the cloth seats aren’t heated. Upgrading to the Premium trim is the way to get two-stage heated seats wrapped in leather and microfibre, as well as the fantastic duckbill spoiler, and 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires.
Similarly, safety equipment is stripped down to what’s needed and nothing that isn’t – at least with the manual transmission along for the ride. Of course, a government-mandated back-up camera is standard, as are seven airbags throughout the cabin; otherwise, blind-spot monitoring and steering-responsive headlights are included with the Premium package, while automatic-equipped cars get adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
Affordable fun – that’s what the GR86 delivers. Starting at $33,310 before tax but including a non-negotiable $1,820 freight charge, not many performance cars are cheaper than this one. Noteworthy, however, is the $31,220 that the mechanically identical Subaru BRZ starts at.
This Premium tester rings in at $36,310 before tax, while the similar BRZ Sport-tech comes in at $34,220. Opting for the automatic in either car adds $2,400 to the asking price. While the experience it delivers is slightly different, the manual-only Honda Civic Si is priced at $35,530. Then there’s the playful Mazda MX-5 roadster that ranges from $35,600 to $42,700.
The 2022 Toyota GR86 really didn’t need much – it was simply a case of making a good car better. It’s balanced and fun, just like it was before, but the extra output and new clutch feel were exactly what was needed to satisfy the calls for improved performance, while the updated aesthetics are just modern enough. It’s not easy to find affordable fun these days, but for those looking, this coupe is a great place to start.
|Peak Horsepower||228 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||184 lb-ft @ 3,700 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||11.9 / 8.7 / 10.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||178 L|
|Model Tested||2022 Toyota GR86 Premium|
|Price as Tested||$36,410|