A lot has changed in the 10 years since the Toyota 86 burst onto the scene, changing our perception of ‘affordable performance’ and the way we looked at the Japanese brand.
Back in 2012 when the 86 arrived Toyota had a reputation for dependable but uninspiring-to-drive cars like the Corolla and Camry.
Fast forward to 2022 and Toyota is in the middle of unleashing a new wave of performance cars under the Gazoo Racing (GR) banner.
The new GR86 joins the GR Yaris and GR Supra, with the GR Corolla following before the end of the year - with more likely to come after that…
While the GR86 is still a few months from hitting showrooms, the company gave CarsGuide a chance to sample the new model for the first time in Australia.
Unfortunately it was only a handful of laps of Sydney Motorsport Park, so not enough for our usual comprehensive road test, but it was enough to get a taste of what’s to come so you know what to expect.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The GR 86 gets dual-zone climate control and a faux-leather-wrapped gear selector.
Toyota is still yet to release final pricing and specifications, however, given its twin - the Subaru BRZ - is already on sale we can make some educated guesses.
Toyota is expected to continue its two-tier line-up, with the entry-grade GT and better-equipped GTS. The current range starts at just $32,180 for the GT manual and rises to $37,380 for the GTS manual.
As you’d expect after a decade of inflation and with a newer, better-equipped new model, the GR86 is expected to cost more. In the case of the Subaru, the BRZ range begins at $38,990 for the entry-grade and rises to $40,190 for the high-grade manual or $43,990 for the automatic model.
Historically Toyota undercut Subaru on price, so it’s highly possible the GR 86 will be positioned at a slightly lower price.
Our test car was seemingly the higher-grade specification, mirroring much of the same equipment we’ve seen in BRZ. This includes 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, an integrated rear spoiler and keyless entry and ignition.
Inside the new, better-presented cabin there’s dual-zone climate control, a new 7.0-inch digital dash display, a new 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, a faux-leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector and seats trimmed in a combination of cloth and Alcantara.
Our particular car was fitted with two-tone black and red trim, with red carpet, which isn’t confirmed for the high-grade model but is likely to be an optional extra.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
While the GR86 is an evolutionary design with a very similar silhouette, the details of the new design give the new model a more sophisticated look compared to the out-going model.
It seems the need to create a design that appeased both Toyota and Subaru management resulted in a car that looks unique rather than a member of either line-up. Lined up alongside a GR Yaris there’s very little family resemblance between the two Gazoo Racing models.
At the front, the grille is slightly larger and there are new intakes at the corners which replace the fog lights on the old model. The headlights are expected to be LEDs, with a fresh design for the daytime running lights.
Down the side there’s a new vent behind the front wheel but that’s the only obvious difference because the glasshouse is the same as the old model; the giveaway that this is more a major refresh than an all-new generation model.
The details of the new design give the new model a more sophisticated look compared to the out-going model.
The rear end is a more dramatic area of change, with the better integrated rear spoiler part of an overhauled boot lid. This also accommodates redesigned tail-lights and a revised rear bumper that keeps the twin exhaust pipes but ditches the old model’s diffuser and memorable triangular rain light.
The cabin was where the major design work was needed though, with the cheap-looking interior one of the biggest criticisms of the out-going 86. Thankfully Toyota was listening and has made some major changes to lift the overall presentation as well as improving the smaller details.
From a distance the cabin, specifically the dashboard, is a far more cohesive design than the previous 86, with an integrated multimedia system that replaces the modular unit in the old car, which frankly looked out-dated back in 2012.
The switchgear is also a major step forward, looking better quality and feeling more premium to the touch.
The smaller details, like the faux-suede on the instrument panel top and on the seats, also adds to the more polished look and feel for this new model.
How practical is the space inside? 6/10
Practicality is a relative term with the GR86, it’s a compact sports coupe so if you’re looking for family transport this is the wrong place to come. Even compared to compact hot hatches this is a step behind thanks to its two-door layout, cramped back seats and small boot.
Having said that, Toyota has tried to make the most of the space the GR86 offers and there are some meaningful changes over the old model.
Starting with the seats, the model we tested was comfortable and supportive but personally (as someone approximately 180cm tall) I would have liked some more adjustment downwards because I felt like I was sitting a touch too high.
But space up front is good and the GR86 is best considered as a two-seat car because the two spaces in the back should be considered for emergency use only.
That’s because not only is there very little legroom in the back, the rear window slopes downwards to cut into the available headroom too.
Forget about fitting adults in comfort back there or even teenagers, any average-sized child above eight or nine will struggle to get comfortable in the rear seats.
The GR86 is best considered as a two-seat car because the two spaces in the back should be considered for emergency use only.
On the positive side there is better cabin storage in this new model, specifically a new lidded centre console box between the front seats. This was an open area in the old model so you couldn’t hide valuables out of the way, which was a pain. This new lidded box features a pair of cupholders as well as an AUX input and a pair of USB power outlets.
There’s another small storage space just ahead of it in the centre console, to drop your small items or another cup. There are also bottle holders in each door.
Toyota may not have provided final specifications but we know from the BRZ that the boot is now 201 litres (VDA). Subaru offers a full-size spare wheel but we’ll have to await confirmation if Toyota will do the same after it dropped the spare in favour of a puncture-repair kit early on in the car’s life.
