Toyota’s new GR86 is a reminder that low-powered sports cars are incredibly fun to drive. Its slightly bigger 2.4-liter four-cylinder boxer engine provides excellent mid-range torque where the previous GT86’s 2.0-liter engine would bog down. Still, it has the versatility to be a daily driver during the week when it’s not barnstorming the track on the weekend.
- Now part of the Gazoo Racing sub-brand, the GR86 drives as good as it looks.
- The standard Michelin Primacy all-season tires provide the same lively handling characteristics as the previous generation.
- Sporting a new shift lever and calibration, the manual gear change is crisp and intuitive.
- Base Price: $30,000 (subject to change)
- Zero to 60: 6.1 seconds (manual transmission), 6.6 seconds (automatic transmission)
- Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder boxer
- Horsepower: 228 hp
- Torque: 184 lb-ft (at 3,700 rpm)
- Transmission: Six-speed manual (or six-speed automatic)
- Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
- MPG: 21 (manual transmission) 24 (automatic transmission)
What’s In A Name?
The origin of the 86 lies in the AE86-generation Toyota Corolla. While the original vehicle didn’t have vast reserves of power, it handled like a dream thanks to its curb weight of around 2,300 pounds and 50/50 weight distribution. Under the hood, its 4AGE 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine only pumped out 130 horsepower but revved up to 7,600 RPM—offering nearly all of its power at the top of the rev range.
Made famous by its appearance in Suichi Shigeno’s manga series Initial D, the 86 instantly became a cult classic. The story followed Takumi Fujiwara, a young boy working for his dad as a tofu delivery driver. Off the clock, he would cut his teeth drifting his AE86 delivery car through the tight corners of Mt. Akina. After several anime adaptations of the manga along with a movie trilogy, the 86 was cemented as a drifting icon.
In 2012 Toyota brought back the 86 insignia with the GT86. Warming the hearts of Initial D fans worldwide, this variant of the 86 was good but could’ve been so much better. While it didn’t match the 50/50 weight distribution of the original, the biggest issue was its 2.0-liter boxer engine, which suffered from a lack of mid-range torque. This lead to a vehicle that was a bit weak in the knees at low RPM.
The latest GR86 moves the vehicle into Toyota’s Gazoo Racing performance division—where the LeMans-winning pedigree from the race team trickles down into the road car market. If you opt for one, you’ll have two trim levels to choose from: standard and premium. Mechanically, both cars are essentially identical, but the premium car gives you bigger wheels and stickier tires, along with a duckbill spoiler and some flashy aluminum pedals. Also included is contrast stitching, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive front headlights, and heated front seats featuring leather and Alcantara inserts.
Toyota invited me to a track day at Monticello Motor Club in White Plains, New York, to hop behind the wheel of its latest vehicle. Along with the opportunity to open it up on the 3.7-mile ribbon of race track, I drove a predetermined 11-mile route on the street. In producing the latest GR86, the list of improvements goes much further than just the powertrain. While the personality of the previous car lives on, Toyota made considerable changes under the skin—focusing on lowering the center of gravity and stiffening the chassis—to make the new car such a ballistic package.
Driving (On Track)
After a day of putting the latest GR86 through its paces on the race track at Monticello, I’m happy to say that Toyota fixed the lack of mid-range torque that plagued the previous GT86. The new 2.4-liter four-cylinder boxer engine provides 184 pound-feet at 3,700 RPM, where the previous car could only manage 156 at 6,400. The added punch lower in the rev range completely eliminated the need to downshift while exiting the corners—one of my biggest pet peeves with the old car.
Those who were complaining about the lack of turbocharging on the GR86 will fail to tell you that these low-powered cars force you to drive well. Vast reserves of power mask your mistakes, allowing you to easily recover ground on corner-exit when you muck up the entry. However, the pedestrian level of grunt in the GR86 coerces you into carrying much higher speeds through every phase of the corner, where it isn’t afraid to kick its tail out.
This driving style is made possible thanks to the chassis improvements from GT86 to GR86. Up front, the car features a new cross member between the front suspension and frame, adding stiffness and reducing body roll. Toyota also increased the use of high-strength steel in the chassis construction while maintaining a curb weight of just 2,811 pounds—for the base car fitted with a manual transmission.
The feeling of the gear change in a manual sports car is incredibly important to the driving experience. Toyota focused on improving the sharpness between diagonal gear changes—2nd to 3rd, 4th to 5th—and it shows. It pains me to admit that I did miss a few upshifts and downshifts, but that’s most likely on me for not being the best track driver on the planet. The new gear lever ergonomics and calibration offer up a short throw that’s equal parts snappy and intuitive.
Meanwhile, the version fitted with the available six-speed automatic transmission gave me increased mental bandwidth to focus on my driving. Along with being easier to use, the auto is completely idiot-proof and will cancel downshifts that would over-rev the engine. The paddle shifters did feel quite spongy when fully depressed, but definitely adequate for track use. The same can be said about the gear change, which was nothing special but perfectly usable for your average track day.
Paired with the standard 215/40R17 Michelin Primacy HP all-season tires, the base GR86 offers playful but controllable performance through the corners. Despite having only 228-horsepower on tap, I was guilty of letting the back end hang out around some of the off-camber corners at Monticello. While the Primacy tires make a lap fun, the optional 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires make a lap fast. Available with the GR86 Premium, the stickier rubber feels much nicer to lean on through the corners and under braking.
