To auto or not to auto? That’s the question facing the 2023 Toyota GR86 buyer. One that Trent Nikolic hopes to clarify by spending some time with the entry-grade GR86 – with an automatic transmission.
- Engine response is fantastic
- Chassis balance and engagement are top shelf
- Easy to live with, and a hoot to drive
- Price has risen significantly
- Unlikely to get an ANCAP test
- Misses out on some key safety inclusions
Remember these days. Why? Because they are coming to an end. Electric cars are heavy. That’s the first point. It could be a while yet before we see battery technology that allows an electric sports car to be as lithe as the 2023 Toyota GR86 GT.
That means the entire driving experience must therefore be vastly different. So, remember these days. Days when you could buy a relatively affordable, lightweight sports car, with the engine at the front, the driven wheels at the rear, and a lively chassis that speaks to you whenever your hands are on the wheel.
Make no mistake, cars like the GR86 – and Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5 – are what make driving such a consuming experience. Relatively affordable, they bring driving engagement and fun to the masses. It was always the mandate of the MX-5, and the launch pricing of the original Toyota 86 suggests it was driven by the same singular purpose.
As great as all the high-end sports cars undoubtedly are, the mere fact that they are out of reach of so many people leaves these affordable icons as the grist for our mill. Iconic hot hatches deserve mention here, too, but for the purposes of this review, we’re focusing on rear-wheel-drive sports cars.
Few cars are as unapologetic as a sports car like the GR86. While you could argue that front-wheel drive came about as a cost-cutting measure, and was followed by the necessity to spice the platform up, rear-wheel-drive sports cars were always, and should always be, unapologetically directed at driver engagement.
From its 2012 launch, the Toyota 86 was always exactly that. I’ve still never again seen a room full of motoring writers exhale as loudly as it did at that launch, when Toyota Australia announced pricing. Starting from $29,990 before on-road costs. Yes, things have changed, but what a start that announcement ensured for the platform we’re still driving today.
I remember at that launch, Toyota representatives spoke of the legendary 2000GT, and while the styling might have echoed the brand’s now legendary sports car, it was more the AE86 (or Sprinter as we know it here) that most provided the backstory for Toyota’s all-new sports car.
It was light. It was a simple two-door coupe. It was designed from the outset to provide a reliable, affordable, sports car option, and it eschewed the popular move to front-wheel drive at the time for a more traditional layout. And that tradition continues here.
Whenever a car like the GR86 enters the Drive garage, I’m excited to drive it. To spend quality time with it, and remind myself why I love driving in the first place.
That’s exactly how I feel right now. With an automatic transmission, and as good as I know it will be, the question I want to answer here is whether you’d buy an auto? Let’s find out.
How much does the Toyota GR86 cost in Australia?
First things first. The GR86 GT we’re testing here is the base model in the two-variant range with the GR86 GTS above it. There’s no price difference – starting price – between the manual and the auto, though, so if you do want the automatic we’re testing here, it’s the same $43,240 starting price before on-road costs.
What that means, though, is the price has jumped up by a hefty $8760 for this model over the previous model.
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Our indicative drive-away price for Sydney weighs in at $47,973, with our test car devoid of any options apart from metallic paint. I’d want window tint and floor mats for sure, but beyond that, the GR86 buyer doesn’t really need anything else anyway.
This is, of course, sports motoring for the purist. Toyota argues that the price hike is more than justified by the additions for this model.
This new GR86 – a true GR-car according to Toyota – has more power, more technology and new styling to attract potential buyers. Do you think it looks the part? We do. It’s certainly got some street presence when you’re out mixing it up with the boring hatch and SUV brigade.
Already into its second generation, the GR86 will also cost more than stablemate, the Subaru BRZ, an interesting position for both manufacturer and buyer alike. Which one do you preference and why? It’s a source of endless debate, even at the Drive office.
If you opt for the base GT as tested here, you get 17-inch alloy wheels with a machined face, Torsen limited-slip differential, leather shifter and steering wheel, fabric sport seats, keyless entry and start, and a six-speaker sound system.
Does it ‘need’ anything else? Not really if you’re in this for the purity of the driving experience. We’d like an ANCAP crash rating and some more safety tech, but I’m not sure the buyer pays too much mind to that either.
For the record, Toyota claims there’s enough difference underneath those slender curves to justify the price difference, with different springs, massaged throttle response, and tuning to the electric power steering system, to differentiate the GR86 from its Subaru twin.
