Not everyone who wants a fun-to-drive car can afford a Porsche. That's why I've always been a fan of Toyota's little 2+2 coupe and its Subaru sibling.
After skipping the 2021 model year, the second-generation Toyota GR 86 returns with more horsepower, sleeker styling and a vastly updated interior.
Because this is a next-gen vehicle, the easy answer to the "what's new" question is everything. But there are a few key highlights to showcase.
The biggest change is to the interior. While it might still look "dated" by 2021 standards - especially in the area of infotainment - there are several key improvements. Analog gauges have been replaced by a digital cluster with a welcome animation that swirls when you power up the vehicle. The center stack looks cleaner and more modern, and though the infotainment system itself looks like it's from the early aughts, it does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - even though it's a wired-in system, I'm still considering that a win.
It's also worth noting because of the collaboration with Subaru, the guts of the infotainment system are from Subaru, so Toyota owners might think the graphics look a little foreign.
On the exterior of the vehicle, the front and rear fascia are completely redesigned, and you now have standard LED lights all around - front, rear and daytime running. Plus, functional air vents have been added at the front.
More power is more better
The biggest change for 2022, however, is going to be the engine. The GR 86 upgrades to the 2.4-liter Boxer engine, which comes with a boost in power. This vehicle now delivers 228 horsepower and 184-pound-feet of torque. Previous numbers with the 2.0-liter engine were 205 and 156, respectively - that's a significant jump for a small car.
I know a lot of people will (and have) comment that it could use even more power, but I'm going to say nope to that.
During the press presentation, the folks at Toyota pointed to a quote from rally driver Colin McRae, which said: "Straight roads are for fast cars, turns are for fast drivers."
And that is 100% where the GR 86 shines. With near perfect weight balance, rear-wheel drive and peak power now hitting at 3,700 RPMs (instead of 6,600 RPMs), this sport coupe provides just the right amount of power for handling curves with glee.
Ride & handling
During the first-drive event, we were limited to driving the GR 86 on the racetrack at Monticello Motor Club, a country club racetrack in New York. While that made a fun day, it was also difficult to get a handle on how the GR 86 does under normal driving conditions on city streets.
But what I can tell you is it is generally a vast improvement over the previous generation.
We were able to test the 2020 and 2022 models back-to-back with both the manual and automatic transmissions. The manual was a much smoother shifter, and the automatic didn't over rev, so it shifted up and down quicker, which translated to better acceleration out of the corners.
The 2022 GR 86 also felt tighter and more planted, so you could take corners more aggressively and, again, accelerate more quickly.
And to answer I question I got asked on social media a lot: Yes, it has rev matching.
But how is this different than the BRZ?
Yes, the underpinnings of the GR 86 and BRZ are the same. Yes, they have the same engine. Yes, they are built in the same plant. Yes, they have similar shapes and share the same infotainment system. There are still some differences.
What you don't see is the GR 86 has different springs, and the steering and throttle response have been specifically tuned for Toyota - so enthusiasts will notice a slight difference in the ride and handling of the two vehicles.
More visible changes include the grille, black mirror caps and the duck bill spoiler that comes with the Premium trim.
Additionally, though the BRZ will be offering performance packages, the GR 86 has opted to offer performance accessories instead, so the buyer can customize a la cart.
What's it cost?
The 2022 GR 86 will only have two trims the base GR 86 and the Premium. The current 86 has three: 86, 86 GT and 86 Hakone Edition. The current base price is $28,775, and it tops out at $30,865.
At the time of writing this article, Toyota hadn't posted official pricing for the 2022 model. But they did vaguely say pricing would stay under $30k with destination. They were not clear, however, if both models would be under $30k - or just the base. So, expect a slight price bump for this model year, and if it keeps in line with current pricing, the Premium trim will cost about $2k more than the base.
A couple items to note
During a first drive, it's really hard to pick out all the nuances, which include cool features and things that could become annoying. But there are two small things to note.
The first one I already mentioned, but I'm calling it out again: There is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (yay!), but it is not wireless. It's a wired-in system, and the USB-A connector port is located in the armrest console. So, you either need to leave your phone in the console once you plug it in or awkwardly place it in a cup holder with a wire protruding from the bin.
The other thing to note: There is a lot of great standard safety content - but it's only available on the vehicles with an automatic transmission. So, things such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and sway warning will not be on the manual transmission vehicles. Available blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert will be, but automatic reverse braking, again, is only on automatic vehicles. I know this probably won't affect the majority of buyers, but it's worth knowing.
The bottom line on the GR 86
I'm one of the rare people who will hold out as long as I can before I buy a vehicle with an automatic transmission. So, I love the fact Toyota will be offering a manual in both grades - oh, and it happens to have faster 0-60-mph times than the automatic (6.1 seconds vs. 6.6 seconds).
The GR 86 is a fun and reasonably affordable sports coupe that can make a trip to the track or be a daily driver. It has enough cargo space for two people to take a road trip, a back seat for the (very) occasional extra passengers and comfortable seats for a long leisurely drive or a short aggressive one.
Toyota had done a great job with this update, and those who are looking for a driver's car will be able to overlook the small tech deficiencies.