When the Toyota 86 was first revealed to the world in 2012, it promised to be an exciting, affordable, and fun sports car for the masses.
Toyota delivered on that promise, with the initial first-generation car winning several accolades, including a joint victory (with its Subaru BRZ twin) at the 2012 Wheels Car of the Year.
A second-generation model launched in Australia in 2022, renamed the GR86 – to fit in with its Gazoo Racing performance family – and featuring a larger, 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.
The ‘86’ in the name is derived from the iconic AE86 model from the ’80s.
Other Gazoo Racing family members are the GR Supra, GR Yaris, and GR Corolla models.
2023 Toyota GR86 review: Phillip Island track test
Better late than never, and we already know the price stings – but does Toyota's GR86 live up to the pre-launch hype?
Australia loved the Toyota 86. In nearly a decade on sale here, the lightweight coupe shifted 21,823 units, making Australia its third-biggest market behind Japan and the United States.
Those who worked on Wheels magazine back in June 2012 will recall the 'Toyota Beats Porsche' screamer cover – and will also remember a rather uncomfortable phone call from Porsche's press officer, who'd sourced a Cayman in Japan for us to drive with the 86 on the proviso that they wouldn't see anything silly like 'Toyota beats Porsche' on the cover. Erk.
But while the 86 was a good car, it came with some caveats.
The engine had a hole in the middle of the torque curve that meant that the Toyota felt about as muscular as an Alloytec running on one bank. The cabin felt ruthlessly built down to a price and the standard fit tyres were, well, let's just call them an interesting choice.
But unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you'll know that a second-generation version has been in the works. Named the GR86 after the involvement of Gazoo Racing, Toyota's go-faster arm, the new car sits alongside GR versions of the Yaris, the Corolla and the Supra. That's quite some company to keep.
We've been primed on what to expect with the Subaru BRZ which, not to mince words, is about as good as you can reasonably expect an affordable sports coupe to be. Toyota claims that Gazoo Racing has given the GR86 a subtly different flavour to the BRZ. How does that claim stack up?
- How much is it, and what do you get?
- How do rivals compare on value?
- Interior comfort, space and storage
- What is it like to drive?
- How is it on fuel?
- How safe is it?
- Warranty and running costs
How much is it and what do you get?
Are you sitting down? If you've become comfortable with the idea that a Subaru BRZ opens at $40,290 for a manual car with the BRZ S priced from $41,590 (both before on-road costs), then Toyota GR86 pricing might come as a bit of a shock.
For a start, the manual and automatic cars carry identical price tags. So you'll pay $43,240 for a 2023 Toyota GR86 GT trim and $45,390 for a GTS version (both before on-road costs).
Like the BRZ, manual models do without an integrated suite of safety tech that includes features such as adaptive cruise, lane departure warning, auto high beam and pre-collision braking. So if you want the manual model – and you should – we can understand if you feel you've had a rough rub of the green.
“We think it's suitable and appropriate for the marketplace,” said Justin Hood, Toyota Australia's senior manager of product planning and pricing. “We've adopted the same policy with the Supra.”
Indeed, there are other manufacturers, such as Ford with its Mustang, which price manual cars identically to automatics. In this case, however, the fact that the auto versions get so much more standard kit renders that argument moot.
Toyota points to the fact that the original 86 opened at $29,995 which, adjusted for inflation...
...would be beyond $38k today – before you factor in improvements to equipment, quality, power and so on.
Although there are no mechanical differences between the GT and the GTS, the biggest change is that the GT rides on smaller 17-inch alloys shod with 215/45 Michelin Primacy rubber. Yes, much the same 'Prius tyres' that the old 86 wore. It also features fabric seats and a utilitarian rubber-shod pedal set.
Pay the additional $2150 for the GTS and you get 18-inch wheels wearing far superior 215/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 boots as well as an interior trimmed in grey or red accented Ultrasuede, seat heating, decorative side sills and a set of aluminium pedals.
If you really want to exploit the handling subtlety of the new GR86, pay the extra for the GTS. The tyres alone unlock a whole new level of delicacy and feel.
All GR86s otherwise feature wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, playing on an 8.0-inch central touch screen. There is a dedicated Track ESC mode, a reversing camera, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, tyre pressure monitoring and a pair of USB ports in the centre console storage compartment.
How do rivals compare on value?
Subaru BRZ aside, show me another rear-wheel drive coupe that comes with a manual gearbox for under $50K and we can discuss the finer points of the value proposition. The fact is, there isn't one.
You'll need to pony up $52,590 before on-road costs to get yourself into a base Mustang 2.3 HP coupe, and given it packs a 236kW wallop, is not bad value for money.
But it's a direct rival for the GR86 in the same way Tyson Fury is a direct rival for Floyd Mayweather. One is not like the other.
The closest in concept is the Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS which, before on-road costs, starts at $51,100. This goes the other way, ceding a tall stack of both power and torque to the Toyota, but countering with one of the very finest manual transmissions in the business and a delicacy of response all of its own.
However, we can only leave the BRZ out of the question for so long. Were we paying our own money and opting for a top-spec manual car, saving $3800 on a BRZ and ploughing those funds into tyres and track days is a hard argument to counter.
