CAVE CREEK, Arizona – The new Toyota 86 has been renamed GR86. That’s pronounced GREAT-6.
I took it to the flowing turns, blind hills and uphill straightaways of Cave Creek, 50 miles northeast of Phoenix. It’s a sports car’s natural habitat and the perfect place to explore the Gazoo Racing (thus the GR prefix).
1) Twinties of more torque out for a bigger, 2.4-liter Boxer-4 cylinder engine.
2) More cornering confidence for stickier, wider tires.
3) Racier, upscale design to make $ 100K sports car crowd jealous.
Just be sure to get a manual with it.
My tester came with a six-speed automatic and a stick every day for a weekend visit on the car I had on the Grand Canyon state. Automatics are understandably taken over the market, given their ease of use. But in a Stradivarius like the GR86, you want to be able to tune it yourself – not sit back and watch the sheet music play. Especially now that Toyota (and its sister Subaru BRZ) have the formula right.
I get lots of test exotic sports cars – Porsche 911s, mid-engine Corvettes, Audi R8s – but there’s nothing more satisfying than an entry-level sports car. It makes the driving of joy more accessible.
My young son coveted the original Toyota 86 (then called the Scion FR-S – remember Scion?) And its twin Subaru BRZ, when they were unveiled in 2014. He was so juiced that a tester arrived in my Oakland County driveway in 2014 , He jumped on a Southwest flight to Chicago to see.
Low-slung, 200-horsepower, practical 2 + 2 seating, stick shift, rear-wheel drive. Alas, when his balloon deflated he stomped on the gas pedal. The engine groaned, peak torque sundown until it came, and – worse – it paled next to the high-revving, 197-horse 2006 VTEC Civic Si that we still had in the driveway. Sigh.
As the sage says, never buy a first-generation car. Wait until gen-2. This time, Subaru and Toyota nailed it.
All credit to Subaru, of course, which is the engineering lead on Toyobaru. They swapped out the 2.0-liter flat-4 for a 2.4-liter flat-4. That means a healthy gain in power (228 ponies) but more importantly, a 33 pound-feet of torque boost to 184. That’s about the same with the Civic Si’s 192.
To get my manual fix to the steering-wheel shift paddles for Reaching, I used the Cave Creek’s twisties between the 2nd and 3rd gears between the TRACK mode in the box and the advantage of the GR86’s fatter torque curve, which arrives at an usable 3,700 rpm (vs. 6,600) Old car in RPM). Gazoo’s chefs also have a sweetened exhaust sound and I wound the flat-4 all the way to 7-grand.
The big flat-4 cylinder means that the GR86 loses none of its road-hugging goodness – the Toyobaru has one of the lowest center-of-gravity measurements in the industry as well as the lightest bods (2,833 pounds in premium trim). Just for good measure, the engineers are also fortified with a skeleton with high-strength steel, front cross members, and a full-ring rear frame. My Premium Edition was also Sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 shoes – a step up from the base Michelin Primacy H / P tires.
Let me recommend the $ 2,600 Walk-to-the-Base GR86 with the $ 31,325 Premium model for those Sport 4 gummies wrapped around black 18-inch wheels and other goodies like heated leather seats, blind-spot assist and a Supra-like duckbill tail.
The latter is a testament to the GR86’s more mature look. Squint your eyes and it looks like the 2023 Nissan Z. And that’s what a Toyota brand can do for a hit or miss on design these days (seen a Prius lately?). The GR86’s design is sleek, minimalist, and timeless. Toyobaru twins of the looker.
“That’s an attractive car,” said Mrs. Payne, a crowded parking lot in picking our GR86 out. She’s Not Prone to Gush. Leave that to me. From the aggressive front to the dramatic rocker panels to the rear duckbill, the GR86 has looks to match its athleticism.
Dressed in killer red, the low-slung roller-skate got a lot of stares around Phoenix – a notorious cars ‘n’ coffee town. It also attracted challengers. An all-wheel-drive Tesla Model Y sidled up at a stoplight. Oh, I know that won’t go well.
I took the bait, stomped the pedal and rowed the oars for all they were worth. The distance into the Tesla disappeared.
The manual would have done a bit better. Toyota says the automatic is a half-second slower 0-60 mph. Sudden acceleration also exposes the auto’s biggest flaw: poor tip-in. I tested the GR86 right after the silky-smooth, six-speed automatic Mazda CX-30 (Mazda engineers are obsessive about this stuff) and the GR86 felt like a bucking bronco by comparison.
The automatic’s biggest benefit is adaptive cruise control – which I use in a lot of cop magnets like the GR86 to keep my speeds at the posted limit. But I’ll still opt for the manual – especially since Toyota equips it with a handbrake. Oh, joy.
The tandem are nicely paired with a redrawn interior of the center console. It’s spartan, but everything is in its place – except for the curious decision to locate the cupholders inside the butterfly console bin. This is also where the USB is located for wired, Android Auto navigation.
Happily, door cupholders are within easy reach so I could navigate and slurp at the same time at Snapple. Aft of the front seats, Toyobaru offers a rear bench too small for adults, but – like the 911’s 2 + 2 arrangement – they make a welcome cargo space. Picking up Mrs. Payne at the airport, I stuffed her full-size bag and a second carry-on in the boot – then threw my carry-on and briefcase into the rear seats. Try that in an MX-5 Miata.
The Miata is the class icon, but now that Gazoo has fixed the 86, it is a better all-around car with storage, room and looks to match its performance. Toyota offers a complimentary one-year track membership to the National Auto Sport Association.
Preferably with a manual.
2022 Toyota GR86
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports car
Price: $ 28,725, including $ 1,025 destination fee ($ 33,250 as tested)
Powerplant: 2.4-liter Boxer-4 cylinder
Power: 228 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: six-speed manual; Six-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph 6.1-6.6 sec. (mfr.); top speed, 140 mph
Weight: 2,868 pounds (automatic as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA est. 20 mpg city / 27 highway / 22 combined (manual); 21 mpg city / 31 highway / 25 combined (auto)
Highs: Affordable performance; A sports car for decent storage
Lows: Adaptive cruise only comes in automatic; get the manual, not the auto
Overall: 4 stars