A lovely automobile. A rapid vehicle. A low-cost vehicle. But which one is worth purchasing?
What happens when you find yourself constructing America’s last cheap sports car? If you’re Toyota, and the vehicle in issue is the GR86 coupe, you double down on the personality that has made it a standout in a world where the rest of the performance pack has moved on to greener pastures.
The small Toyota GR86 two-door was a breath of new air when it initially emerged in 2013 (as the Scion FR-S), a cheaper, 7/8ths replica of Nissan’s costlier 370Z that promised a fun-to-drive alternative to Detroit’s muscle car monopoly. Today, though, the Z has risen through the ranks, adding twin turbos to its list of enticements (where it joins the revived Toyota Supra as the apex of Japanese speed). Meanwhile, the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and Chevrolet Camaro have all reached stratospheric horsepower levels.
The GR86 is a stunning contrast in this recreated landscape. You won’t find any high-tech brawn or new chassis controls lifting the car’s driving experience far above that of the original, whether you pop the hood, hoist it up, or simply take a spin behind the wheel. Toyota has instead developed a worthy continuation of its fixed-roof, rear-wheel drive car that values a basic, lightweight structure and agile handling above overpowering power.
In a world obsessed with scary statistic sheets, would the 2022 Toyota GR86 maintain enough of its charm to entice fans away from competitor showrooms’ near-constant smoke shows? To discover out, I decided to get behind the wheel.
Let Well Enough Be Alone
Despite being positioned as a major redux, it’s worth noting that the majority of the GR86’s platform has been carried over from the previous edition of the coupe, with minor differences such as suspension tuning providing the most significant areas of divergence. The body has also been lightened by the use of extra aluminum (top, fenders, and a returning alloy hood), which contributes to the car’s weight remaining at a respectable 2,838 pounds. That’s just about 200 pounds more than its Scion ancestor, which is a surprising lack of fat a decade later.
Sticking to a tried-and-true chassis formula is far from a bad thing, considering that the Toyota GR86 (which was badged as just the “86” the year prior) has long valued balance and stability. Instead, the drivetrain has received the most of the change for 2022, with the previous 2.0-liter four-cylinder giving way to a 2.4-liter mill.
Faster Than Ever
Despite having a minor engine upgrade, the Toyota GR86 is objectively faster than its predecessor, sliding under the five-and-a-half second line in the dash to 60. (slicing nearly a second off its old time). From the driver’s seat, the increased explosiveness isn’t as evident as the enhanced smoothness with which the larger-displacement engine delivers its honed oomph. The fun-sucking torque tumbling that was a common aspect of the previous Toyota’s experience has been replaced with dependable power delivery with no obvious gaps.
It’s an ideal complement to the rest of the GR86’s mechanical package, which radiates confidence and fun at virtually every corner encounter while giving a pleasant enough ride when driven as a quiet commuter. With chatty steering and a similarly chatty set of springs and dampers, it’s simple to catch any yaw before it gets unruly, and the vehicle stays securely planted owing in part to a standard Torsen limited-slip differential. Without enough engine attitude to upset the mid-apex applecart, the Toyota serves as a welcoming introduction to the world of fast driving, much like the (lighter) Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster serves for those who need rooflessness.
It stands in sharp contrast to practically every other rear-wheel drive sports vehicle on the market today, most of which easily add 50 to 100 horsepower to the Toyota even in base form. Entering a world where momentum is key and simply flattening your right foot can’t cover up any oopsies on corner exit is a territory rarely explored among affordable automobiles, making the GR86 a lonely pilgrim in a land where even similarly-priced compact hatchbacks turbo their way past its dyno numbers.
The Toyota GR86’s lightweight concept requires you to accept a rather stripped-down kit as part of the agreement. That’s not to say the coupe is lacking in features — my Premium trim tester came with a somewhat sluggish, but fully-featured infotainment touchscreen, automatic climate control, and a digital gauge cluster — but its thinly insulated cabin is also a surprisingly noisy bit of business when speeding down the highway. Tire noise, in particular, increased to the point that I couldn’t hear podcasts without cranking up the audio volume to an unpleasant level.