Another thing to note is that while the BRZ is supplied with a full-sized alloy spare wheel and tyre in the boot, the GR86 is only sold with a compressor and a can of mobility foam.
What's the Toyota GR86 like inside?
The short answer? As good as it needs to be.
Nobody pays just over $40K for a sports coupe and expects the interior to feel like it's been put together like a Bentley but by the same token, the GR86 marks a welcome step forward in terms of perceived quality over its predecessor.
It's certainly a better option for larger drivers than an MX-5. The seating position allows for a degree of recline, with the hip point 5mm lower than before. Access to the rear seats has also been improved with a better folding mechanism allowing a larger aperture.
Additional practicality bonuses include a 25 per cent larger glove box, decently sized door bins and a boot that in the new 2023 Toyota GR86 now measures 226 litres. Fold down the rear bench and Toyota even claims you can take four tyres to a track day.
Some soft-touch materials are used and the standard seats offer decent support, whether you've opted for the GT's fabric or the GTS's Ultrasuede finish.
The infotainment system is far from the most sophisticated we've come across and there's no facility for wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, and no wireless charging pad, which isn't an unreasonable expectation in a new car at this price point.
Basic ergonomics are very good, with nothing coming as much of a surprise. Some may find the lack of a rear wiper a bit of a miss, especially if their day involves driving on dusty roads but other than that, the spec list and the cabin inclusions are, for the most part, well-judged.
The steering wheel is decently sized without too thick a rim and Toyota has fitted audio controls to one side and a multi-function selector to the other spoke.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls have thankfully not been buried in an infotainment menu, instead operated by big rubberised controls that are easy to adjust without diverting your eyes from the road.
Likewise, the stability control settings are conveniently positioned as large buttons right next to the gear shifter, which means that these are easy to manipulate on the fly.
What is it like to drive?
Brilliant. Job done. Next.
At this point, you might well be wondering what Toyota has done to the Subaru BRZ other than slap some different badges on it. Chief engineer Yasunori Suezawa was wheeled out for the drive event at Phillip Island GP circuit, but given that he'd been in the role for less than two years – replacing the legendary Tetsuya Tada – he's still playing catch-up with the GR program.
Suezawa pointed to three factors where the GR86 deviated materially from the BRZ and they are suspension, engine and steering. All fairly fundamental stuff. The accelerator response and the electrically-assisted power steering have also had their software modified.
On the circuit, it felt as if the maps for both steering and throttle pedal had been 'front-loaded' to give more in the first few radians of travel, which in turn delivers a sharper response albeit at the expense of overall linearity.
The suspension is actually different when compared to the BRZ, but not in the ways you might imagine.
Rather than altering the GR86 to suit that Gazoo Racing badge, it's as if Toyota instead regressed. It's the BRZ that sees the biggest changes when compared to its predecessor, with seven per cent stiffer front springs and 11 per cent softer rears.
By contrast, Toyota retained the subframe-mounted anti-roll bar, whereas Subaru leaned its sway bar out and mounted it directly to the body, along with developing a hollow front bar and aluminium knuckles.
The net effect is that the BRZ is marginally more precise, delivers better outright grip and is a better track-day car. The GR86, by contrast, is a more playful companion and just loves to hang its tail out at any opportunity.
The 2.4-litre engine doesn't exactly sing an aria, but it's certainly effective.
Higher-grip Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres fitted to the GTS actually make drifting the GR86 a more malleable business, smearing in and out of slides compared to the more binary feel of the GT's Primacy rubber.
The 2.4-litre engine doesn't exactly sing an aria, but it's certainly effective. It generates 174kW and 250Nm which, to save you the maths, is 18 per cent more power and a massive 22 per cent more torque than before. Peak torque arrives at 3700rpm this time round, rather than the nosebleed 6400rpm of the old car.
Where that version retained peak torque across a mere 200rpm band, this time round you get the full serving of the good stuff at 3700rpm and a healthy – albeit still dipped – plateau right through to 5200rpm.
Toyota claims 6.3 seconds to 100km/h for the manual car, which sounds reasonable for a vehicle fronting up with 135kW/tonne.
Ah yes, weight. The kerb weight for the manual is 1287kg in GT trim and 1291kg in GTS guise. The GR86 keeps weight down with an aluminium bonnet, roof and front fenders.
Lightweight seat frames also help, as do a lighter tailshaft, muffler, resin rocker cover and pared-back engine mounts. The centre of gravity drops by 1.6mm thanks largely to the lower hip point and lighter roof, but despite the lightweighting, torsional rigidity increases by 50 per cent and longitudinal rigidity by 60 per cent.
The brakes are 294mm ventilated discs up front, with twin-piston calipers while there's a 290mm rotor and a single-pot caliper at the back. The stoppers are more than adequate for street use, but on track we found the pedal getting a little long into the big braking zones like Honda curve after a couple of flying laps.
If you're a real track-day fiend, uprating the pads and fluid (or introducing more cooling) may be job number one followed by swapping the standard Torsen differential out for a clutch-type version.
