Skip advert
Advertisement
In-depth reviews

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”

Carbuyer Rating

4.3 out of 5

Owners Rating
Be the first to review

Pros

  • Deft handling
  • Slick manual gearbox
  • Great value for money

Cons

  • Cheap-feeling interior
  • Not as fast as other sports cars
  • Sold out in the UK

Verdict - Is the Toyota GR86 a good car? 

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 performance 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, and it's an absolute belter.

Toyota GR86 models, specs and alternatives

In the last decade, Toyota has leaned into its sports and performance car heritage with a new range of ‘GR’ models. The GR86 is the brand’s replacement for the GT86 sports car, which itself was the spiritual successor to the Corolla GT, often referred to as the AE86. The latter is a nimble, rear-wheel drive sports car with a strong cult following which Toyota aims to revive and refine for modern buyers with the GR86.

The best sports cars 2023Top 10 best sports cars 2024

The focus for the Toyota GR86 isn’t necessarily on-paper performance figures, and there are certainly many faster cars out there. Its ethos is more on driver enjoyment and engagement, in a similar vein to the Mazda MX-5 or now-discontinued Fiat 124 Spider. It’s also worth noting that as with the previous GT86, the latest GR86 was developed alongside the very closely related Subaru BRZ, although the Subaru has not made it to the UK this time around.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

The biggest upgrade over the old Toyota GT86 model is the latest GR86’s larger engine, with the brand having addressed criticism over the old car’s relative lack of grunt. Gone is the 197bhp 2.0-litre boxer engine, now replaced by a 231bhp 2.4-litre unit, and alongside this the chassis has been made 50% stiffer than that of the old car. 

The GR86 gets the same basic silhouette as its GT86 predecessor, but the design has had an overhaul, and its new look bears more of a family resemblance to the more powerful and more expensive Toyota Supra. Refinement has also been improved for the GR86 and it gets a more modern infotainment setup than before.

The Toyota GR86 is also reasonably affordable, with a sub-£32,500 price tag in mid-2023. Be aware, however, that due to demand and limited production numbers Toyota’s small sports car can be difficult to get a hold of. After being temporarily sold out for a period of time, Toyota commissioned another batch of GR86 for eager UK buyers in early 2023, but these sold out quickly.

If you can get a hold of one, you can choose between a slick six-speed manual gearbox or smooth automatic, but it goes without saying that the manual version offers the most in terms of driver engagement. 

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

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 advertised in the press photos, be prepared to fork out an extra £1,000. Metallic greyscale colours – like the silver car we drove – are also available for around £600.

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. In June 2023 Toyota announced another batch of cars would be arriving for those on the waiting list, so more people should be able to get their hands on one of the last affordable, analogue sports cars – even if the price has crept up to just over £32k.

MPG, running costs & CO2

The GR86 is inexpensive to buy, but running costs will be relatively high due to poor emissions and fuel economy

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 and relatively large 2.4-litre capacity means that it’s 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 – but in mixed driving conditions we struggled to manage a figure in the high-twenties. Unless you’re willing to up your fuel budget, the GR86 might not be the best car for covering a high annual mileage. The ‘86’s emissions figures are similarly high – with the car emitting 197g of CO2/km, not far off a diesel Range Rover.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

Taxing the GR86 will cost drivers the standard annual rate, which should be a relatively minor expense. Insurance will prove more expensive – perhaps prohibitively so for some drivers – because the GR86 manual sits in the relatively high insurance group 45 (out of 50). This is quite a few groups higher than the Mazda MX-5 in bands 25 to 31, while the BMW 2 Series Coupe 230i M Sport sits in group 33. Toyota fans craving a GR86 but in need of cheaper insurance may need to go for the automatic, which sits six groups lower.

Engines, drive & performance

The added power over the old car makes the Toyota GR86 a blast to drive

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.

The old GT86 came on economy-focused Michelin Primacy tyres with low grip, intended to make the car more playful at lower speeds. The downside was that it could be quite snappy, especially in poor conditions. The GR86 instead comes with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 performance tyres, and the result is a car which feels more predictable and grippy, without feeling inert.

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.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

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. With just 1,276kg to move along, the GR86 certainly doesn’t feel slow, but it also proves that performance numbers aren’t the most important factor in driving excitement.

Interior & comfort

A relatively dull interior shows where Toyota has cut costs on the GR86

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, rather 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.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

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, so it’s easy to use a navigation app powered by your smartphone so long as you have a signal.

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.

It’s also possible to raid Toyota’s accessories, including exterior roof, side and bonnet decals (around £550), a front lip spoiler (almost £700) and fitted mudflaps for just over £150.

Practicality & boot space

The GR86 is a sports car you can use every day, with a decent boot and occasional rear seats

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. Like an Audi TT’s rear bench, 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 12th out of 32 manufacturers in our 2023 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with just 15% 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 warnings with autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams and lane keep assist. Unfortunately, these features are unavailable with the manual gearbox. 

Skip advert
Advertisement

Which Is Best?

Cheapest

  • Name
    2.4 D-4S 2dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £30,149

Most Economical

  • Name
    2.4 D-4S 2dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £30,149

Fastest

  • Name
    2.4 D-4S 2dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £30,149

Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

Skip advert
Advertisement

Recommended

The best cheap fun cars from under £5k to over £10k
Best cheap fun cars
Best cars
23 Apr 2024

The best cheap fun cars from under £5k to over £10k

Bentley Bentayga review – an opulent and comfortable SUV
Bentley Bentayga Hybrid
In-depth reviews
17 Apr 2024

Bentley Bentayga review – an opulent and comfortable SUV

Porsche Taycan review – one of the best EV driver’s cars
Porsche Taycan
In-depth reviews
3 Apr 2024

Porsche Taycan review – one of the best EV driver’s cars

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio SUV review
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio front quarter dynamic
In-depth reviews
22 Mar 2024

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio SUV review

Have You Considered

Mercedes CLE review – kills two birds with one stone
Mercedes CLE UK drive
In-depth reviews
10 Jan 2024

Mercedes CLE review – kills two birds with one stone

BMW 2 Series Coupe review
Best Sports Car: BMW 2 Series Coupe
In-depth reviews
25 Nov 2022

BMW 2 Series Coupe review

Most Popular

Engine management light: top 5 causes of amber engine warning light
Engine warning light
Tips and advice
17 Apr 2024

Engine management light: top 5 causes of amber engine warning light

All-new Citroen C3 Aircross squeezes 7 seats into small SUV body
Citroen C3 Aircross front quarter
News
18 Apr 2024

All-new Citroen C3 Aircross squeezes 7 seats into small SUV body

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers
Carbuyer best new car deals hero
Deals
19 Apr 2024

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers

More on GR86

Top 10 best driver's cars 2024
Best drivers cars
Best cars
21 Feb 2024

Top 10 best driver's cars 2024

You don’t need a supercar to enjoy a twisty road – these driver’s cars offer just as much fun

Tips & advice

View All
Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
26 Mar 2024

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide
Public EV charge point
Tips and advice
11 Jan 2023

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?
PCP vs HP
Tips and advice
17 May 2022

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?

Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Tips and advice
21 Mar 2024

Average speed cameras: how do they work?

Best cars

View All
Top 10 best car interiors
Peugeot 208 hatchback
Best cars
25 Jun 2021

Top 10 best car interiors

Top 10 best electric cars 2024
best electric cars
Best cars
28 Mar 2024

Top 10 best electric cars 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024
The best cheap-to-run cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024
Fastest hot hatchbacks hero
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024