Lightweight sports coupe makes a return with the promise of more power and sharper handling, under a slightly different name. Is the Toyota GR86 any good?...
On sale September | Price from £29,995
Waku doki. It’s a shortened version of the Japanese phrase ‘waku waku doki doki’ and stands for ‘heart-pounding excitement’. And why is this important? Well, this is Toyota’s philosophy that underlies all of its sports cars and the GR86 you see in these pictures brings that in the form of a compact, lightweight sports coupe that’s relatively affordable to run.
This is also the sequel to the previously badged Toyota GT86, sitting below the flagship Toyota GR Supra coupe and with a price that undercuts the Toyota GR Yaris at a snip under £30,000. While that particular Yaris is a little four wheel drive hot hatch that offers darty, grippy thrills more akin to a rally car, the GR86 offers a very different driving experience.
The basic recipe remains the same as the previous GT86, combining a revvy naturally-aspirated petrol engine up front with lively rear-wheel drive handling to draw a wide grin on the driver’s face. While the balance of power and handling of its GT86 predecessor was viewed as harmonious by many, the GR86 should bring more of each to give you more bang for your buck. So, has it worked?
What’s it like to drive?
As before, there’s only one engine available, with the choice of a manual or automatic gearbox – both with six speeds. The biggest difference is that the four-cylinder petrol engine has grown from a 2.0-litre to a 2.4-litre. Power is up by 17% over the old model, producing 231bhp and sprinting from 0-62mph in 6.3sec. That’s 1.3sec quicker than the old GT86 and beats the most powerful Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0-litre by 0.5sec.
The engine still isn’t that quick to rev and needs working hard to get the best out of it, but it’s now far more rewarding when doing so. It pulls strongly from the middle of the rev range up to the red line, accompanied by a suitably loud and pleasant engine sound piped through the speakers for added theatre.
The six-speed manual gearbox slots into gear nicely, requiring just enough effort to be involving for the driver. It’s not got the same short-throw, flick-of-the-wrist action as the MX-5, but it’s still pleasant to use as you work your way through the gears.
The most noticeable benefit of all that added muscle is found when things calm down. Once you settle down to cover the commute and deal with traffic, the GR86 is far more effortless to drive. You can stay in gear for longer when the revs drop and you no longer feel out of depth when you need to pick up the pace again. The obligation to shift down a gear just to get going has effectively been eradicated (save for uphill climbs in top gear), and makes the GR86 far more relaxed to drive in everyday.
Don’t go thinking the GR86 is a comfortable cruiser, though. The engine may quieten down into the background but there’s plenty of road and wind noise when cruising at speed, so the GT86 is still a noisy companion over long journeys – even if it is considerably quieter than the inside of an MX-5 RF. The Audi TT will be more hushed and refined overall.
One potential solution to this would be to take the twisty country road running parallel to the motorway to make the most of the GR86’s handling.
The sharp response of the accelerator pedal helps maintain momentum, while the steering has enough weight to feel precise and there is a reassuring amount of grip from the tyres. The previous GT86 always felt like it was on the edge of grip, which felt like fun in some situations, but meant it was less confidence-inspiring in others, especially in the wet. Now there’s a little more grip to go with the extra power, the GR86 feels more predictable and more on your side.
In comparison, driving enthusiasts might find that the TT feels too safe and secure to be truly thrilling, while the MX-5 serves up significantly more body lean. The GR86 is easily the most exciting of the two.
What’s it like inside?
The dash is simple to use with a mix of rotary controls and large buttons for the ventilation system. The 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system above it comes with Apple Carplay and Android Auto and is pretty basic to use without too many menus to sift through. The MX-5 RF’s rotary controlled system is still more precise to use as you’re driving, even if it features a smaller 7.0in screen.
There may be suede-like material on the doors and above the digital instrument panel, plus some soft-touch plastics on the top section of the dash, but the interior still feels a bit on the budget end of the scale.
However, forward visibility is great thanks to thin pillars and a low dashboard, and there’s more space up front than an MX-5 RF. Plus, you get two small rear seats. Of course, you’ll have to compromise front legroom just to free up some space for those sitting behind, but at least the option is there if you need to give a couple of small children a lift. It’s also useful as storage for when you need it.
The 226-litre boot is also more commodious than the one in the MX-5 RF, even if the opening isn’t as big as the hatchback style found on the TT.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a rear-view camera, LED headlights, cruise control and heated part-leather/suede front seats. The automatic costs more than £2,000 more than the manual, but comes with climate control, adaptive cruise control and extra safety kit, including autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist.