The Toyota 86 is now known as the GR86, click here to visit our Toyota GR86 page.
2022 Toyota GR86: First Australian drive
MOTOR gets a few laps around Sydney Motorsport Park in the first GR86 to arrive Down Under
Cards on table time. I'm a complete newbie when it comes to Sydney Motorsport Park. As a Melburnian, I've never driven as much as a metre of its length. But I now have a mere out- and in-lap in which to not only gain some vague approximation of which way this fiendish circuit goes, but also to form some sort of impression of Toyota's box-fresh GR86.
I'm sitting in pit lane reading MOTOR's guide to the circuit, but I don't get the impression that it's going to render much assistance when there's just 7860 metres to drive. To make this assessment even less definitive, the car that Toyota has bowled up is a pre-production vehicle, so it's not exactly representative of what will arrive in dealers come the end of Q3 this year.
UPDATE, September 23, 2022: New GR86 on sale in Oz, and DRIVEN!
The new 2023 Toyota GR86 has finally launched in Australia, and we've now driven the version buyers will get. See our full review at the link below.
As I park myself in the driver's seat, oversized Stilo lid clouting the Alcantara roof liner, I realise that this car is also suffering a bit of a shortfall when it comes to pedals. Given that MOTOR readers will doubtless flock to the six-speed manual model over this auto version, that would normally be another annoyance, but on this occasion, I'm happy to leave the 'box to its own devices.
I know the question you're keen to have answered. How much is this car different to the Subaru BRZ that recently carried off our inaugural Sports Car of the Year award? Toyota insists that the variance between this car and its Subaru sibling is wider than with the first generation. Final specifications and therefore prices have yet to be finalised for the Australian market but the bones of the GR86 do indeed diverge from the BRZ.
Part of the reason the GR86 has been beaten to the punch by the BRZ is that Toyota has been keen to finesse the ride and handling package of its coupe
Part of the reason the GR86 has been beaten to the punch by the BRZ over here is that Toyota has been keen to finesse the ride and handling package of its coupe. The GR86 features a 7 per cent lower front spring rate and an 11 per cent higher rear spring rate which manifests in more front-end grip and a little less at the rear. There are quite significant differences in terms of roll stiffness.
The front anti-roll bars of the two cars measure 18 millimetres in the GR86 and 18.3mm in the BRZ which would suggest that the Subaru offers greater roll resistance up front, but look a little closer and the construction of the two bars is markedly different. Whereas the BRZ features a tubular bar, the Toyota's is solid. This means that the BRZ nets a reduction in unsprung weight (typically around 10 per cent of total bar weight), but the GR86 will be stiffer in roll, the exact amount dependent on the materials choice of the two bars.
At the back, Toyota has adopted an anti-roll bar that’s 15mm rather than the Subaru's 14mm and it's mounted in a different manner, Toyota affixing the anti-roll bar to the unibody rather than the rear subframe. The BRZ features aluminium front knuckles and stiffer rear trailing link bushings versus iron knuckles and carry-over bushings on the Toyota. The materials choice for the knuckles was apparently decided very late in the process at Toyota but, hey, if iron knuckles work for Lotus, they can probably work here.
More will be revealed in due course, but did the Toyota feel notably pointier and sharper than the Subaru at SMP? Not really. It did oversteer more than the BRZ did when I last drove one at Phillip Island, but that was more due to my poor lines through corners than anything to do with the car's fundamental chassis balance. Once it does start sliding, the steering is clean and accurate and the communication through the chassis is so uncorrupted that it's a doddle to catch back. What's more, now that the GR86 has a good deal more torque (250Nm) than before, there's no longer that frustratingly inconsistent throttle response if you're trying to prolong a bit of oversteer.
Having impressed the instructor with my ability to enter a 90-degree right as if it's a 180-degree hairpin, I decide to fall back on Plan B: call on somebody who knows what they're doing here. I duly insert rally driver Harry Bates into the driver's seat. It's started raining by now but I think he's good for it. Having just sampled how slippery the track is under the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 boots (215/40 R18 front and rear), Bates switches the GR86 into its ESC Sport mode, which still offers enough leeway to send the tail lazily wide at Turn Six. Might have been Five or Seven. Not sure.
"I think it sounds great at the top end," he notes, agreeing that the sound symposer in this car is, like the BRZ, one of the few that don't sound as if it's channelling an OutRun arcade game through its speakers. "I'm not going to go crazy, as this is the only car in the country." I seem to remember using much the same excuse to my instructor about 20 minutes prior.
Even on a damp track, the GR86's front-end bite is impressive ... its ability to accept more steering input mid-corner is something you'd have never have executed in the previous car
Even on a damp track, the GR86's front-end bite is impressive. Through the double apex of Turns Two and Three, its ability to accept more steering input mid-corner is something you'd have never have executed in the previous car, especially if it was shod with Michelin Primacy rubber. Toyota still hasn't made it clear whether it'll adopt a similar philosophy in offering a base model on modest rubber and then a premium version on more focused tyres.
The automatic gearbox is best marshalled manually with the stubby wheel-mounted metal paddles rather than leaving it to its own devices. The GR86 is now an easy car to drive by ear, keeping the revs plugged into its zone of peak torque. Still, unless 95 per cent of your GR86 driving is an urban schlep, you ought to choose the TL70 manual box. It's both lighter and geared more aggressively than the auto, paring 0.5s from the 0-100km/h time. The torque bump is offset a little by the fact that the final drive ratio is taller, changing from 4.3/4.1 (man/auto) in the first generation car to 4.1/3.9 now. So while it looks like you'll get a 20 per cent torque bump in each gear, real world it's about 12.5 per cent net. It's enough.
So what do we emerge with from this? I'm clearly going to need a bit more seat time to evaluate exactly how the GR86's dynamics differ from those of a Subaru BRZ. Given that the BRZ waltzed away with our first SCOTY title, you can take it as read that the GR86 is an extremely good thing. Whether it's a better thing is laden with caveats, many of which we can't assess right now. Pricing is one big 'un. Australian spec is another. These will be clarified shortly.
While at SMP, Toyota announced that it would continue its backing for the 86 racing series for another four years through to the end of 2026. The second generation race car will debut in the 2024 season, and a feeder Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia scholarship series will act as a grassroots way onto the oversubscribed grids of the main series. This in turn gives young Aussie racers 15 chances a year to show what they can do in front of Supercars team owners, with talent like Broc Feeney and Will Brown having used the series as a stepping stone to Australia's premier tin top series.
This graduation path for Australian racing talent is just one area where the GR86 elevates itself from the mainstream. It's a car that has become more than the sum of its parts. My brief wobble around SMP in the first second-gen car to make these shores is but the merest taster of what's to come. If this car is around as long as its predecessor, you can count us very happy indeed.
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