What Car? says...
The Toyota GR86 sports car you see here takes inspiration from the Japanese phrase ‘waku waku doki doki’ – meaning ‘heart-pounding excitement’. And that's what it aims to deliver, in the form of a compact, lightweight coupé that’s relatively affordable to run.
The GR86 is the sequel to the car badged the Toyota GT86 (sold new from 2012 to 2021). It sits below the flagship Toyota GR Supra coupé in the Japanese car maker's range, and costs slightly less than the Toyota GR Yaris. And while that Yaris is a little four-wheel-drive hot hatch that offers darty, grippy thrills more akin to a rally car, the GR86 delivers a very different driving experience.
The basic recipe remains the same as for the GT86. Toyota gives you a revvy naturally-aspirated petrol engine up front, teamed with lively rear-wheel-drive handling to draw a wide grin on the driver’s face.
The GR86 has a 2.4-litre petrol engine, and it's available with a manual or automatic gearbox (both with six speeds). The auto isn’t expected to be a popular option, but it does come with more kit as standard to go with its slightly higher price over the manual version.
If you're looking for a fun, sporty car, should you buy a Toyota GR86? Well, you'll want to consider the rivals before you do.
Competition includes the Audi TT and BMW 2 Series Coupé, but the Mazda MX-5 RF is arguably the closest rival in spirit when it comes to offering lightweight thrills. The GR86 doesn't have a retractable roof like the RF, though – it's hardtop only.
So, is the Toyota GR86 as good as the best sports cars on sale? A low entry price is a good starting point, but this review will cover much more than that, including how it stacks up in terms of performance, handling, comfort, how practical it is and how much it will cost to run.
When you have decided what to get, remember we can help you save thousands of pounds off the list prices of most makes and models of car if you search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. They have plenty of the best new coupé deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Toyota GR86 comes with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing a healthy 231bhp. Toyota says it's good for 0-62mph in 6.3sec, but as with the Mazda MX-5 RF there’s no turbocharging involved to bolster engine performance, so you have to work it hard to get the best out of it.
When you floor the accelerator, the GR86 wakes up and starts to 'come on song' at little more than 4000rpm, pulling strongly from the middle of the rev range up to the red line. Accompanying the build-in pace is a suitably raw yet pleasant engine note, with a bit of timbre piped through the speakers for additional theatre.
Turbocharged rivals including the Audi TT and BMW 2 Series Coupé (not to mention most of the best hot hatches) have even greater in-gear flexibility, but the GR86 has enough muscle for you to stay in gear when the revs drop. The obligation to shift down just to get going is absent (save for uphill climbs in top gear), and it's relaxing enough during give-and-take motoring.
The six-speed manual gearbox slots into gear nicely, requiring just enough effort to be involving for the driver. It doesn't have the same short-throw, flick-of-the-wrist action as the MX-5 RF's 'box, but it’s still pleasant to use as you work through the gears.
If you go for the six-speed automatic gearbox instead, performance takes a small hit – the 0-62mph sprint takes 0.6sec longer, for example. You do get paddles on the steering wheel, so you can override it by tapping up or down a gear, but keen drivers would be better off sticking with the manual.
The GR86 has a firmer ride than the MX-5 RF but rounds off bumps well enough around town. The ride starts to deteriorate at higher speeds, and can become a little choppy. The engine quietens down into the background, but there’s plenty of road and wind noise when cruising at motorway speeds.
All that makes the GR86 quite a noisy companion, although it’s quieter than sitting in the MX-5 RF in similar situations. If you plan to do lots of longer journeys, you'll be better off in the Audi TT or 2 Series Coupé. That said, if you're a truly dedicated sports car driver, one appealing solution to the GR86's noisy cruising manners would be to take the twisty country road running parallel to the motorway to make the most of the GR86’s handling.
And trust us, you won't be disappointed. The steering has enough weight to feel precise, body lean is minimal and the GR86 feels light and nimble as it goes from corner to corner. It's quite easy to reach the limits, but the predictable responses let you have fun while staying in control. In comparison, driving enthusiasts might find that the TT feels too 'safe' and neutral to be truly thrilling, while the MX-5 RF suffers from much more body lean. The GR86 is easily the most exciting of the three.
The interior layout, fit and finish
It’s easy to find a comfortable seating position in the Toyota GR86 because there's plenty of adjustment from the seats and steering wheel. Forward visibility is great, with thin windscreen pillars and a low dashboard that allows you to see the end of the bonnet. The big door mirrors and large rear window helps when looking out behind you. There’s also a rear-view camera to help when parking.
The dash is simple to use with a mix of rotary controls and large buttons for the ventilation system. The 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system above it comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, and is fairly easy to use, without too many menus to sift through. And while the Mazda MX-5 RF gets a rotary-controlled infotainment system, that's less distracting to use when you're driving, it has a smaller 7.0in screen.
The driver’s digital instrument panel in the GR86 isn’t hugely configurable, but it’s clear and easy to read with an extensive range of information available on the trip computer. You get a different layout if you switch to the Track driving mode, with a big rev counter dominating the screen.
You’ll find suede-like material on the doors and above the digital instrument panel, plus some soft-touch plastics on the top section of the dash. If plush interiors are your thing, though, the TT has a far greater spread of squishy plastics and switches that work with greater precision. Pricier sports cars such as the Porsche Cayman are in a different league entirely, of course.
Also, we noticed one little niggle: the split-opening lid for the cupholders on the centre console doubles as an armrest but the two sections don’t quite meet in the middle leaving a large gap. Plus, the button to open the lid is quite easy to press with your elbow by accident.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Toyota GR86 has plenty of space in the front for tall (6ft-plus) occupants. It's a world away from the compact interior of the Mazda MX-5 RF and the sports seats are much more supportive than the rather flat items in the MX-5.
You get two small rear seats in the GR86, too. You’ll have to compromise front legroom just to free up some space for those sitting behind, but at least the option is there if you need to give someone little a lift. The rest of the time, it's a useful place to chuck your jacket or bag.
Storage space up front includes a small bottle holder and a narrow area for your phone in each of the doors. The centre console has two cupholders that, oddly, have USB ports beside them, so you might have to choose between a coffee or a fully charged phone.
The 226-litre boot gives you more storage volume than the MX-5 RF's but the Audi TT gives you 305 litres and has a bigger, hatchback-style opening.
You can drop the GR86's rear seats by pulling release straps in the boot – Toyota says that gives you an extended load area big enough for taking four spare wheels to the test track.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
However, before you get too excited about the GR86's keen pricing, we have some disappointing news: it's not available new. The entire European allocation for the GR86 sold out in minutes (the same thing happened with the Toyota GR Yaris).
In terms of running costs, fuel costs are nothing to celebrate, with the official 32.1mpg trailing all of its rivals. That figure will drop quickly if you drive in a spirited manner. More positively, the standard equipment list is very long, and includes 18in alloy wheels, air-con, a rear-view camera, LED headlights, cruise control and heated part-leather/suede front seats. If you decide to pay more for the automatic gearbox, you also get climate control and adaptive cruise control, plus extra safety kit.
Options are limited to paint choices, so if you have a slot to buy a GR86, there's not much danger of bumping up the overall price by going overboard.
Toyota performed well in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey finishing in second place out of 32 car makers featured, behind Lexus but ahead of Audi, BMW and Mazda. The GR86 comes with a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty, but you need to get it serviced at a Toyota dealer to get the full decade of cover.
The GR86 hasn’t been safety tested by Euro NCAP but it does come with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a tyre-pressure monitoring system. Automatic models add lane-departure warning, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keep assist.
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