While Toyota claims 53/47 weight distribution, the center of gravity is 1.6 millimeters lower than the previous car. The Japanese automaker accomplished this by using aluminum construction for the front fenders, roof, and hood. Toyota also stripped weight from the front seats, muffler, and driveshaft, along with moving the license plate down to the bumper.
Every GR86 purchase comes with a complimentary one-year membership to the National Auto Sport Association (NASA), granting you access to a host of benefits including a free high-performance driving event at your nearby race track. Even with such a strong focus on high-performance driving, Toyota wants to give enthusiasts a car that’s just as capable at the track as it is during your commute to work.
Driving (On The Street)
While I spent most of the day at the track, Toyota also gave me the opportunity to experience the GR86 on the road. Despite having to stay on a predetermined 11-mile route, I had more than enough time to get a feel for how the 86 handled as it would during everyday driving.
With so much of the focus being on track performance, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the ride was on the road. While the suspension setup is “sport-tuned” for track use, it remains extremely compliant on the road. The GR86 is no Rolls-Royce over the bumps, but it would be perfectly usable if you were to daily drive it.
Unfortunately, I was only able to drive the automatic transmission on the street, which wasn’t the best experience. I found the mapping for the accelerator pedal way too aggressive, which lead to more than a few instances of unintentionally chirping the tires after pulling away from stop signs and traffic lights. Aside from the mild embarrassment after getting going, the auto wasn’t all that great if you let it do the shifting for you. While the gear changes were smooth, the system was never extremely decisive when it was time to upshift. Thankfully, I could override with the paddles.
Despite excellent cornering performance on the track, the GR86 only sits on 215 section tires at all four corners, meaning that it doesn’t pick up cambers on the road. I only had the opportunity to street drive the standard car with Michelin Primacy tires, but it’s safe to assume the Pilot Sport 4 tires would share the same characteristics.
While the GR86 received substantial changes under the skin, Toyota didn’t slack on the interior. The bucket seats offered excellent adjustability, comfort, and feel. As we were only allowed one lap at a time before coming back into the pits, I had plenty of opportunities to mess around with the six-way adjustable driver’s seat to achieve my desired position. While it was easy to get comfortable in the car, the seats were tightly bolstered, holding me in place through the corners and giving me plenty of feel through the seat of my pants.
The addition of the new seven-inch digital dash makes the cockpit feel much more refined than the previous car. The screen adapts to give you pertinent information based on which of the three driving modes—normal, sport, and track—you’re in. On the street, this made it easy to have a quick glance down to check my speed. On the track, I was too busy looking ahead to notice any of the changes on the dash. While I’d love to see better integration between the dash and the infotainment system, the added screen space is a welcome addition.
Also new is the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which offers compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Sirius XM and HD radio. Connecting my iPhone was easy, with Apple CarPlay giving me the same high-quality experience. While the standard car comes with a six-speaker stereo, an eight-speaker system is available with the premium car. Toyota also offers a ten-inch subwoofer, which track day fanatics will be happy to hear is removable for maximum weight reduction.
One of my only gripes with the interior was rear visibility. While this wasn’t a massive deal at the track, it made lane changes on the street quite nerve-wracking. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the C pillars block roughly 40 percent of your rear vision. Maybe Toyota was a bit too focused on track performance, because I was never 100 percent sure what was behind me on the road.
The only other complaint I had was with the rear seats, which were way too small. Toyota lists the GR86 as having room for four occupants, but you wouldn’t want to sit in the back if you’re even the slightest bit claustrophobic. To offer some perspective, the spec sheet lists 41.5 inches of legroom up front and 29.9 inches in the rear. Despite the inability to bring your entire family to your next track day or fit everyone in it for regular driving, you’ll have room to squeeze in four spare tires with the rear seats folded down. As the new GR86 is clearly a sports car, I think it would have been more productive to not even bother with rear seats and use the money to improve other areas of the car.
With the GR86 entering the same Gazoo Racing family as the Supra, it goes without saying that it has to look as good as it drives. While I think the easter eggs with the G insignia in the grille are a bit gimmicky, the rest of the car looks absolutely tremendous. Compared to the complex body lines of the GT86, the GR86 is much more handsome with flowing lines that follow the car from front to back. As an added bonus, many of the styling elements also have added functionality to improve performance.
Starting at the front, LED lights come standard, with the daytime running lamps giving the car an aggressive aesthetic. Just below the lights are a set of air inlets, which feed the brakes with fresh air. The breeze is then directed out of the wheel arch toward the back of the car, which Toyota says provides superior steering stability. While it’s no Formula 1 car in the aero department, these design elements add to the aggro aesthetic.
If you opt for the premium car, you’ll get a large ducktail spoiler, which on its own would sell me on it. A clear focal point of the design, aside from providing a bit more downforce, the spoiler gives the GR86 an exceptionally sporty look. It may seem like just another exterior appendage, but it really cements the GR86’s status as a big boy sports car.
The end result of the GR86 is an automobile that’s greater than the sum of its parts. While it’s far from being the fastest sports car on sale today, it’s a solid package that’s bound to put a smile on your face. The current starting price of $30,000 is subject to change before the car hits showrooms in November, but it’s an absolute bargain for a car that’s able to deliver exceptional performance on the street and at the track.
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