2022 Toyota GR86 Review: Fun Never Gets Old

After a brief hiatus for model year 2021, the 2022 Toyota GR86 sauntered back onto the market with a host of upgrades. It’s more powerful, more agile, and quicker than it was before. And the price tag is almost identical to that of its popular frenemy, the Mazda Miata.

Many moons ago, a friend of mine had a 1984 Toyota Celica GT. It was red and economical and zippy. Said friend moved to Chicago and within one week, it was stolen. Swiped. Gonzo. The police did find her Celica stripped and totaled later on, but that didn’t do her any good. We mourned her little car together, and she replaced it with another Celica once she left Chicago for the slower pace of South Bend, Indiana.

When I drove the 2022 Toyota GR86, I yearned for those post-college nights out cruising around in the Celica. It has that new/old vibe, as if it exists on the space-time continuum and wouldn’t feel out of place 30 years ago, yet still feels right in 2022. In short, not only did Toyota harness that feeling of nostalgia, but the Japanese automaker took the time to make it better than it was in 2020 with more horsepower, more torque, and improved responsiveness.

2022 Toyota GR86 Specs

  • Base price (as Tested): $28,725 ($31,750)
  • Powertrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder | 6-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 228 @ 7,000 rpm
  • Torque: 184 @ 3,700 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 4
  • Cargo volume: 6.0 cubic feet
  • Curb weight: 2,811 to 2,838 pounds
  • EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city | 27 highway | 22 combined
  • Quick take: The 2022 Toyota GR86 is a starter sports car that can last forever. It’s like tennis: you can learn how to play as a kid and enjoy it well into your 80s.
  • Score: 8/10

The Basics

The GR86 is the smaller of Toyota’s two two-door performance cars, and it’s more or less a carbon copy of the Subaru BRZ. For its second generation, the GR86 earned a Gazoo Racing pedigree (which means Toyota’s racing segment helped improve the car) and a welcome reboot to keep it current. As such, it’s delightful. Like throwing out your arms and running into the wind, the GR86 brings the pure joy of uncomplicated fun. Available in two flavors, base and Premium, only $2,600 separates the trims. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and both variants are offered with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

When I drove the previous version of the 86 in 2020, I thought it was sleek and sprightly for such an affordable car. That was doubly true for the 86 Hakone Edition, enrobed in a gorgeous shade of green. However, critics complained loudly that the old 86 was power deficient. For this generation, the GR86 has a bigger engine (from 2.0 liters to 2.4 liters) and more galloping ponies (an increase from 200 horsepower to 228 hp), a lighter aluminum roof, and a refreshed body style. Torque rings in at 184 pound-feet at 3,700 rpm.

It’s a good-looking car, and I found that when it was parked in my driveway (in a fetching crimson shade called Track bRED) it attracted a fair amount of attention. When the yard crew came by to mow the lawn and blow the leaves off the front porch, the guys stopped work to walk slowly around it and take photos. They might have noticed the more muscular, updated look from the 2020 model, or the fact that it is more than an inch longer (167.9 inches versus 166.7 inches) and taller (51.6 inches versus 50.6 inches) than it was before. The wing tells the tale between the base and Premium models; while the base has a slightly upturned backside, the Premium’s ducktail is significantly more pronounced.

Inside, the GR86 is suitably rakish, with bolstered sport seats that are heated and leather-trimmed with Alcantara inserts on the Premium trim. From the cabin, looking down the long nose of the car felt natural at my height (five feet, five inches) and the driver’s bucket seat is adjustable six ways for a custom fit. My husband, who is broad-shouldered and six feet tall, felt shoehorned into the passenger side (which has four-way adjustable controls), but it was just right for me.

But just because the GR86 is petite in size doesn’t mean it’s cramped. Au contrairemes amis; it feels roomier due to the space behind the front seats that masquerade as a second row. If you don’t need the space for people, that back seat is very handy for purses, backpacks, and maybe even a smallish pet. Finally, the Premium trim comes with aluminum sport pedals, which both look great, depress smoothly, and felt grippy and firm, with the proper amount of give in each one.

