Toyota GR86 review
Turn the clock back 20 years and the range of sports cars available offered a pleasing range of affordable and rakish ‘bang for buck’ machines. Today, most manufacturers see such things as a folly with the business case for a new SUV being far stronger.
However, Toyota is keen to prove that it’s still possible to please the petrolheads for sensible money. It succeeded a decade ago with the now coveted GT86, and now its descendant aims to do the same again.
Toyota has brought all of its motorsport efforts under the Gazoo Racing umbrella, and now many of its more exciting road car prospects carry the ‘GR’ badging. Considering GR cars have only been knocking about for a few years – the blink of an eye in comparison to Ford’s RS or Volkswagen’s household GTI badge – it has gained quite a following.
The rally homologation special GR Yaris is a pint-sized supercar slayer, and the GR Supra revived that legendary nameplate, while even the Hilux pickup is soon going to get in on the GR bandwagon. Toyota’s lightweight approachable sports car offering joins this party as the GR86.
Select's rating score* - 4.4 / 5
At a Glance
The Toyota GT86 was applauded for its fun-loving nature, lightweight agility, and ability to perform majestic power slides upon command. It was a simple recipe that riveted a grin to the faces of real car enthusiasts, and the GR86 aims to continue that lineage.
This low slung machine features a more dynamic appearance than its predecessor, incorporating a more curvaceous style and some interesting aerodynamic details.
The large front intakes, pressure-relieving gills and rear ducktail spoiler are all courtesy of Gazoo Racing’s motorsport know-how. Its chassis has received considerable reinforcement over the GT86, all while the GR86 tips the scales 10kg less like-for-like.
True to the car’s purity, there’s only one trim level for the UK. These sports cars come with 18-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential, reversing camera and an 8.0-inch infotainment screen.
While the GR86 is clearly from the same mould as its forefather, two substantial differences enhance the whole experience. Under the car’s long bonnet is a new engine, dubbed FA24. This is a 2.4-litre boxer unit – up from 2.0-litres in the GT86 – that aims to deliver more mid-range mechanical muscle.
It’s still naturally aspirated and connected to the rear wheels via a delightfully mechanical six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is also available) but it delivers a more flexible drive that makes it easier to live with day-to-day.
We all take tyres for granted, but they are one of the biggest performance differentiators on any car. After all, it’s these four chunks of rubber that are the only part of the vehicle that makes contact with the ground.
Toyota famously fitted the GT86 with the same tyres you’d find on a Prius, not for efficiency, but to reduce grip levels and boost driver involvement. This time the Japanese firm has opted for stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres to increase overall grip and sharpen handling.
Those two key details aside, the new Toyota GR86 sticks to the refreshingly simplistic formula of being a relatively light, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car.
Performance & Drive
Slipping into the supportive bolstered seats and firing up the GR86 results in a distinctively deep idle from that four-cylinder boxer engine. The manual shifter falls to hand with ease and delights with a meaningful clunk when engaging a gear. It’s clear from the first few moments of driving that the GR86’s new engine is much more amenable at low speeds.
The GT86 lacked mid-range torque, meaning you had to rev the car or work the gearbox to make progress – not so much with the GR86. Yes, it still wants to rev to get the best from it, but the added torque lower in the rev range makes for an easier companion at junctions and roundabouts. Its ride is also firm but fair, cementing the idea of this being a good daily driver.
Leaving the urban sprawl behind and venturing onto a twisting ribbon of Tarmac proves to be the perfect canvas for the GR86. Its agile chassis and initial bite from those new tyres culminate in a car that positively leaps from bend to bend. There’s notably more front-end grip available to pitch the nose into an apex, and its weighty steering proves to be a precise rudder when driving at a pace.
A touch of body roll is no bad thing - it helps inform the driver where the car’s weight is shifting - and the suspension handles such transitions with a predictable motion. There’s great satisfaction in absorbing the chassis’s feedback and using it to perfectly pivot the car around a sharpening bend.
The new suspension, grippier tyres and added rigidity might have you believe that the Toyota GR86 has lost its sideways sense of humour, but that’s not the case. While the Pilot Sport tyres do boost adhesion, it doesn’t take much encouragement to spark up those rear wheels. Dial back the electronic shackles, pitch the car into a corner on track and mash the throttle, things soon come unstuck. What is more remarkable is how stable the car is when it breaks away, and indeed how effortless it is to collect together.
If you want to learn the basic physics of how to drift a car, Toyota has you covered here. You’ll be grinning like an idiot while performing the alchemy of turning rubber into smoke.
It’ll also do all the normal stuff you expect a car to do, which is nice. But then you’ll want to get back in the car and have fun again.
The beauty of these sorts of entry-level sports cars – not that there are many to choose from these days – is that they don’t cost the Earth to run. Unlike thirstier performance machines, being reasonably light and compact not only has its advantages when it comes to performance but also plays well for overall economy; the GR86 is said to return 32.1mpg according to WLTP testing.
Emissions? You’re looking at 200g/km, so company car drivers won’t escape the clutches of the highest 37% BIK rate.
All Toyotas come with a five-year warranty, and driver surveys prove its cars are frequently amongst the most reliable. Toyota also offers an excellent extended warranty called ‘Toyota Relax’ that can cover the car for up to 10 years and 100,000 miles, long after any lease deal has expired.
An insurance group for the GR86 has yet to be announced, but expect it to rise slightly from the GT86’s group 35 rating.
