A friend, having driven it, described the 2023 Toyota GR86 as a Mazda Miata (MX-5) on steroids.
Light, nimble, seemingly an extension of your nerve ends, this Toyota is a lark on wheels. Is it practical? Heck no. It is a back-to-basics sports car, with two doors, rear-wheel-drive, plenty of power, six-speed manual gearbox and a suspension engineered with handling higher on the priority list than ride quality.
It is a two-seater, as well, although there is an upholstered thing behind the front seats that Toyota laughingly calls a seat. They even provide belts! But nobody in their right mind would try to get in, let alone sit there. It is also loud – emphatically so in this case.
The tester was one of only 860 10th anniversary editions of the GR86 built. Only 20 will find their way to Canada.
In addition to plenty of badges, and unique graphics, it gets a GR-performance cat-back exhaust system – burps and flatulent sounds galore!
The GR86 is a driver’s delight.
Those who drive for the enjoyment involved will love it. Those who drive for the mere purpose of getting somewhere, would not. Experienced enthusiasts or racers would find it just as rewarding as a novice.
There is enough power from the Subaru-supplied engine to push the envelope. The suspension and brakes are nicely matched to the engine’s output. There are faster cars with more power, but there are very few with such a balance of power, handling and brakes.
The 2023 GR86 is available in three trim levels.
Base, $31,490; Premium, $34,890 and the Special Edition $39,950. These prices are for cars with a manual gearbox – a real departure in this day and age. Want an automatic? It’ll cost you another $2,400, and the loss of that vital interaction with a vehicle so critical to those of us who enjoy the art of driving.
Even as the most expensive trim level, the GR86 is a bargain in terms of bang for the buck.
The 10th anniversary model is based on the line-topping Premium trim so has all the goodies expected at that level, including a suite of safety features.
Standard equipment includes adaptive LED headlights, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in summer/performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber, eight-speaker audio system, and heated leather/alacantra seats. The safety portfolio includes blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert.
In a strange marketing/pricing move, models with the manual transmission do without a string of safety features included when the automatic transmission is selected: pre-collision braking, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure warning, sway warning, lead vehicle start alert and automatic high beams!
As mentioned above, the GR86 displays exceptional driving dynamics.
The stiff suspension and tight steering telegraph every nuance of what is happening beneath the four contact patches.
The slick-shifting gearbox requires little more than a wrist motion to change gears. The clutch is light and positive, with an easily identified catch point, and the aluminum pedals are nicely spaced for heel-and-toe operation. The vented disc brakes do an excellent job of erasing speed.
The responsive 2.4-litre boxer engine is perfectly suited to the light weight, and the rear wheel drive is a delight when you approach or perhaps slightly exceed the high grip limits. You sit down low – making getting in and out a bit of a chore. It also means you are looking at the lower part of the doors of the sea of crossovers clogging roads these days.
The GR86 is at home when the road develops the bends – not so happy on long highway cruises where the stiff suspension and loud exhaust can become wearisome.
The interior, like the mechanical bits, is focused on driving.
The front seats are heavily bolstered to keep you in place when the grins start.
The instruments are clear and easily read at a glance. There is very little provision for storing small items, but there is a place to store your phone, preventing it from sliding around and disappearing after those last few corners. The cupholders are placed to the rear of the console – to discourage use while driving?
For such an impractical vehicle, there is a surprising amount of cargo space, especially if the useless rear seats are folded down and out of the way.
Toyota, having earned a reputation for bland but ultra-reliable vehicles, has turned the corner.
Alongside the sedans, pickups and raft of crossovers, you’ll find a trio of driver-focused cars. In addition to the GR86, there is a GR (Gazoo Racing) version of the Corolla and the GR Supra. Heck even over in that crowded EV and hybrid area, there is new life. The new Prius, of all things, has become distinctly more fun to drive!
FACTS & FIGURES – 2023 Toyota GR86 10th anniversary SE MT
As tested: $42,985, including freight
Automatic and steering responsive LED headlights, rear/side vehicle detection system, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, Smart Stop technology, lane departure warning
Eight-speaker audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, 20-cm colour touchscreen, satellite radio and Travel Link
Remote keyless entry, 18-in alloy wheels, heated seats with leather seating surfaces and Ultrasuede inserts, dual zone automatic climate control, cruise control, power heated and folding mirrors, tilt & telescope steering wheel
2.4 litre, horizontally opposed four-cylinder, 228-horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. of torque, premium fuel, six-speed manual transmission, limited slip differential, NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 11.7/7.7
Length, 4,265 mm; wheelbase, 2,575-mm, width, 1,776-mm, weight, 1,301 kg