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Toyota GR86 Manual Review: Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? Almost!

A palette cleanser like the GR86 reminds you what greatness can come out of simplicity.
James Wong
James Wong
10 Apr 2023
Toyota has created probably the greatest affordable sports coupe this year, or even the last decade.

What we like:
New, enlarged engine now enhances the whole package
Manual gearbox option is cheaper than automatic
Stupendous fun to drive
Fantastic mix of daily drivability and rawness
What we dislike:
The full-sized spare tyre in the boot does limit space quite a bit

Every now and then, there are press cars that are so good to drive that I whittle down their fuel tanks to their empty bottom. Then I top up fresh gas out of my own wallet, so that I can drive them more. They are very rare, probably only one popping out every year or so.

One of those is the GR86. This might surprise some of you, as it is just the facelifted version of a car that already exists, the GT86 that came before it.

But there are enough changes made in the nip-and-tuck that have quite literally transformed the car. Chief of these is a new, enlarged 2.4-litre boxer four engine dubbed the FA24, shared with the Subaru (we also see it in the new WRX, albeit turbocharged). With 230 hp and 250 Nm, the GR86 now has serious sports car pace, accomplishing the 0-100 km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds.

It’s not face contorting fast, but it’s so thrilling to redline the engine at every gear, you just don’t really care. Where the last GT86 made it feel like hard work to go quickly, the GR86 just rewards in buckets whenever you try extracting maximum power.

Could it be the sound? Perhaps - the GR86 sold by Borneo Motors is equipped with piped in sound in the cabin, which actually is pretty tuneful. I don’t really mind it, as it makes me feel like I am driving at 200 km/h when in reality the people at the bus stop I just passed didn’t even lift up their heads from their phones to look. That’s quite ideal if you think about it - you won’t be labelled a nuisance by bystanders despite pushing the car’s limits.

Other less obvious changes include an increase of the car’s length by 15 mm, and its wheelbase by 5mm. This could be partially the reason why Toyota claims the car is now 50% stiffer than before.

On the inside, light changes were made which gives a modern touch, including a fully featured infotainment system as well as instrument gauges that can transform when you hit Track mode. There are also nice sporty digital touches including a lap timer and a G-force metre. It’s not a luxurious place by any means, but it feels like it can last several lifetimes.

The fundamentals of the car largely remain the same otherwise - weight of just under 1.3 tons means the car is an absolute featherweight in modern times. It doesn’t come equipped with auto start-stop (thank heavens), a hint that it is a product of a bygone era we yearn for. There is a manual gearbox option for $8k less than the automatic (choose the former please) - and you get glorious three pedals to really exploit the car to its full potential.

Needless to say, the car is absolutely stunning to drive. It seems like every flaw has been surgically removed from the GR86, as you would expect from the Japanese. Gear ratios are perfectly spaced, allowing you to redline first and second gear and get mind blowing thrills while doing so - and only hitting legal highway speed limits as a mere consequence.

Damping is spot on, being a right mix of sport and GT-like comfort, which is a huge achievement in a car so compact and lightweight. Driver and passengers will not have a problem using the GR86 day in, day out. But perhaps the rear seats are best reserved for kids.

Steering feel is deliciously good and perfect handling balance means you can drive the car with plenty of feedback on your fingertips. Track mode brings about a freer ESP system, but the standard ESP “on” setting is so good, you wouldn’t really find yourself switching. Even with some loss of traction, the car allows gentle sideways action without curtailing power.

If I want to nitpick, the full-sized spare tyre in the boot seems like an afterthought, protruding out from the boot floor and uncarpeted. It may limit the touring ability of the GR86 somewhat, given it doesn’t already have a big boot. However, I suspect it may be designed as such for weight distribution.

Sans the crazy taxes in Singapore, Toyota has created probably the greatest affordable sports coupe this year, or even the last decade. It’s a car you will want to keep going back into for a drive, every time.

Photos by Horizon Drivers' Club


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