The Toyota GR86’s cabin is a typically Japanese affair, and by that I mean that it feels well-engineered, durable, and values ergonomics over design. The switchgear has a pleasing resistance when used, and the provision of physical buttons is a godsend in today’s world of virtual dials. Simplistic switchgear also keeps the driver’s focus on the task at hand. That said, it’s a more upmarket proposition than the old GT86 thanks to plusher materials lining facias and hosting a more sculpted dashboard. You will find some harder plastics dotted around, but you get a sense that it's these components that will really stand the test of time.
The GR86 is a 2+2, meaning that it technically does have rear seats. However, they are only big enough to accommodate children – or, more likely, serve as a handy bench to throw a bag on. The boot is a usable 226-litres and features a wider opening lid to help load bulkier items. This car is also capable of carrying a complete set of spare tyres with the rear seats folded flat, further highlighting that Toyota engineers want you to go and have some fun at the track.
Overall this sports car features enough practicality to handle the weekly trip to the supermarket, and is built of sturdy enough stuff to resist the most destructive force on Earth: Toddlers.
All cars come with an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that possesses enough real estate to make using it on the move nice and easy. The active software can be a bit clunky, but the system does support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. One of the first things most people do when getting into a vehicle is connect their phone, so having the functionality of all the apps you’re familiar with is a great asset.
Something else that every Toyota GR86 has is a handy reversing camera. With such a raked rear window, visibility is restricted, yet the camera makes parking a doddle.
A few other nice pieces of tech included for your £29,995 (or more affordable monthly leasing payments) are heated front seats, lane departure alert, adaptive LED headlights and a digital instrument cluster that adapts to the car’s selected mode.
Expecting more gadgetry? You might be looking at the wrong car. The GR86 is primarily about the driving experience, with the gizmos it does possess being a nice bonus.
The Toyota GR86 has yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but the car does feature a good collection of safety systems. Every model is equipped with seven airbags, lane departure warning, collision mitigation via a stereo camera that also recognises brake lights ahead, and adaptive cruise control.
You can also safely install a pair of child seats in the back via Isofix mounting points. The sloping roof and the need to fold the front seat forward don’t always make this an easy task, but it does allow you to make the car seat argument while persuading your partner that a GR86 will serve the family well.
This car offers occupants respectable protection in the event of an accident, but lacks some of the active safety gear that European regulations will require from 2024 - such automatic emergency braking - along with a few other features that would cost too much to engineer into the car. That’s thanks to the manual gearbox, as Subaru’s safety kit (it’s theirs, and Toyota borrows it) is all built to work with an automatic model.
The good news is that means there’s no optional safety kit, so prospective owners needn’t shell out for what could be considered essential equipment.
Toyota is keeping things simple with the GR86 in the UK. There’s one grade with the only option being which paint you should specify. Even the contrasting 18-inch alloy wheels are standard, although other markets do get the option of 17-inch examples with the lower grip tyres previously used by the GT86.
The colour palette sports some interesting choices. Metallic shades of black, white or grey are standard, with the other four optional colours each costing £965. Ignition Red is the ‘poster car’ colour for the GR86 and looks vivid as a pearlescent shade. However, our pick would be the stunning electric blue that really serves to amplify some of the car’s most subtle styling traits.
Everything else is standard, so there’s no need to pay extra to stay toasty warm via heated seats in winter.
Turn the clock back and we were all spoilt for choice when it came to affordable sports coupes, but not so much now. Profitability, cost of manufacturing and a shrinking audience have seen many great model lines put out to pasture, but Toyota endures with the GR86. The car is in a class of one if you want an exacting rival.
The closest in nature is the playful Mazda MX-5 RF. This model features a retractable hardtop for sunnier days and starts under the £30k mark. That said, this is a strict two-seater and has a smaller boot than that of the GR86. A lot of fun though!
Then there’s the Audi TT. Again, not a perfect fit due to being more costly, but it is a 2+2 coupe. This Audi is a considerably more luxurious option and is a little more practical thanks to its ‘lift back’ opening, but it’s nowhere near as enjoyable to drive as an MX-5 or GR86.
Want some fun behind the wheel and more practicality? A hot hatchback might be the solution for you. The new Ford Fiesta ST is a riot to drive, seats five, has a good boot and is cheaper than a Toyota GR86. Of course, it doesn’t have that sports car kudos and won’t do some of the rear-wheel-drive tricks of the Toyota.
The Toyota GR86 is certainly a car to be both celebrated and savoured. It is a fantastic thing that will leave those who love driving plenty satisfied. This machine strikes a great balance between something to calve up your favourite B-road with, and a playmate to send sideways around a track – a fine equilibrium that Toyota has nailed.
The new engine really gives this package a greater breadth of ability, not because it has more power, but because its torque is more consistent. This is something that helps during everyday driving as well as with verve.
However, as great as the GR86 is, you might struggle to get one. Thanks to those pesky safety laws, the car is only going to be on sale in the UK for two years, and the entire stock allocation for that time has been sold. Inadvertently, Toyota has created an instant collector's item.
If you’re desperate to put one of these sports cars on your driveway, you’ll need to find someone willing to part with their car for a premium or hope that Toyota finds some extra bandwidth for a few additional UK cars.
Given how much fun the GR86 is, we can only hope Toyota sees sense!
Where to next?
View our latest Toyota lease deals today!
Looking for a great leasing deal? Check out our incredible range of Special Offers
New coupe? Read our latest Car Reviews and find the right model for you
Want to know more about leasing? Take a look at our comprehensive Leasing Guides
Interested in everything motoring? Why not catch up on all the latest Car Leasing News.
*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Toyota GR86