Cars made for driving enthusiasts are a threatened species. With the onslaught of EVs, hybrids and SUVs making mainstream, a two-door, rear-wheel drive sports coupe is a unique gem. Fortunately, Toyota has renewed its commitment to sports car engineering with its second generation 86. Rebadged as the GR86, it becomes the third GR model after the GR Supra and GR Yaris to espouse Toyota’s ‘GAZOO Racing’ paradigm. And it shows.
The new GR86 is a significant upgrade from the first gen 86. It gains a bigger 2.4-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine with loads more power and torque, better dynamics, and an attractive new design. But its core values remain the same as a peeled back, affordable coupe that offers an uninterrupted, raw relationship between you, the road, and physics.
There are two variants to choose from. The GT, which starts from $43,240, and the GTS from $45,390. Both variants can be chosen with a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto transmission for the same price (excluding on-road costs).
Here, we’re trying out the top spec GTS in manual form. Among the market and price range, the GR86 goes against the jointly-built cousin, the Subaru BRZ, and the Mazda MX-5. The Ford Mustang is the favourite in this entry-level sports car class.
2023 Toyota GR86 GTS – THE SPECS
Engine: 2.4-litre flat four-cylinder
Output: 174kW@7000rpm / 250Nm@3700rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Wheels: F & R: 18×7.5, 215/40
ANCAP: Not tested
Tare weight: 1228kg
Power-to-weight: 7.05:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 9.5L/100km
Economy during test: 8.0L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 50L/98 RON
Power efficiency: 18.31kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.08 seconds*
0-100km/h: 6.18 seconds*
60-110km/h: 4.21 seconds*
1/4 mile: 14.39 seconds at 162.3km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.849g*
100-0km/h braking: 2.95 seconds at 36.93 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.389g*
Decibel at idle: 46*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 94*
Priced from: $45,390
* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different
2023 Toyota GR86 GTS – THE PACKAGE
The moment you first lay your eyes on the new GR86, you get the gist that it is a fun and fast sports coupe. Many design elements convey such a car all over. For example, about half of the car is the length of the bonnet in true roadster style, and the wheel arches almost reach the flat top of the bonnet.
The athletic front lights commence a puffed-out contour that runs the length of the bonnet; and a pointed front-end scoop gives away it’s need for speed. There are air intake fenders in front of and behind the front wheels, which really flairs out its sporty stance. Small windows all round and a high boot lid emphasises its cut-through-the-wind dynamics. The rear LED taillights are sharper and less blocky than the previous model, and large dual exhausts top off its sporty theme.
We think the exterior is more aesthetically pleasing than the inside. But some interior elements are purposely kept basic to keep prices down. You get a 7.0-inch semi-digital instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch centre touch-screen. Three large knobs and five contrasting silver buttons dominate the centre of the dash, and keep the layout neat and simplistic.
There are hard black and dark grey plastics all round, except for a black microfibre overlay that sits across the top of the door trim. It’s a rudimentary area to be in, but we’re okay with that, as the GR86 has other priorities.
The GTS scores two-tone suede and leather accented seats. The seats themselves are well-bucketed to hold you in place securely when tackling corners. They manually slide far back to provide lots of legroom for taller drivers. Though, the combination of long doors, a low roof height and a low seating position means getting in and out can be an arduous task.
The back seats are really for emergencies only. Space back there is expectedly minimal. You can tell the cockpit is designed with full focus on the driver’s experience only. It’s a pity an extra storage hole couldn’t be squeezed in somewhere in the centre console, as it lacks places to toss your belongings. The boot swallows 237 litres only, as it has a small boot opening area.
Safety-wise, the feature list is up to standard if you opt for the right transmission. All models get seven airbags, a reversing camera with live guidelines, tyre pressure sensors, and seatbelt warnings for all four seats. Regrettably, models with manual gearboxes miss out on pre-collision braking with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, a parking support brake, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure alert. That is a substantial list of omitted features that should make the manual option cheaper than the auto. Opting for the GTS variant adds rear cross-traffic alert and rear blind-spot monitors.
Other features fitted to all models include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, digital radio, a substandard six-speaker sound system, keyless entry with proximity sensor, dual-zone climate control, a starter button, front and rear LED lights, a Torsen limited-slip differential, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Then the GTS adds courtesy door lamps, illuminated vanity mirrors, active cornering headlights, Alcantara/leather seats and heated front seats, sports pedals, door sill scuff plates, and bigger 18-inch alloys.
