Toyota GR86 Drive Review : ’Roku & Roll [COTY2022]
Singapore - With a certifiable petrolhead like Akio Toyoda at its helm, you know that a brand like Toyota will never drop the ball when it comes to the ‘fun’ cars.
As the other Japanese brands shift focus from fun cars to functional, Toyota goes from strength to strength with the third sportscar to be launched under its performance-minded Gazoo Racing umbrella.
If you’re familiar with our preferences, you’ll know that being fast isn’t everything to us (in fact, it means nothing at all if it isn’t fun as well), because we’ve seen that fast and fun can be mutually exclusive concepts.
Some cars are just fast and nothing more, but some cars that aren’t necessarily the fastest have surprised us by being among the ‘funnest’ we’ve had the joy of driving.
The 86 (or hachi-roku in Japanese) has a rich legacy in both automotive and popular culture, thanks largely to the Initial D franchise.
There’s a towering legend built-up around the original AE86 that gives it a larger-than-life reputation and we’re happy to report that the latest GR86 channels a lot of its predecessor’s grit and spirit.
Available in both a 6spd manual and a 6spd auto, Toyota’s compact rear-drive coupe is a driver’s ‘toy’ that boasts all the important ‘L’ words: LSD, lightweight, lithe and low-slung.
You know the local team handling the GR models has its finger on the pulse of this discerning segment, because the demo-car is in every driver’s preferred transmission option – manual.
The GR86’s design is an elegant evolution of its GT86 predecessor’s, which we felt exuded a little too much of the ‘my-starter-sportscar’ vibes.
Anyone who has driven the GT86 (and now the GR86) will appreciate that it’s a serious machine that requires a committed driver and plenty of hand/eye/butt-feel finesse to exploit.
It certainly isn’t another one of those modern stomp-and-spurt straight-line warriors that makes an annoying ‘pop-pop-pop’ during up/down-shifts. If anything, we felt it was too quiet, especially when the going gets fast.
Even though the engine sound is piped into the cabin by the Active Sound Control system, we would have preferred a little more aural stimulation to go with the proceedings.
With its tasteful design elements, stanced silhouette and satisfyingly arch-filling 18-inch footwear, the GR86 has really come-of-age as a sporting machine capable of standing on its own two feet – not that it couldn’t before, but it definitely looks the part now.
The new model’s 4265x1775x1310mm (LxBxH) proportions are largely similar to its predecessor’s, except it features a 5mm longer 2575mm wheelbase and puts on a smidgen more weight to tip the scales at just under 1.3-tonnes.
Best of all, the badging emblems are discreet (one on the grille and one on its rump) and the body-kit is classy and cohesive enough that no one will accuse you of harbouring boy-racer tendencies.
Personally, we like its styling just that little bit more than its brother from another mother, the Subaru BRZ.
Cool details include the pert gurney flap ‘ducktail’ on its perky derrière, muscular haunches and functional aero-aids, which include a massive air-dam and ‘working’ air-vents behind the front wheel arches to manage air-flow and reduce turbulence around the tyres.
We’re down-low with the GR86’s cabin, because of how low-down the driver sits. True to all proper driver-centric cars, the cockpit is designed around the chief protagonist and slideways agitator, with all his (or her) touch-points – like the snug suede/leather seats, steering, shifter and stereo – designed and engineered for seamless, tactile operation.
The folks who bleat about the expansive use of plastics miss the point of the GR86. It is a pure and uncomplicated driving instrument, but is by no means ‘basic’.
For starters, the integrated touchscreen interface for entertainment and customisation is nicely fused into the centre fascia and it has all the mod-cons to keep you comfortable on daily drives.
Important controls (like VSC/Track Mode and TRC) are one-touch buttons, without the tiresome, “Are you sure, are you really really sure?” from the nanny-aid to the nanny-aids.
Also, key info like g-forces and engine oil/water temperatures are displayed within the instrument binnacle for quick reference during gymkhanas or track sessions.
Apart from the design, the other major bugbear we had with the predecessor was the peaky nat-asp 2.0-litre.
Yes, we’re well aware there are aftermarket options to address this, but stock to stock, it felt lacklustre around town, especially in start/stop traffic.
With 234hp and 250Nm from 3700rpm (vs the predecessor’s 205Nm from 6600rpm), we’re glad the new nat-asp 2.4-litre addresses the previous model’s torque deficit low-down in the rev-band, so there’s decent urge from the get-go.
Sure the four-pot will still sing happily to its 7k redline, but there’s good grunt at city speeds to let you exploit gaps in traffic.
More importantly, it affords better control when you’re indulging in sideways shenanigans as you’re loading the lateral gs since it’s right-smack in the engine’s g-spot.
The gear-ratios are well-spaced for brisk acceleration, with a snappy, slick action to the shifter that makes working one’s way up/down the gears a joy.
It feels delightfully light on its feet, which should come as little surprise considering Toyota’s use of aluminium for the roof, front wings and bonnet, all with the aim of lowering the GR86’s centre of gravity.
From steering to sliding, there’s so much feel from the GR86’s torsionally taut chassis there’s an unfiltered connection between man, machine and the winding road.
It turns-in keenly, with an almost supernatural disposition to going sideways if not for one's superhuman restraint out on the public roads – it's a completely different matter in a closed environment of course!
With such an engaging driving experience, the manual gearbox is the perfect cherry-topping to the dessert, because you don’t complain about this sort of manual work when you’re really working the GR86 through its paces.
We could never figure out if the GR86’s 2+2 seating was only to differentiate it from the 2.0 Supra, especially since its deeply scalloped rear-seats aren’t particularly commodious for anyone over pre-teen age.
However, it does provide welcome utility for stowage as a top-up to the boot’s 226-litres. In fact, with the rear-seats folded down, there’s space to carry four wheels for your track-day outings!
Don’t think of the GR86 as a stepping stone to the broader GR range, because it’s complementary to the GR Yaris homologation special hot-hatch and the Supra coupe.
However, ‘basic’ types that don’t understand niche models like the GR86 might mistakenly regard it as entry-level.
Except they’d be sorely mistaken because a fun and frisky sportscar like the GR86 can appeal to folks who already have more powerful machines at home and/or are simply not interested in a GR Yaris or GR Supra.
Make no mistake about it, the GR86 is nobody’s consolation prize or second choice.
Buying any one of the GR models doesn’t necessarily mean you’re interested in collecting the whole lot, because as far as the sportscar segment is concerned, there are plenty of takers for your hard-earned dosh.
After all, you’re no jobsworth working your way up the corporate GR ladder, as you progress from minion to manager to managing director, because when it comes to petrolheads and their passions, you either want it, or you don’t, and we can see plenty of passionate drivers wanting a car like the GR86.
The lightweight and very agile GR86 is a welcome throwback to a simpler time for driving enthusiasts.
Like all the GR models, it can either be driven in stock form, or taken to your workshop for aftermarket upgrades, because the best way to savour a car like the GR86 is your way… and that’s how you ’roku and roll to the music of your own beat.
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
Toyota GR86 6MT
Engine 2387cc, 16v, flat4, nat-asp
Transmission 6spd manual
Top Speed 225km/h
Fuel Consumption 8.8l/100km