Driving the Toyota GR86

The Gazoo team worked its magic on the new GR86, gifting it a reworked chassis and body to balance the power upgrade. It’s more rigid overall due to some updates to the structure, and the whole experience is tighter and crisper. In the turns, I noticed the effects of an improved load transfer and weight distribution, which helps the car feel more balanced overall. It’s not so buttoned down that it’s no longer fun, however. It almost, but not quite, had the same kind of back-end wiggle that makes tossing a Fiat 124 Abarth around a track so fun. The GR86 lets loose its playful personality when it’s zipping around curves, as a sports car should.

I liked the way the short-throw shifter felt in my right hand and how the gears notched in satisfyingly well and with confidence. The brakes on the GR86 responded quickly to a smooth squeeze, not requiring extra effort. The dashboard is low and uncomplicated, as are the gauges, which keep your eyes on the road. The GR86 retains the delightful chutzpah of the Scion FR-S in its DNA, gleefully surfing the gears like an exuberant sea otter. The premium variant rides on 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, and they grip the road, exuding confidence. As I rowed through the gears, I found myself testing its limits to see just how rev-happy it could be. 

The Gazoo engineers added new rebound springs that serve a dual purpose: they protect the piston rods from damage by providing extra cushioning, which results in a better ride. Toyota also refined the sport-tuned MacPherson front struts, which improved the handling over the outgoing model. As a result, the ride quality was excellent while I was driving it around town; I glided up and down the hills of the Westlake neighborhood of Austin with no noticeable body roll. Other reinforcements to the rear shock absorbers and strut stabilizer bar firmed it up even more. But far from being too stiff, the GR86 drove like an exuberant puppy—one that has already been through obedience school. The steering was communicative and balanced, and I didn’t feel any unwanted drift or pull. On the highway, the little car jumped forward, easily dusting other less-spirited vehicles in my wake before settling into greatness in fifth and sixth gear.

I can’t say enough about how fun it is to drive the manual transmission on the GR86. I don’t have a manual in my garage, and the GR86’s stickshift quickly built up my confidence again, reminding me why it’s well-loved. It’s perfectly suited to teach a teen how to drive a manual, as it won’t take long for them to get it right; the Toyota is forgiving enough for learners and polished enough for veterans. In regard to its suitability for teen drivers, the GR86 is easy to park and it’s not so powerful that it’ll get them into trouble. Plus, with a back seat that is more of an idea than a reality, newbie drivers can’t go carting around a whole bunch of other kids. Check, check, check.

The Highs and Lows

Without a doubt, it’s loud inside. But as an affordable, lightweight sports car, that may be expected. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to ask for the same acoustic glass treatment Toyota gave the new Tundra pickup truck as it would add cost and that changes the buyer profile. However, the road noise makes normal-volume conversation a bit of a challenge and it makes it hard to appreciate the audio quality of the sound system if you have to crank it up past its optimally tuned level.

On the high side, huzzah! Toyota finally gave the 86 more power. It’s not take-your-breath-away power, but again, it’s not made to win drag races. If you want more power, get a Supra. The GR86 has 28 more horses under the hood, which doesn’t sound like much until you do the math and realize that’s a 14 percent increase and it’s a noticeable difference.

I do take some issue with the available safety features. Toyota typically includes a generous set of driver-assist and safety features on most of its vehicles. However, the GR86 is a bit of an outlier as the most active safety features are only available on cars equipped with the automatic transmission. Both the base and premium trim include vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution, back-up camera, hill start assist, and brake assist as standard regardless of transmission type. Blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert is included only on the premium trim.

But some features, including the pre-collision braking system and throttle management, adaptive cruise control with lead vehicle start alert, lane departure warning with sway warning, and automatic high beams are only available in tandem with the automatic transmission. Jalopnik also noticed these inconsistencies and asked Toyota about it, but a repkicked the can over to Subaru to answer the questions about why the manual transmission model isn’t compatible with its EyeSight driver-assist suite. 

I asked a Toyota representative for an update and they said, “We’re continuing to monitor the voice of the customer for additional active safety system features they would like on upcoming GR86 manual transmission equipped models.”

So it sounds like manual drivers who are also looking for additional safety features are still out of luck.

