2022 Toyota GR86 review: keeping the fun
Boring automatic aside on this example, this wonderful sports car is even better in its new guise
Review of the 2022 Toyota GR86
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman.
What is it?
Toyota's GR86, the successor to the Scion/Toyota FR-S/86 and the fraternal twin of Subaru's BRZ. It's more than just a facelift, with lots of changes underneath to the chassis and a potent new 2.4L naturally-aspirated engine under the hood. It's designed as a back-to-basics sports car, with an emphasis on its lightweight ethos and driver involvement. You want to drift like Takumi? This is your ride. And for this well-equipped Premium automatic model, the price is just $33,250 all-in.
I won't bore you, this is an exemplary driving tool. Why do I call it a tool you ask? Because it allows the driver to exact his vision on any paved road. Like a camera is to a photographer, this is a means of realizing your creative and artistic potential via rolling propulsion. It does this this through several ways that come together in a modest little symphony.
Steering is bonkers good. While it lacks the raw feedback through the wheel that, say, an old Porsche 911 gives, it's scary accurate and direct. I swear the USB plugs inside aren't for charging your phone but to instead connect your brain into the car so you can drive via telepathy. Actually, that isn't necessary, as it's already so connected just out of good engineering. Here, you don't turn the wheel as much as you simply think it. Responses from every minute input are scientifically yet passionately transposed to the car and road, changing direction like a rabid squirrel. And the weighting is perfect; Not light nor is it a chore, it's the best weight I've felt on any new car today and only increases your confidence.
What does that confidence give you? Encouragement to go around every corner sideways. Okay, that's highly dangerous, but the devil inside you in this red car will give you the yearning you need and want. Despite skinny 215-section Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the GR86 does not understeer. With its low center of gravity (thanks low-hanging flat-four engine!) and low curb weight, the front bites and bites, with the rear end instead being the one easily overwhelmed. But, it's how organically the rear end is overwhelmed, like Yo-Yo Ma coming to a sweet and serene crescendo on his cello, the back tires come to a slippery conclusion in such a smooth and progressive manner. Simply giving an aggressive turn-in through any 90-degree intersection invokes this surreal sensation, and if you want the cops to give you a timeout, just squeeze the throttle to unleash your desire. As the rear swings wide, your instincts immediately turn the wheel the opposite direction the perfect amount and then suddenly the car just seems to sort itself out; Without any thinking, you find yourself going straight again and in order. "Sorry, officer, my foot slipped!" It's a thing of beauty, this; This is a car that wants to live its best life sideways. No other way to shape it, it's likely the best handling new car on sale today at any price, with such a graceful balance and alacrity.
Under the hood is an improved flat-four 'boxer' engine, now measuring 2.4L for a 400cc increase in displacement. While that might not sound like much, its improvements result in a 28 horsepower gain and a substantial 33 pounds of torque extra that comes at a whole 2,000 RPM sooner now. Total output is 228 horsepower and 184 torques in this automatic. In the real world, this bestows the GR86 with a midrange shove that the previous model sorely missed. Even better news is the desire to be revved high, with the top-end providing an adrenaline towards the redline. Gone also is the horribly buzzy and garbage disposal nature of the old unit. This is a fine engine, and one that will help quell the community's desire for a turbocharged model. Well, they should still do that, but still. Oh, and fuel economy is great! 33 MPG on the highway is just okay, but I averaged 27, and that's with a heavy foot at times.
The interior is updated with better materials throughout and what feels like more space. While the old car had a rental feel to it, this is a decent place to be for under $35,000. The driving position is dreamily perfect, and the seats are both comfortable while giving great support that's needed for spirited and track driving. Once you get your seat adjusted, it's akin to putting on a well-tailored Italian suit; it just feels right.
What can be better...
I, most unfortunately, was given a tester with an automatic transmission, which largely robs it of its character. It's not snappy like a dual-clutch nor ZF's sublime eight-speed auto found in Toyota's own Supra, and really is a disappointment. If you're buying a 'fun car' that has little practicality, why not get one with the impractical transmission then? There's also the issue of gearing, with second gear going well past 60 MPH even. What these long gears contribute is not an impression of quickness, with 0-60 MPH requiring six seconds, a few tenths behind that of a stick-shift model, but also a healthy full one second improvement over the outgoing 86 when paired to an automatic. The midrange is there, but you can't feel it in your stomach and butt when it's being buried by the transmission. And it's also only a six-speed auto - an eight-speed unit would likely close up the gaps in ratios and make for a far more compelling driving experience. So, do yourself a favor and get the manual. It'll feel and actually be quicker, and the transmission itself is one of the best around, too.
And this is another big one: electronic safety systems. I've written about Toyota's (and also Lexus) decisions about how one can control the traction control on their models, and the GR86 is no exception. Here's the deal: if you want to fully disable traction and stability control, you can only do so while completely stopped. Yes, you read that right. Holding down traction control while moving will partially disable it, but only under 30 MPH. Lol. You can, however, enable track mode at any time, which is somewhat of a halfway-mode, and doesn't give you total free reign. But I don't want that; This car is so incredibly balanced that it doesn't need traction or stability control of any kind. And that's a real shame that once again Toyota puts on its Big Brother hat and restricts what their drivers can and can't do. And this in a dedicated sports car, too!
The best sports car under $40,000
Despite those issues, and you can fix one of them by just buying the stick-shift, this is easily the best sports car under 40 grand. It's more engaging, sharper, and quicker than a new Miata (unless you really want that convertible), and also will undercut the new Nissan Z significantly in price. In fact, at over $10,000 less than a GR Supra 2.0, it's an incredible bargain. Actually, the GR86 is the better sports car, too, anyway. The only real competitor I see to this is a from a total different crowd: Hyundai's Veloster N, a front-wheel drive hot hatch. While drastically different on paper, it's the only new car in this price category that gives a similar level of driver satisfaction. But, it won't drift. There has never been a more compelling reason to buy a new sports car than the GR86 - it's really that good, and at a price that is nearly irresistible considering what it gives you as a driver.
2022 Toyota GR86 Premium Auto
As-tested price: $33,250
Pros: Handling, handling, handling
Cons: Automatic is long and boring
Verdict: One of the best sports cars on the planet