Ask an enthusiast what we’re collectively losing as the auto industry rapidly pivots to electrification, and they’ll probably point to the images and sounds of massive engines and the general debaucherous indulgence of internally combusted speed.
Just as lamentable, however, is the probable demise of lightweight sports cars like the 2022 Toyota GR86. Given just how heavy batteries tend to be, there’s a good chance cars that weigh this little and feel this easy to chuck around will be going away alongside those big, gas-guzzling engines.
Cars like the GR86, then, are an endangered species. Even today, the list of lightweight, rear-wheel drive, naturally-aspirated sports cars built on dedicated platforms consist of this playful coupe, its practically identical Subaru BRZ twin, the Mazda MX-5, and that’s pretty much it.
As much as this car has been improved mechanically over its predecessor, Toyota (and joint venture partner Subaru) hasn’t forgotten about curb appeal, because the GR86’s appearance is a massive upgrade. Less blocky and awkward than before, the front end is agreeably aggressive-looking, while its squat body, wide fenders, and steep duckbill spoiler that comes on the Premium version make it look exotic and lean.
The interior is also improved over the last one, although it’s still not exceptional. It’s still not what one would call luxurious, but it’s serviceably not bad. Build quality isn’t terrible, either, in that there weren’t many creaks, squeaks, or rattles heard during testing.
A thrashy-sounding, not-very-powerful engine was arguably the primary complaint with the previous car. For this second-gen, that problem is fixed. The Subaru-sourced four-cylinder remains horizontally-opposed and naturally-aspirated – positives in terms of raw, linear power delivery – but displacement is up from 2.0L to 2.4L. Key figures to know are 228 hp at 7,000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm.
Peak numbers, however, only tell so much of the story, because the biggest enhancement is arguably the much broader torque band that gives this car decent push wherever the tach needle happens to be, and an overall peppy energy that was sorely missing with its predecessor. Forgivably, the GR86 still isn’t facerippingly quick, but its engine is no longer actively holding the car back.
However, it should be noted that this engine still isn’t all that emotional. It sounds best accelerating from about 3,000 to 4,000 rpm, but otherwise the audio here remains buzzy and plasticky. At high revs, it sounds like an old Toyota doing a so-so impression of a sport bike.
The bigger powertrain-related asterisk with this particular tester, of course, is its six-speed automatic transmission. As a tool that transmits torque from the engine to the rear axle, the automatic gearbox is fine. Keep it in automatic mode and it does its job predictably, with shift points – along with throttle response and, I suspect, speaker-based “engine” noise – getting more aggressive in sport mode. There are manual paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, but the transmission is still a smidge too slow to use them enjoyably.
It’s a predictable conclusion, I know, but unless you’re physically unable to drive a manual or are a casual driver purely in it for the sports car styling, do yourself a favour and get the three-pedal GR86.
Driving Feel: 10/10
As it was with the previous car, twisty-road handling is far and away the highlight of the GR86. Steering with a Mini Cooper-like immediacy with an even more raw feel, it’s quick to change direction, precise, visceral, and extremely good fun. With a steering rack that vibrates in your hands as the front wheels move across pavement and a chassis that’s about as light and low as they come this side of a Miata, changing directions in this car even through gentle bends on the highway is a genuine joy. Its brakes, too, feel expertly calibrated, with a fairly short travel and very solid feel.
Hustling it down a proper backroad, it responds in a way that makes it feel like it’s been welded directly to your hands and feet. You start thinking through corners, with you and the car becoming a single, lean, mean racing machine.
Premium trims are equipped with grippier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires (base cars get the ever-driftable Primacys) and mean on-street limits are actually quite high. The beauty of the GR86, however, is that you don’t have to get very close to those limits to have fun. Hell, even when the GR86 is stationary, its sled-like driving position is purposeful, spot-on, and able to make one feel cool and special merely sitting in the driver’s seat.
Approachably enjoyable handling may make the GR86 feel safe behind the wheel, but it’s also fairly safe in the more traditional sense as well. Visibility is decent by sports car standards, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard for Premium trim cars. Opting for the automatic transmission means the inclusion of a bunch of active safety tech such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and a lane departure warning.
Adaptive cruise performed better than expected, with automated accelerative and decelerative movements feeling natural and confident. There’s no lane-keeping assistance, though, so you’ll have to do all your own steering (as you should want to, given how good the steering itself is). The GR86 Premium also features adaptive headlights that move in tandem with the steering.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) granted the 2022 GR86 “Good” marks overall in terms of crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and crash mitigation, but an “Acceptable” rating in the area of child seat anchors. Nevertheless, it nabbed a Top Safety Pick+ award from the organization.
All GR86s come standard with an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, a six-speaker sound system, a seven-inch digital gauge cluster complete with a boxer engine-shaped bezel, dual-zone climate control, manual-adjusting seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that tilts and telescopes manually, keyless entry with push-button start, and 17-inch wheels wrapped in slide-happy Michelin Primacy HP tires.
