Toyota GR86 coupe review
“The GR86 is perhaps the best affordable sports car you can buy… That is, if you can get hold of one”
- Deft handling
- Slick manual gearbox
- Great value for money
- Cheap-feeling interior
- Not as fast as other sports cars
- Sold out in the UK
Cars are designed to do it all nowadays: they must be fun to drive, while remaining practical, economical and usable everyday. This means there isn’t that much demand for affordable sports cars, with this segment shrinking more by the year.
Thankfully, there remain a handful of models on sale to scratch that insatiable itch for something impractical and sporty, even if you don’t quite have the cash for a Ferrari. The Mazda MX-5 has long been the go-to for this kind of car, but Toyota has got a new offering in the form of the much-anticipated GR86.
The Toyota GR86 is the replacement for the acclaimed GT86, plus the spiritual successor to the iconic Corolla GT (AE86) Coupe of the eighties. Like the cars that came before it, the GR86 is a sports car in its very purest form. Toyota has refined the ‘86 for this latest generation, but in doing so, has it created the perfect sports car concoction?
The main upgrade for the GR86 over its predecessor is its powertrain; the GT86’s 2.0-litre 197bhp boxer engine often felt underpowered. The new car fixes this with a more powerful 231bhp unit which should make the car feel much more capable. Other minor mechanical tweaks have also been made such as a chassis that is now 50% stiffer than before, thanks to extra bracing.
The car has also undergone a cosmetic overhaul, with a swoopier design, akin to the bigger and more expensive Toyota Supra. On the inside, changes for the GR86 are more subtle, with a refined layout and a modernised infotainment setup.
Starting from just under £30,000, it's hard to dismiss the GR86 as anything less than a bargain. Buyers can choose from a slick six-speed manual gearbox or a similarly smooth automatic; the former, as expected, offers the greatest driver engagement.
Apart from that, there is only one other choice facing UK GR86 buyers: what colour to pick. Rather stingily, Toyota only offers one free colour: black. If you fancy something colourful like the pearlescent red shown in the press photos, be prepared to fork out an extra £965. Metallic greyscale colours are also available for £645.
Unfortunately, none of that matters if you can’t get hold of one. The GR86 has been limited to just a two-year production run due to changes in emissions and safety regulations – both of which will make building the car impossible. When it went on sale in April 2022, the UK allocation for the GR86 sold out in just 90 minutes. We can only hope Toyota finds a way to build a handful more, just so more people can get their hands on one of the last affordable, analogue sports cars.
MPG, running costs & CO2
In keeping with its ‘back-to-basics’ sports car formula, the engine in the GR86 is suitably simplistic. While this should keep maintenance costs down, the lack of a turbocharger or hybrid system means that it is far from the most efficient engine out there.
Toyota claims the GR86 can return a combined economy figure of up to 32.1mpg – significantly less than the equivalent Mazda MX-5. The ‘86’s emissions figures are similarly high – with the car emitting 197g of CO2/km, not far off a diesel Range Rover.
Taxing the GR86 will cost drivers £165 per year, and while insurance figures have not been confirmed, it will likely sit in a relatively high insurance group, thanks to its sports car status and peppy engine.
Engines, drive & performance
The main reason people buy a sports car is the way it handles, and the GR86 is one of the most satisfying cars in its class to drive. A rear-wheel-drive setup means the GR86 corners like a much more sophisticated performance car. The steering is nicely weighted and Toyota has stiffened the ‘86’s chassis for this latest model by 50%, allowing it to feel suitably poised at all speeds.
Buyers can choose from either a manual or an automatic transmission, both with six gears. We’d recommend saving £2,000 and opting for the manual, as it is satisfying to use and suits the involved nature of the GR86.
Our main issue with the old GT86 was its notable lack of power, and while the GR86 isn’t going to be winning any drag races, Toyota has solved this problem by adding just a bit more muscle. Under the bonnet sits a 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that produces 231bhp - 34bhp more than the outgoing car. From a standstill, the 0-62mph sprint takes a brisk 6.3 seconds (6.7 seconds in the automatic), which is marginally quicker than the range-topping 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5.
On the move, the GR86’s engine works best if you let the revs build, allowing you to extract the optimum amount of power. But once again, it’s all part of the driver-focused nature of this car.
Interior & comfort
The Toyota GR86 is a sports car that you can drive every day; it doesn’t quite offer the refinement of a luxury saloon car or even a hot family hatchback, but it isn’t a spine-shaking supercar either.
On the inside, the GR86 is best described as functional than anything else. While there is nothing overtly wrong with the design, it won’t quite set your hair on fire the same way the car’s handling will. Nevertheless, everything feels well-screwed together and durable, despite the obvious cost-cutting measures.
As back-to-basics as the GR86 claims to be, it cannot escape the technological age as all cars come with a digital instrument cluster and central infotainment touchscreen. The former is relatively simple, only showing the current speed and basic engine readings. However, it does change its appearance to something a tad sportier whenever the car is put into its ‘Track mode’ setting.
The eight-inch infotainment screen feels more like an aftermarket unit than it does one that has been fitted from the factory. There are very few functions built-in, although all cars get wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
There is only one specification for the UK, which comes fully-loaded with equipment. All cars get the aforementioned touchscreen as well as 18-inch gloss-black alloy wheels, LED headlights, heated sport seats with ‘ultrasuede’ upholstery, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot monitoring and a reversing camera. The only paid options are paint colour and gearbox choice.
Practicality & boot space
By definition, a sports car isn’t the most practical of vehicles. However, the GR86 is surprisingly usable. For starters, unlike many small coupes and roadsters, it has a small set of back seats for occasional use. These are really meant for children or short journeys; don’t expect to be chauffeuring anyone around anytime soon.
There is also a decent-sized boot; this provides an ample 226 litres of space - 94 litres more than you’d find in an MX-5. Plus, if you’re not using the rear seats, you can fold them down to slide larger items such as suitcases inside. Despite this, an Audi TT’s boot is roomier still (at 305 litres) and comes with a more practical hatchback tailgate.
Reliability & safety
Toyota is renowned for the reliability and dependability of its cars; the brand placed an impressive fifth out of 29 manufacturers in our 2021 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with just 15.3% of owners reporting faults. Neither the GR86 nor the old GT86 sold in big enough numbers to individually feature in our Driver Power surveys, but we expect both to uphold the Japanese brand’s near-unbeatable reputation.
The GR86 is yet to undergo Euro NCAP’s rigorous safety testing, but we expect it to do well – like other Toyotas. All cars in the range come as standard with a reversing camera, plus rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. However, automatic cars also benefit from forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and lane keep assist. Unfortunately, these features are unavailable with the manual gearbox.