You hate long lines? Try being an auto journalist getting a Toyota GR 86 to test! But sometimes it’s worth the wait, because you know it will be worth it. So now we have the Toyota sibling to the Subaru BRZ we tested and loved. So how does it stack up? Let’s take a look!
Fresh Interpretation of the Modern Sports Car
There’s a strong family resemblance between the GR 86 and previous 86/FR-S. While the overall dimensions are very close, the new model looks beefed up and more aggressive. Most buyers will we be weighing the GR 86 against the new Subaru BRZ, and you do notice some differences.
At the front the GR shares the adaptive LED headlights and signature swoosh with the Subie, but has a larger, more prominent grille that Toyota calls MATRIX “G Mesh”. We like the angrier vibe, compared to the BRZ which has more a smiley face. A nice touch on the Toyota is the GR badge in the grille. For those in the know, GR stands for Gazoo Racing, one of the carmaker’s motorsports divisions. Expect to see more GR-badged vehicles in the future.
The GR’s profile is almost a dead ringer for the Subaru, and that’s fine, they both look more substantial, with large functional fresh air vents behind the front wheel that directs air to a lip spoiler under the door that adds downforce. We love the little details like the small fin at the back for the rear wheel well that adds stability. Selling the capable look are the Premium’s black 18-inch alloy wheels, we had people ask where you get them – they have the look of an expensive aftermarket wheel!
The rear may be the best view with boomerang shape LED lights and an integrated rear spoiler at the top, while fat dual exhausts poke out underneath the rear fascia. We had several passersby ask us if this was the new Supra. There’s a strong resemblance, and frankly, we don’t mind the fact that our tester was $25K less than the Supra we last tested. Our tester’s eye-searing color even had a fun name – TRACK bRED. There’s a lot of passion built into this car.
Pure Driver’s Environment
The clean focused look of the exterior carries inside as well.
Open the door, and you’re greeted by a deep driver’s cockpit with strong horizontal lines, inviting sport front bucket seats, and a center console that gives the driver a clear working space.
Get in and drop down a bit – hey this is a low-slung sports car! – and those seats are as supportive as they look, with leather bolsters and grippy Ultrasuede to hold you in place. And it holds you perfectly in place to reach out and grab a fat leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Reach over and you’ll find a perfectly-place stick shift. Wait a minute! This is an automatic! But they cleverly have designed it to look like you’re driving a stick. It’s a great transmission by the way.
Look past that wheel and you’ll see the same display as in the BRZ, with a handsome 7-inch digital dash that looks inspired from Lexus F SPORT models, with a digital speedo display surrounded by a 9,000-rpm tach. (Redline starts at 7,500 rpm FYI).
Being a digital readout, Toyota puts in some adjustability here, and you can program the screen to the left of the tach to read out fun stuff like a g-meter. And if you drop the GR into Track Mode, you get real-time readouts of gear position, engine speed, water temperature and oil temperature. All the key info you need when things are getting serious.
Info-tainment comes courtesy of an 8-inch touchscreen which looks plenty large in the cozy cabin, and you get key stuff like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and hands-free Bluetooth. Our Premium tester got a small upgrade with 8 speakers vs. the lower model’s 6, and again with a relatively small space, it fills up the cabin with great sound.
Adding a little style to the interior are LCD toggles located below easy access round controls for the climate control system, while aluminum sport pedals add more panache.
The rear seats are well…. not really any place you’d want to put anyone – maybe a very small child – but they fold easily, and you get a surprisingly long and deep cargo hold perfect for bringing a spare set of wheels and a jack to the track. All is right in the world….
It’s All About the Drive
Really though, for an enthusiast the above is all nice stuff. But the real test is in the driving.
The good news starts under the hood, replacing the Subaru-sourced 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4 is a larger version, punched out to 2.4-liters. The numbers are good, too, with 228 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. torque, up 28 ponies and 33 torques. Just as important it’s a much more linear powerplant, fixing the famous mid-range torque dip of the previous model.
It’s still a great-sounding engine, with a nice deep burble at idle, a real love for rushing to the redline, and a great braaapp as it gets there.
We mentioned before that our tester was a 6-speed automatic – and while we dearly love sticks, this is an excellent auto, with quick shifts accessible by paddle shifter, and it’s always easy to find the gear you need. Toyota also beefed up the internals of the trans to handle the extra power.
Put the transmission in Sport mode, and you could be seriously tempted away from a stick. And for many of us, whether it’s loads of traffic or just your preference it’s great that Toyota offers a real driver’s automatic. Your only punishment is that it’s a bit slower than the manual, and maybe a little less involving. Not much, though. Even with the automatic you are looking at 0-60 in around 6 seconds. Plenty quick for getting around!
While added power is always great, most GR and BRZ buyers are probably just as interested in handling as acceleration. Weighing in at just 2,800 lbs., the GR is low-fat fare, and with that horizontally opposed engine sitting low in the chassis, the little Toyota responds instantly to the wheel, pushes you hard into the seat bolsters and goes for it.
You dive into corners with no roll and loads of grip on those meaty 18-inch tires. A torsen limited slip makes sure you get to wring out every horse in your pursuit of joy. The steering is superb with loads of feel, precision and perfect weighting. Nobody does it better.
For a low-slung sports car the ride is good. It’s definitely on the firm side, but not harsh. You’ll notice it most going over speed bumps, where you get a very firm thump, and you’ll want to hold your coffee in your hand otherwise it’s going to burp Major Dickinson’s Blend all over the console. (Don’t ask how we know this…)
Brakes are the final component and here again, is stellar performance. The pedal has firm, direct feel, with great precision and control. Street or track, it’s an excellent setup.
So, the final word on the GR’s drive is balance. It’s very quick, handles like it’s on rails, and it makes any drive from a run to the shops, to the daily commute to your favorite twisty road or even a track event a thrill. This is what sports cars are all about – and the GR 86 is simply, superb.
How Much for a ride in the Fun Zone?
The best part of the GR 86 is the great value it provides. 2023 pricing just came out, so we’ll use that. You can get into a 2023 GR 86 for just $27,900 and you get all the performance goodies, and Toyota even throws in a Complimentary 1-year NASA membership, including one free High-Performance Driving Experience. Win-win!
Our Premium tester started at $30,500 and adds a nicer interior, larger 18-inch wheels, enhanced audio and more. Adding the automatic bumps the price by $1,500, while the TRACK bRED paint added $420. With $1,095 Destination fee, our tester rang the bell at $33,520.
Of course the near-identical twin Subaru BRZ is a competitor, and comes in at $33,815. Drive, compare, choose the one you like. Closer to home is Mazda’s lovely Miata. It’s much smaller, but still a competitor and serves up a wonderful driving experience. Smaller isn’t always cheaper – a loaded RF power hardtop coupe is actually a bit more expensive, at $37,860 but you do get open air driving.
The all-new Nissan Z looks like a formidable sports car, with a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6. With prices starting at $39,990 and the loaded performance model coming in at just under $50k, it’s in another class in both performance and price.
More power, great new looks, and an amazing driving experience. The 2022 Toyota GR 86 is the perfect affordable sports car!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.