Step up to the Premium model for an extra $3,000 and Toyota adds two extra speakers, faux suede inside, heated seats, aluminum scuff plates and pedals, a more aggressive duckbill spoiler, those fancy adaptive front lights, and 18-inch wheels with stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. It’s not exactly a luxury car by modern standards, but for its price point and premise as a scrappy, lightweight sports car, not once did I find the GR86’s featureset to be lacking.
User Friendliness: 8/10
One of the first usability annoyances you’ll encounter driving the GR86 is that it uses one of those turn signal stalks that always returns to the centre, meaning a weird half-press is required to cancel after a lane change. The stalk itself feels a little vague and flimsy, too, which certifiably does not help. Oh, and when you exit this car after a drive and the doors are locked, pulling the inside door handle does not unlock it, unlike almost every other modern car I’ve driven.
Those two very specific gripes aside, however, the GR86 is a pretty straightforward car to live with. Three physical knobs control the climate, the infotainment screen is flanked by knobs and buttons, and the infotainment software itself – despite looking like a third-party Windows media player from 2005 – is reasonably intuitive to use.
Those who regularly see themselves carrying a lot of passengers or stuff should probably stay away from a car like the GR86. Fairly obvious, I know, but worth mentioning. Front-seat space is mostly fine, with a good number of cupholders on hand, but both the rear seats and trunk are quite tiny. Crawling into the second row, there isn’t nearly enough headroom to accommodate any reasonably-sized adult, while the cargo area is probably big enough for a couple of carry-ons but a third may pose a problem.
Granted, the rear seats do fold, and when they’re down the rear of this car is big enough to accommodate an entire set of tires – required kit for track days, the natural preferred pastime of the GR86 driver.
While this second generation of Toyota’s rear-wheel-drive sports car benefits from improved style, power, and, arguably, handling, one of the only downgrades I found compared to the one that came before this was the seats. They’re objectively still quite nicely bolstered and athletic, but underwhelming lumbar support meant pain in the lower back after a long drive. In contrast, the seats in the previous car were extremely supportive and perfectly shaped to the body. In any case, these new seats feature two-stage heat in the top trim, but there’s no heated steering wheel.
The ride, meanwhile, is appropriately rigid. As most of this car’s fans probably already expect (and likely even prefer), you will feel every bump in the road, and while it isn’t bad enough to be a complete daily-driving dealbreaker, buyers should be well aware of what they’re getting into. Road noise is similarly quite loud, which isn’t all that surprising given this car’s stripped-down ethos.
Overseas, this car used to be called the GT86, with “GT” standing for grand tourer. Dropping that moniker feels appropriate, because while you could drive the GR86 across long distances, I’m not sure I’d want to.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
This being a simple four-cylinder hooked up to a car that prides itself on being light, fuel economy is pretty good. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has rated this automatic version for 11.1 L/100 km in the city, 7.7 on the highway, and 9.6 combined. After about 450 test km, I observed 9.0 L/100 km, beating its official rating.
For posterity, there’s no auto stop-start, nor is there any sort of eco drive mode. Although given how efficient it already is without those features, I don’t think the GR86 needs them. This ultimately being a sports car, premium fuel is required.
The Toyota GR86 as a whole starts at $31,490 for the base manual model, but in this Premium automatic guise, that figure is bumped up to $36,890. There aren’t really any options other than dealer-installed accessories, so adding $1,820 of non-negotiable destination means this tester rang in at $38,710 before taxes. That puts it in line with a lot of other affordable sporty vehicles out there, such as the fantastic Hyundai Elantra N and a couple grand more than the Canadian-made Honda Civic Si. It also undercuts pretty much all of Mazda’s MX-5s bar the base GS soft top which can be had for similar money.
Overall, the 2022 Toyota GR86 is a great, affordable sports car that does what it says on the brochure. Gloriously pure rear-wheel drive, a low and newly more usable boxer engine, great handling, and an analog, uncorrupted vibe add up to one of the most fun cars available today.
Among a field of turbocharged performance rides that are essentially regular commuter vehicles modified for sport, the GR86 feels like locally-slaughtered pork bone broth and hand-pulled noodles in a market full of MSG powdered stock and instant ramen. It’s crushing its own tomatoes while everybody else slops up sodium- and factory-filled jars of Ragu.
As its accountants may or may not eagerly attest, Toyota didn’t have to make a sequel to the 86. But it did, it’s great, and we should probably be thankful the GR86 even exists. As with most nice things, it should be enjoyed while it still can.
|Peak Horsepower||228 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||184 lb-ft @ 3,700 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||11.1 / 7.7 / 9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||177 L|
|Model Tested||2022 Toyota GR86 Premium AT|
|Price as Tested||$38,810|