The manual gear shift is good, but not great. The shift action isn't particularly slick, but the pedal positioning and clutch action are great for heel and toe down-changes. At 4.1:1 the manual 'box has a shorter final drive than the 3.909:1 of the automatic.
We found that the auto seemed to cope very well when left to its own devices at Phillip Island but, curiously, when switched into manual mode, it became a little neurotic about protecting itself from early downchanges. Downshifts that it would happily grant itself were denied with a plaintive beep when attempted manually, to the extent that we often found ourselves in a gear higher than was ideal.
On road, the GR86 sounds a little louder in the cabin than the BRZ, which is counterintuitive, given the noise pathways created by the rear suspension mounts, but there it is. Ride quality is very good, the steering is excellent and that FA24 engine has enough about it that you rarely if ever feel short-changed.
The standard stability control calibration is pretty languid and a long press on the Track ESC buttons loosens it off still further. Be aware that in the wet Track ESC won't necessarily save you from a spin if you're really ham-fisted, so approach with the requisite caution.
The shift action isn't particularly slick, but the pedal positioning and clutch action are great for heel and toe down-changes.
How is it on fuel?
In the 2023 Toyota GR86, the company claims a combined figure of 9.4L/100km for the manual version of the GR86 and 8.7 and 8.8L/100km respectively for GT and GTS versions with the automatic transmission.
What's more, the GR86 is one of the few cars where it's possible to approach or beat the published figures in day-to-day driving. That's a good thing because the fuel tank is a relatively dinky 50 litres and it'll want 98 RON fuel too.
Light weight helps with fuel economy as does a super-slippery drag coefficient of just 0.276.
How safe is it?
The 2023 Toyota GR86 has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
What's more, there are currently no plans in place to subject the GR86 to a crash test. That may well change, but it's far from a foregone conclusion that the vehicle would achieve a five-star rating.
Its predecessor was a five-star rated vehicle, but that was a test result 'grandfathered' from 2012. Since that time, ANCAP testing has become a lot more stringent and has outpaced development of the 86 line.
The GR86 would be unlikely to rate highly in the Safety Assist technology category, as it lacks both lane-keep assist and intelligent speed limiting with a speed sign recognition function.
These contribute to a significant share of the scoring in this category. The manual models lack Toyota's Active Safety Suite and therefore aren't supplied with autonomous emergency braking, meaning they'll come up short on current ANCAP criteria.
Indeed, the reason why the GR86 has sold its entire allocation in the UK is that it's being withdrawn from sale due to the fact that it can't comply with new European safety regulations.
From 2024, the EU's General Safety Regulation 2 standards will come into force and these rules also apply to existing unregistered stock held by vehicle manufacturers, closing a stockpiling loophole.
In order to satisfy this legislation, the GR86 would need to have been completely re-engineered and, as is clear when looking at the underpinnings of the car, this second generation model of the 86 line is a heavy reworking of the original rather than a ground-up clean-sheet design.
Comparatively small sales volumes mean Toyota has had to accept some compromises.
That's not to say the GR86 is an intrinsically unsafe car. It just means that if you put a priority on the very latest and most comprehensive safety technology, it may not be the car for you.
Standard safety features
How long is the warranty and what are the running costs like?
The warranty for the Toyota GR86 is five years with unlimited kilometres.
Under the Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing scheme, each maintenance visit will cost you $280. This applies to standard scheduled logbook servicing (normal operating conditions) for five years or 75,000km (whichever occurs first) up to a maximum of five services.
That price applies to both manual and automatic versions of the GT86 and undercuts Subaru.
Would we recommend it?
Absolutely, but with certain caveats.
Toyota is undoubtedly being opportunistic around pricing of the GR86. On the one hand, we're happy to call this out, but on the other, it's perhaps unreasonable for the laws of supply and demand not to apply in this instance.
Should you find the pricing not to your taste, follow the lead of quite a few who did have GR86 orders and who have now cancelled in order to buy a Subaru BRZ. You'll end up with a brilliant car, eventually. Stick or twist? That's the dilemma.
Like the BRZ, the GR86 goes straight to the top of the affordable sportscar class. There's really nothing to touch it. The added torque and power of the 2.4-litre engine and the modest uptick in interior quality and comfort address the big criticisms of the old 86 and, as much as anything, the GR86 program has been an exercise in knowing what to leave well alone.
It's now a far more rewarding and liveable car than before, without dulling any of the original's sheen.
The GR86 feels considerably more alive in your hands and offers the enthusiast driver a stack more options than the old 86 ever did, enough to make even the best hot hatches seem a little two-dimensional in terms of chassis dynamics.
The days of pure internal combustion engined, lightweight, rear-drive coupes offered with a manual gearbox at what remains a strong price have to be numbered. Whether you think technology will change this class of car for the better or not, it pays to have sampled the benchmark.
And, along with its Subaru sibling, the GR86 is the benchmark. That's something that will live on long after squabbles over the price have been forgotten.
2023 Toyota GR86 specifications
Things we like
- Sparkling chassis dynamics
- Now featuring torque!
- Even better looking than a BRZ
Not so much
- Pricing a little opportunistic
- Manual transmission buyers miss out on safety gear
- Supply issues rumble on
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