We headed to Monticello Motor Club in rural New York to drive the new Toyota GR 86. The 2+2 sports coupe shares its powertrain and chassis with the Subaru BRZ, with unique Toyota styling and tuning. The latest version has a larger 2.4-liter Boxer engine that produces 228 hp and offers a much-improved torque curve.
Initially marketed in the U.S. as the Scion FR-S and later as the Toyota 86, the new version adds a "GR" to its name, short for Gazoo Racing, Toyota's performance car sub-brand. If you look closely at the GR 86's grille, you'll notice that the hexagonal shapes are the letter "G," a motif that repeats itself on the fabric seats in the base model. One bonus of GR ownership is that all buyers get a 1-year membership to the National Auto Sport Association (NASA), including access to one free High-Performance Driving Event and discounted admission to NASA-sanctioned events.
You can see the differences between the previous Toyota 86 and the 2022 GR 86 here. The new model is sleeker, with fewer frills on the body and a bold new front end that reminds us a bit of the original Jaguar F-Type - especially the "J" blade daytime running lights around the LED headlights. Those are functional left and right intakes, flowing air to the wheels and out the side vents. The car's overall dimensions are pretty unchanged, other than lowering the new model by 10mm and stretching its wheelbase by 5mm.
The GR 86 comes in two flavors: a base model with 17" alloy wheels and cloth seats, and a Premium trim that gets 18" wheels, a duckbill rear spoiler, and bucket seats with leather trim and Alcantara inserts. Mechanically, the two versions are identical.
The most notable change for 2022 is the new engine. The prior model had a 2.0-liter Boxer engine, while the new one packs a 2.4-liter. This results in a boost of 23 horsepower and 28 lb-ft. of torque. The more significant change is its improved torque curve. Previously, you didn't hit peak torque until 6600 RPM, and now you get there at 3700 RPM. This makes a huge difference in the way the GR 86 accelerates at launch, and there aren't any weird dips in the torque curve like the prior engine struggled with. That improved powerband means that once we hit 3rd gear, the car was happy for much of the 4.1-mile race circuit, requiring only the occasional downshift into the corners and just one upshift on the longest straight.
With a near-perfect 53/47 weight balance and a nice low center of gravity, the GR 86 shines in the corners. A Torsen limited-slip differential helps distribute torque across the back wheels, while upgrades to chassis rigidity, springs, and struts result in an overall more stable ride than before. There's less body roll here, making the new car more predictable while still being plenty of fun to drive. The upgraded electric power steering is noticeable, offering up a quicker and more direct response than before.
Like the prior generation 86, the GR 86 comes with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. The manual is more fun and engaging, features improvements to 4th gear, smoother diagonal shifts, and has been strengthened to handle the increased power. The automatic got upgrades to its clutch discs and torque converter. The automatic is best when you use the paddle shifters, as it didn't always downshift for us when entering corners and only let us get close to the redline in Track mode. The auto will get you slightly better fuel economy, while the manual shaves half a second off 0-to-60 time, so you can guess which we would choose.
While the GR 86 weighs about 75 pounds more than its predecessor, it's still quite svelte, ranging from 2811 pounds for the manual model to 2851 pounds for the automatic. The added weight wasn't noticeable, and it still felt like a lightweight sports car to us.
Everything you need to see while driving is visible on the new digital instrument panel, which changes what information is displayed depending on drive mode. Normal mode displays MPG and distance-to-empty, Sport mode replaces that with a G-force meter, while Track mode gives focus to the tachometer and gear indicator while reducing the size of the speedometer. The torque curve graphic is there as if to brag about how improved it is.
The Premium model rides on Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, making the GR 86 grip really well in the corners. That makes the base model's cheaper Primacy tires preferable if you want to do lots of drifting. But if you're looking for the fastest time around the track, the Premium's stickier rubber and increased downforce from the spoiler will give you an edge. Still, we could get both models to break loose into a controlled powerslide, but it takes a bit more effort in the Premium.
The interior of the GR 86 has a slick technical look to it that befits a sports car. There's a new multimedia system with an 8" touchscreen and support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The seats offer good bolstering and help to keep you in place when cornering and are more comfortable than those in the outgoing 86. The lower cushion bolsters felt a bit more accomodating to those of us with broader and larger frames.
While Toyota says it's tweaked the exhaust on the GR 86 a bit, there's only so much sound you can get from a naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine. To that end, there is some artificial sound enhancement pumped in through a speaker in the cabin for your auditory pleasure. Of course, this car is a great entry point for tuners, so an aftermarket exhaust is always an option for pumping up the volume.
As a 2+2, the rear seat is quite cramped and best for kids, your backpack, or maybe the family dog. But fold that seat down, and there's enough room to carry a complete set of tires to the track - much better use of the space if you ask us.
Toyota has yet to announce pricing for the 2022 GR 86, but they say that it will start "under $30,000" with the first cars hitting dealerships in November 2021. There aren't many options out there for entry-level sports cars these days, but we're happy that the choices out there are quality ones. The GR 86 is a blast to drive on the track or on the street and is sure to be a popular ride with the tuner crowd.