Car reviews - Toyota - GR86
Improved body control, sharper throttle response, crisp steering feel, poised ergonomics, logical instrument and switchgear layout, cleaner gear shift, defined brake pedal modulation, easy-to-use technology offerings
Room for improvement
Needs bigger brakes, muted exhaust note, tepid in-gear acceleration, taily rear-end, significantly pricier – and pricier than BRZ, backseat a storage option only, road noise an issue, automatic clumsy without paddles
Apart from the GR86’s BRZ twin, nothing is this much fun to drive for the money
22 Sep 2022
By MATT BROGAN
NINE MONTHS after the arrival of its twin-under-the-skin Subaru BRZ, the Toyota GR86 has arrived in Australia offering a moderately tweaked chassis and braking package – and a hefty price increase.
Available from $43,240 plus on-road costs – and again offered in GT and GTS trim – the second-generation ‘86’ is $2950 dearer than the BRZ, and a whopping $11,060 more than the entry price of the outgoing range.
To be fair, it is a greatly improved car, and includes a larger 2.4-litre engine developing 174kW and 250Nm, a 22kW/38Nm improvement over the 2.0-litre unit found in the outgoing range.
With a power-to-weight ratio of 135kW/tonne, the GR86 can accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds, or 1.8 seconds faster than the original. Automatic variants cover the standard in 6.8 seconds. The models’ top speed is listed at 226km/h.
Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available across the range and are identically priced. A Torsen limited-slip differential also features as standard on both model grades.
ADR combined cycle fuel economy figures show the GR86 consumes 8.7 litres per 100km in GT automatic guide with the GTS manual a higher 9.5L/100km. CO2 emissions are listed from 199g/km to 217g/km respectively.
The only rear-drive rival to the GR86 – excusing the Subaru BRZ – is Mazda’s long-serving ND series MX-5. Available from $37,990 plus ORCs, the lightweight roadster delivers comparable dynamics and similar performance stats, the 2.0-litre-powered model making 135kW/205Nm for a power-to-weight ratio of 135kW/tonne – exactly the same as the GR86.
Toyota says that multiple other advances have been made beneath the skin of the GR86 including revisions to suspension and steering components, larger-diameter front brakes and chassis reinforcements that significantly improve torsional (+50%) and lateral (+60%) stability when compared with the outgoing model.
The Japanese importer said it focused on weight reduction in developing the new model, installing aluminium front guards, bonnet and roof skin, resin rocker covers, a lighter tail shaft and muffler, and slimmer seat brackets to shed mass. The new model also boasts a lower centre of gravity (+1.6mm) when compared with its predecessor.
Enthusiast drivers will also benefit from stickier Michelin tyres and five different stability control settings ranging from full support to completely off.
Toyota said it conjured design cues taken from some of its great past sports models including the 2000GT and AE86 Corolla in styling the GR86. An evolution of the outgoing model, the more aerodynamic newcomer (0.27Cd) is slightly longer (+25mm) and lower (-10mm) than the outgoing model and is also 5mm longer in wheelbase.
The model is defined by the typical long bonnet and sloping roofline of the original 86, with a more tapered rear, prominent lip spoiler, dual exhausts, GR badging and 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels, depending on model grade.
Like its forebear, the GR86 offers a driver-centric cockpit with an ergonomic layout. The dashboard includes a central, horizontally set 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with DAB+ reception, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, while the new 7.0-inch TFT digital instrument panel incorporates features – such as a lap timers and G meter – developed by Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers and engineers.
Safety equipment extends to seven airbags, a reversing camera, anti-lock brakes, stability control, tyre pressure warning, and front and rear seatbelt warning. Automatic models gain pre-collision braking with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, parking support brake with rear parking sensors, active cruise control and lane departure alert by virtue of the Subaru-developed EyeSight system.
GTS grades benefit further from rear cross-traffic alert and rear blind spot monitor.
Like all Toyota passenger models, the GR86 is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. The engine and driveline are warranted for seven years. Capped price servicing is offered for the first five years or 75,000km of ownership with each 12-month/15,000km service capped to $280.