Toyota GR86 Features, Options, and Competition

The 2020 86 model included 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Upgrading to the GT got you 18-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and heated simulated-suede-trimmed front seats, a 4.2-inch multi-information driver’s display, keyless entry and ignition, and dual-zone climate control. For 2022, the GR86 made the keyless entry and dual-zone climate control standard on the base model and bumped the infotainment touchscreen up to eight inches. The Premium test model I drove also included two quick-charging USB ports in the center armrest and an eight-speaker sound system for $31,750. There is also a host of Gazoo Racing accessories available if you want to customize your car, like a dual cat-back GR performance exhaust with stainless steel bent pipes, black chrome tips and debossed GR logo; a GR performance air intake kit; a bolt-on GR strut tie brace; and a GR performance stabilizer bar.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata has the advantage of a convertible top and better gas mileage, but lacks cargo space and a back seat. The compact Hyundai Veloster N includes more horsepower and an optional eye-catching shade of blue paint, complete with matching seat belts. However, it’s front-wheel drive and has more of a hatchback look than a sports car vibe; the rear-wheel-drive GR86 is sleeker, evoking a cat on the prowl. The GR86 also competes with the Ford Mustang, which has heritage, nearly endless accessory options, and a ton of trim variants to choose from. Of course, there’s also the Subaru BRZ, though it seems like that car goes for a bit of a different vibe. More on that below.

Sustainability

If fuel economy is the most important factor for you in a compact, fun car at the same price point, get a Mazda Miata. The manual-equipped Miata returns an EPA-estimated 29 mpg combined, while the Toyota GR86 with a manual achieves 22 mpg combined. On the other hand, the GR86 has more horsepower (228 hp over the Miata’s 181 hp), more trunk space (6.4 cubes co the Miata’s 4.6), and a second row (even if it’s only suitable for small people).

Comparison statistics to manual-equipped competitors, FuelEconomy.gov

Currently, the GR86 is not available with a hybrid or as an EV, but as fast as things are changing in the market, I would not be surprised to see one in the next couple of years.

Value and Verdict

Toyota says that while the GR86 shares the same base, interior layout, and powertrain as the Subaru BRZ, it wanted the GR86 to have its own identity. They may be twins, but they’re fraternal; the GR86 was intentionally built to be more of a performance car than its stablemate, especially on straightaways. And it delivers. It felt like Toyota CEO and driving enthusiast Akio Toyoda himself could have been sitting in the passenger seat while I was driving, throwing his head back and laughing with glee in his distinctive way.

According to J.D. Power, the average car price right now is sitting at just a shade over $45,000. At $10,000 to $15,000 under that benchmark, the GR86 is a steal. It’s also in line with its competitors: a 2022 Mazda Miata tops out at $33,665 and the Subaru BRZ costs a little under $31,500. A 2022 Ford Mustang GT is priced at nearly $39,000, but it comes with a much larger 5.0-liter V8.

Part of the beauty of the GR86 is that it’s imperfect. It’s not as polished as a Supra, not as iconic as a Miata, and not as aggressive as a Veloster N. And that’s fine, because it has its own unique personality. The GR86 may be lacking a turbo, but it’s snappy and sassy and it doesn’t give a damn if you like it or not, because it’s so engaging to drive. This could easily be your daily driver that gets you to work and back home, and you can still shake it out on the weekends for some canyon carving or treks up the interstate to the next big town over. This is a solid sports car that’s priced fairly and is a joy to pilot. Heck yeah, it deserves its Gazoo Racing badge.​ ​

After spending a week in the GR86, though, I found myself unwittingly thinking back to my friend’s lost 1984 Celica. Just like the GR86, what that car perhaps lacked in power, it made up for in spirit and fun. Scrappy and persistent, the Celica stuck around for seven generations—which saw dozens of WRC championships and the birth of the Supra as its own model—before sunsetting in 2006. Though still in its nascent stage, I predict the GR86 could have a similarly long and rich lifetime. It certainly gave me the same zing of a thrill I got from that Celica. The 2022 Toyota GR86 is a future classic, a no-regrets kind of car you’ll enjoy just as much today as 10 years from now.

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