The Toyota GR86 hits the jackpot

In Car Reviews, Subaru, Toyota by Peter Nunn

Think of it this way: the Toyota GR86, it’s already a classic

Car Reviewed: Toyota GR86

Well, well. Every now and then, a car comes along that hits the jackpot that surprises and delights every time you take the wheel. Step forward, the Toyota GR86. For the keen drivers among us, the GR86 is absolutely one of those cars.

Simple, lightweight, ultra-focused, this 2.4-litre rear-drive Toyota sports coupe goes back to basics as a pure driving machine and boy, does it work.

On the open road, this is a belter of a car, fast, beautifully set up and involving, in which all the dynamic forces come together to create an extraordinarily captivating sports car experience, with a vibrant vocal soundtrack to boot. Yes, that good…

It’s also shockingly affordable at just £30k. Or at least, it was, so here’s the downer. The GR86 went on sale in the UK last April and immediately sold out.

Indeed, Toyota created a bit of a legend by having its whole two-year allocation of cars sell out within one hectic 90-minute session on April 20, 2022, surely a record.

These words are perhaps a bit academic, seeing as you can’t order one new. However, the GR86 is still listed on Toyota GB’s website, so who knows, some opportunity might present itself to get hold of one…

So what would you be getting? The first thing to say is that in today’s increasingly electrified world, the Toyota GR86 is very much an outlier. There’s not a battery or electric motor in sight, and that’s either good or bad, depending on your viewpoint.

This is a resolutely old school car and due to changing new car regs surely the last of its kind Toyota will offer in Europe. Which is a pity…

This means a simple yet highly effective front-engine/rear-drive sports car layout. A compact 2+2 configuration and, yes, even a traditional six-speed manual box complete with clutch pedal! (Toyota also lists a 6-speed auto, if you insist).

Some will remember the classic Toyota Corolla GT AE86 sports coupe from the ’80s. This was a quick, lightweight, ultra fun twin cam coupe that was just born to power slide (becoming a cult hero in Japan in the process, a reputation which happily still continues to this day).

Then Toyota got together with Subaru to develop an all-new coupe to rekindle that flame. This became the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ: an engaging 2.0-litre boxer engine GT coupe that launched in 2012.

This was the so-called “Toyobaru” and it was pretty good, but gentle reader; let me tell you that today’s GR86 (the third global model developed by Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division) moves everything on and is way, way better.

With a bigger 2.4-litre flat-four engine, more power, more thrust, the GR86 is far punchier and dispatches 0-60 mph in just 6.3 secs, according to Toyota, on the way to a 140 mph top end.

One big key to the car is the response and sound of that fabulous naturally aspirated 2387 cc boxer engine, as designed by the team at Subaru.

Subaru has its own legion of fans and that distinctive flat-four burble (dubbed Boru Boru by Subaru insiders) is back and, in my mind, gives the car real character.

And has the Subaru ‘four’ ever sounded crisper, sharper, more deliciously revvy than this? Spinning easily, infectiously, smoothly up to the 7500rpm red line, it’s good for 231bhp (nearly 100 ps/litre) plus 250Nm of torque.

Combined with a wonderfully precise, sturdy 6-speed manual gear change, this is a powertrain for the ages.

It’s a fantastic combination that feels so engaging, willing and totally unlike anything else on the road. Love it.

Inside, yes, the GT86 interior is compact and quite simply furnished. The centre console/touchscreen is decidedly functional, albeit kitted out with real buttons. There’s a simple instrument pack, but everything is clear and has a purpose.

The driving position is excellent with fine sports seats. There’s a set of small +2 seats behind and a compact boot. It all works. Just don’t expect ‘premium.’ though.

On the kit list, cruise control and Torsen limited-slip diff are standard, So are smart 18-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights. For the price of entry, you also get six-speed DAB audio and smartphone integration via Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

And yes, “my” car was a bargain £29,995 on the road. If you went auto, that would have been some £2k extra. What a deal.

Dimensionally, the GR86 also stands apart. At a time when cars seem to be getting bigger, heavier and ever more complicated, this slimline Toyota coupe refreshingly goes right the other way.

Toyota’s put a considerable amount of detailed work into cutting kilos: roof panel, front wings, bonnet are all fashioned from weight-saving aluminium, for instance.

The shell is up to 50 per cent stiffer than the GT86 and there’s a lower centre of gravity. On paper, the suspension layout is basically the same, but springs, dampers and bushing have all been optimised to deliver a far more direct, agile chassis feel.

All this plays out to make the GR86 feel beautifully balanced and damped, taut and responsive and a blast to hurl down your favourite set of back roads.

Indeed, there’s a simple, pure, uncomplicated, lightweight sports car feel to the GR86 with its playful rear-drive chassis, strong brakes and accurate, well-weighted steering that puts it on the map.

It’s extraordinary how well this car works and how all the moving parts interact: like an MX-5, perhaps, but with more punch and a well-controlled ride.

Across the showroom, Toyota also has the GR Yaris providing a similar kind of high-grade enthusiast experience. As previously reported here, the GR Yaris is genuinely outstanding, but as a driving machine, the GR86 is somehow more intuitive and involving overall. But really, Toyota has us spoiled for choice here…

Over a week’s driving, I averaged 33.6 mpg and, as the saying goes, was genuinely sorry when the exuberant, ever characterful GR86 had to go back.

The Toyota GR86? I would be buying if I didn’t already own an Alpine A110. And who knows, I might yet get my name on a GR86 V5C document at some point in time. Think of it this way: the Toyota GR86, it’s already a classic.

The Toyota GR86 may be the last hurrah for petrol sports coupes of this type from Japan; more’s the pity. So your best bet is to start checking those classifieds now….

Author Rating 5/5

Car reviewed: Toyota GR86

on the road price as tested £29,995

  • 0-62mph 6.3secs
  • Top speed 140mph
  • Mechanical 2387cc 4-cylinder boxer unleaded
  • Fuel Economy WLTP Combined 32.1mpg
  • Power 231bhp@7000rpm
  • Torque250Nm@3700rpm
  • Dimensions MM 4265 L / 1775 W / 1310 H
  • CO2 emissions NEDC combined 200g/km
  • Transmission 6-speed manual rear-wheel-drive
  • Bootspace 226 litres

Peter Nunn

Motoring writer

As a motoring journalist, he’s been writing about cars for a long time, starting in London in fact around the time the Sex Pistols first began limbering up….

Thereafter his journalistic remit has covered both new and classic cars, some historic motorsport reporting plus a long spell in Tokyo, covering the Japanese car industry for a range of global media outlets. Peter is a car writer and tester in the UK. Gooner, Alfisti and former Tokyo resident. If it has wheels, then he is interested.

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