Toyota is now at the industry standard – and even slightly above – in terms of warranty. You get five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage, extending to seven years on the engine and driveline. Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, capped at $280 for the first five years or 75,000km
2023 Toyota GR86 GTS – THE DRIVE
As mentioned, the GR86 debuts a new 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that expels 174kW and 250Nm. With a 22kW and 38Nm increase over the previous 2.0-litre powerplant, the two cars are worlds apart. The GR86 now feels like it has oodles more pull and linear acceleration throughout the rev range. Previously, you had to keep the revs high to earn your reward and stay in front of an in-built flat spot.
But this one is still a higher revving performer too. In fact, it will not hesitate to hit 7000rpm, where its maximum power output occurs. It also sounds throatier than before. At idle, you feel that renowned horizontal engine shake; almost like an upbeat misfire vibration.
Contributing to the torque increase and boosting mid-range response is Toyota’s D4-S direct injection fuel delivery system. This is one of the few aspects that Subaru has borrowed Toyota’s expertise. There are also aerodynamic improvements and weight reduction measures to make the GR86 spring to speed. It only weighs 1228kg. On the tarmac, the 0-100km/h sprint is officially timed at 6.3 seconds for the manual. Our test measured it in a very impressive 6.18 seconds. The auto’s official timing is 6.8 seconds.
As we like it, all power is sent to the rear wheels. In the manual, it is now delightfully easy to flick the rear end out. Even with the stability control on, we love how it still lets a bit of a controlled slide happen before intervening. With the stability control off, well, we’ll let your imagination run wild – on a closed track of course! A tougher propeller shaft and rear drive shaft have been fitted to facilitate the increased torque of the new engine.
On the tarmac, you can notice the focus put into that low weight and low centre of gravity. It feels adroit and responsive in turns and the swing back to centre is super stable. With such short suspension travel, any chance of body roll is hard to come by. And with such taut suspension, it glues itself to the road around corners including when encountering bumps. Only, the grip performance from the tyres is the first to let go.
Toyota explains the multi-link independent rear suspension’s rigidity has been improved with the connecting location of the lower strut altered to angle the suspension strut in a more outward direction. At the front, diagonal members have been added to the joints between the front suspension cross member and frame, resulting in a 60 per cent increase in lateral bending rigidity up front. Going over bumps obviously creates a bouncy ride inside, but its track stays surprisingly focussed.
The steering feels targeted and weighty, but it’s not as short turning as we were expecting. There is a slight hollow Subaru feel to the steering, as more wheel turn is required than a sports coupe usually requires. It still feels superbly secure in the lane and on point around corners.
The operation of the gearbox feels a little notchy, but you can still achieve a swift short throw shift. Because you can hear the gears clicking and the diff winding, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of cushioning or sound deadening. A similar story goes with the clutch. Thanks to more torque on such a light car (1228kg), the friction point is a little harder to finesse than usual; and it’s difficult to avoid that diff catch-up thump when lifting the clutch. For us, it only adds to that raw, intimately connected feeling that the 86 is known for.
Officially, the GR86 does not rate well in fuel consumption. The manual sees a combined average of 9.5L/100km. But in our experience, you should be able to get it lower when driving in normal situations. Our average over 550km and a mixture of highway and city driving was 8.0L/100km. The auto enjoys a better official average of 8.8L/100km.
2023 Toyota GR86 GTS – THE VIDEO
2023 Toyota GR86 GTS – THE VERDICT
Kudos to Toyota for keeping its strong commitment to performance cars lately. There were a few boring years about a decade ago, but the GR86 is a prime example of a fun, raw and affordable driving enthusiast’s coupe. We welcome the bigger, more powerful engine with open arms as it feels vastly more competent and exhilarating behind the wheel. And its agile dynamics and drifting abilities have not been jeopardised. In fact, they have been strengthened.
We also love the sharp new exterior design and how it mirrors exactly what the car is capable of. The simple and inelegant interior is forgivable as its price is reasonable, although higher than the predecessor. Toyota/Subaru hint that many buyers modify the 86/BRZ. So, if you’re into mods, this is definitely one to consider.
– Much welcomed power and torque boost
– A hoot to drive, easy to flick out the rear end
– Affordable price for a sports coupe
– Nice modern design
– Clutch and gearbox feel a little notchy in operation
– Road noise
– Models with manual gearboxes lose out on a number of important safety features
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