To find out how it all comes together, we put the GR86 through its paces at the world-famous Phillip Island circuit and nearby Bass Hills in southern Victoria.
Perhaps the biggest issues with the GR86 is availability. Toyota will see just 1100 units arrive Down Under over the next full calendar year, meaning prospective buyers will need to move fast to secure their place in the queue.
Assuming you’re lucky enough to get in early, you’ll find a greatly improved vehicle whose character adheres closely to that of the prized original… albeit with a more agile chassis and larger, more responsive engine.
Toyota has lowered the centre of gravity of its 2+2 sports coupe fractionally, installed new coils and shocks, tweaked the steering mounts, and fitted larger brakes and aluminium front guards, bonnet and roof skin to the GR86 to sharpen the chassis’ response.
Add to that a stiffer, stronger body and the results are night and day over the predecessor, which should be enough to have any budget sports car fan frothing at the mouth.
With Michelin Primacy rubber all round, the character of the GR86 is lively, with that tail-happy attitude Toyota says its fans enjoy. Personally, we’d like to see that attitude curtailed a fraction in a bid to improve lap times – and on-road confidence. But provided you’re either a) experienced or b) not silly enough to turn the VSC completely off, this shouldn’t prove an issue.
Which brings us to the all-important electronic nannies. You see, with five settings now available, there really is no reason to risk it all on the big O-F-F. There’s plenty of playfulness to be had in the GR86’s sportier settings (Track mode is particularly entertaining) and each is with its place. The set-up really is one of the best we’ve experienced in the budget end of the market.
What’s more, with wonderfully sharp and communicative steering once you’re up and bubbling, there’s really no excuse for misunderstanding the chassis’ intentions. This car is about as honest as it gets – and should keep its drivers very much the same way.
The six-speed manual is the obvious choice for the GR86, and with more than half of the previous generation opting for the DIY gearbox, it’s clear ‘86’ owners agree. The improved shift feel and sweetly weighted clutch make the manual model easy to enjoy and thoroughly engaging, something the automatic model just isn’t.
Yes, the paddles help and yes, the six-speed auto will ‘learn’ how you drive. But it learns at a kindergarten level and is so reluctant to down shift under braking that you might as well not even bother. If you want to enjoy this car, get out of the kitty litter tray, and learn to row your own gears. Believe us, you’ll be glad you did.
The driver’s seat is a great place to spend time with the pedals, steering wheel and secondary controls all falling nicely to hand. The seat itself is supportive, without being heavily bolstered, and now offers a shoulder release on the backrest for access to the back seats.
We found the layout of the pedal box close to ideal, and perfect for heel-toe downshifting. The brake pedal feel is equally superb, providing textbook modulation for left-foot braking through corners like Phillip Island’s turn five.
The switchgear and menu screens are intuitive, and the new digitised instrument panel a breeze to read at a glance. If we were to be really picky, we could ask for better screen resolution, but one must remember the price point of this car.
On the downside, the so-called rear seat is best only for storage and the engine note is far from pleasant – even with the artificial intake note pumped into the cabin’s speakers. We also found the road and wind noise a little grating, and the roll-on acceleration lacklustre at best (despite noticeably improved mid-range response this is one little engine that needs revs to reward).
Additionally, and despite the larger brake rotors fitted by Toyota, we found stopping performance on the track to be less than ideal. If track days are your thing, we reckon high-temperature fluid, slotted rotors and decent sintered pads would be a great starting point.
As a budget sportscar offering that is almost track-ready right out of the box, there’s not much to dislike about the GR86. This is a wonderfully sorted car with a terrific chassis and a much-improved engine that shows you don’t need to outlay a lot of money to have a lot of fun.
It’s even well sorted in budget ‘GT’ grade this time around leaving buyers wanting for little at the entry end of the line-up… just jump in, hit the starter, and get ready to have the time of your life. For less than $50k, there’s simply nothing else on the new car market that is this much fun to drive.
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