The original 86 was designed especially to fit a full set of spare wheels and tyres with the back seats dropped down, because Toyota wanted to encourage owners to take their car to the track.
It’s not clear yet if that remains possible with the slight reduction in boot capacity and will have to be answered when the final production version reaches our shores.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
This is where the really meaningful changes have happened, the ones that long-time 86 owners have been pleading for - more power and more torque. To achieve that goal Toyota went with the simple solution - more capacity.
The old 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine has been replaced by a new 2.4-litre flat-four that makes 174kW at 7000rpm and 250Nm at 3700rpm.
That’s a significant bump up from the smaller engine, which maxed out at 152kW/212Nm with the manual gearbox and only 147kW/205Nm with the automatic transmission.
The old 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine has been replaced by a new 2.4-litre flat-four.
However, with the new model both the six-speed manual and the six-speed automatic will feature the same power and torque outputs thanks to upgrades to the auto.
Drive is still sent to the rear wheels, maintaining one of the major selling-points of this compact coupe.
The boxer layout is because it’s a Subaru engine, largely the same one found in the new WRX, albeit without the turbochargers. The flat-four layout was chosen for the original model because of its ability to help keep the centre-of-gravity lower, so it was logical for the format to remain given its success.
How much fuel does it consume? 6/10
This is another official figure we’ll have to wait for, but again Subaru gives us a very clear guide to what we can expect. The BRZ is rated at 9.5-litres per 100km for the manual and or 8.8L/100km for the automatic.
Not surprisingly given the increase in engine size and performance there’s an increase in fuel consumption too, the out-going model was rated at 8.4L/100km and 7.8L/100km respectively for the manual and auto.
Given our driving time was restricted to the track we’ll have to wait until we can get it on the road to see how those claimed figures stack up in a real-world road test.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
It’s not just the engine that’s a Subaru contribution to this joint-venture, the GR86 also benefits from the Subaru 'EyeSight' suite of safety systems.
That means, in addition to the typical safety items like the reversing camera and seven airbags, the GR86 comes loaded with active safety equipment. Or specifically the automatic version, at least, because the self-shifting transmission allows for great functionality.
ANCAP is yet to assess the new BRZ/GR86 for a safety score.
Based on the Subaru experience, the manual version of the GR86 will likely miss out on forward AEB but will still be equipped with rear AEB, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
ANCAP is yet to assess the new BRZ/GR86 for a safety score.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 5/10
This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer at the moment because the new engine means comparing it to the out-going model isn’t possible. And comparing to Subaru’s prices for the BRZ is probably not representative either given the different brands often vary significantly on servicing charges.
There’s no reason to think the GR86 won’t be covered by Toyota’s standard five-year/unlimited kilometre program that it has for the rest of the range.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
The GR86 is a car you can position with precision, which makes it a genuine pleasure to drive.
While most will stick to driving on the road, for many GR86 owners hitting the race track is a key reason for buying it. It has a cult-like following in enthusiast circles so how it handles on a circuit is an important factor to consider.
Right away, from the moment you put your foot down as you hit the circuit the bigger engine and what it brings to the GR86 is all-too-apparent. There’s noticeably more power and a much broader torque curve that makes it feel a lot quicker from the driver’s seat.
On the stopwatch Toyota claims it will run from zero to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds, which is 1.1s quicker than the old model. But you don’t need a stopwatch and it’s not just the initial acceleration that you feel.
Down Sydney Motorsport Park’s long front straight the GR86 powers to nearly 180km/h without running out of puff before the first corner comes up. Equally, powering out of the corners, where the increased torque is most noticeable, the GR86 feels much quicker across the road.
One of the biggest surprises with this new, more potent engine is how easily it will slide the tail out. Even with the stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, the engine is able to overpower the rear tyres on demand and hang the back end out.
For many GR86 owners hitting the race track is a key reason for buying it.
This is great news if you enjoy that kind of driving (in a safe environment, of course) but if you don’t the stability control system allows a bit of a slide before quickly bringing the car back to straight.
This is something the old model simply didn’t do, it was a much more difficult car to slide around, even at low speeds, because even with the low-friction tyres it rode on, the engine was simply not powerful enough to break traction easily.
The other changes that are apparent on the track are the tweaks to the chassis, with Toyota claiming the new model has a 50 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity.
This translates to a more direct feeling to the steering and more responsive handling. The GR86 is a car you can position with precision which makes it a genuine pleasure to drive.
We can’t comment on ride quality yet because Sydney Motorsport Park doesn’t really represent Australian roads with its very smooth surface, so we’ll reserve judgement on that until we get an extended drive.
From the moment you put your foot down, the bigger engine and what it brings to the GR86 is all-too-apparent.
Obviously we’ll have to reserve definitive judgement on the merits of this new GR86 until we get it on the road, but our initial drive was overwhelmingly positive. Toyota has managed to retain the fun-to-drive character of the out-going model but improve the two key areas it needed to - more grunt and a better cabin.
The extra power and torque isn’t a huge leap forward on paper but makes a major difference on the track. And the new interior is a massive leap forward from the old model’s cheap cabin.
While it may not change anyone’s perception of Toyota, given the GR Supra and GR Yaris are newer, it continues the good work that the original began a decade ago.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer.
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