We’ve slotted an i20 N in there as competition, as you can see below, but you could just as easily add Golf GTI or even i30 N as prime competitors if you so wished. There’s a lot to think about if you want sporty, everyday performance.
How much space does the Toyota GR86 have inside?
To call the GR86’s cabin an exercise of driver-focused design and execution might win this month’s ‘Thanks for the tip, Scoop’ award. You’d expect exactly that, and once you get down into the seat, that’s exactly what you find.
It’s just like a sports car of old, but without the leaks, the fumes, and the discomfort. And with working air-conditioning.
If you’ve owned or driven a previous 86, there’s a lot that will feel familiar here. Again, no surprises there. Entry-grade the GR86 GT might be, but it certainly doesn’t feel cheap from either front seat.
Even with the regular cloth trim our tester’s seats have, I don’t think you’ll feel like you have to step up to the more expensive variant to get a more cosseting cabin. As we’ve noted before, there’s impressive seat adjustment even for tall drivers, but you’re going to love the cabin if you’re six-foot or shorter.
Do yourself a favour and forget the back seats exist. Handy for a handbag or backpack, the rear seats are effectively out of play for humans, unless it’s an emergency. I’d be folding the rear seats down and leaving them that way, thus opening out a larger boot space. If the seats are folded down, the 237L boot extends through an opening that you can use to transport longer items.
I remember at the original launch, Toyota engineers explained that you could fit four wheels into the cabin with the seats folded down – a nod to the track day user with a set of semi-slicks. You can still do that, but it might take some working out. Note: I haven’t tried to do it. I’ve seen photos and taken their word for it.
Useful bottle holders in the doors work well, but the centre console is really only good for the one smartphone you have connected, and the glovebox is on the small side too. We’d probably like a little bit more space, but it’s not fair to expect it really either, given the compact nature of the GR86.
|2023 Toyota GR86 GT|
|Boot volume||237L seats up|
Does the Toyota GR86 have Apple CarPlay?
The big difference inside the cabin is the new 8.0-inch central infotainment screen, which while not as big as some, looks right at home in the centre of the GR86’s dash. The base GT gets the same screen as the GTS, too, which is a bonus if you’re on a tight budget that doesn’t stretch to the range-topper. You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well, wired rather than wireless.
On test, Apple CarPlay worked perfectly for us, with no glitches or drop-outs. Some systems seem sensitive to the type of cable you use, but not the GR86’s, which remained connected at all times across at least four different devices.
I write it often in reviews, but I’d rather wired smartphone connectivity that works instead of wireless that doesn’t. Toyota’s system is a good one.
Actual dials and buttons to control regularly accessed functions are excellent, so thank you to Toyota for that decision, and the touchscreen was responsive for us across the week of testing. Its graphics aren’t as avant-garde as some, but the system was reliable at all times for us.
The driver gets a neat 7.0-inch display in the instrument cluster, also standard on both models, and the display changes if you move to Track mode, for example, illustrating a linear tachometer. Even if you prefer analogue gauges, Toyota’s execution suits the segment and the car, and the target buyer I reckon.
Is the Toyota GR86 a safe car?
As far as we understand it, at the time of testing, Toyota is still maintaining that the GR86 won’t be ANCAP tested and there is no intention to. Given it’s a niche product, it would seem that is unlikely to change.
I tend to think buyers in this segment won’t be perturbed by that, but let us know what you think in the comments section below.
|2023 Toyota GR86 GT|
What safety technology does the Toyota GR86 have?
Interestingly, the manual versions of the Toyota GR86 miss out on safety technology that buyers get with the automatic variants. It’s a strange decision, but it’s one that makes the case for the automatic an easier one to make.
Across the range, you get seven airbags, a rear-view camera, ABS, stability control, and hill-start assist. Buy an automatic GT and you also get autonomous emergency braking, rear parking sensors, lane-departure alert, and adaptive cruise control.
How much does the Toyota GR86 cost to maintain?
The GR86 is covered by Toyota’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with the engine and driveline covered for up to seven years when serviced to Toyota’s vehicle warranty and service book schedule.
If you buy a GR86, you’ll get capped-price servicing across the first five years, and services are required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The first five visits to the service centre will set you back $280 each, adding up to $1400 across five years. That price is more than reasonable.
The 2023 Toyota GR86 GT will cost $1367 per annum to insure based on a comparative quote for a 35-year-old male driver living in Chatswood, NSW. Insurance estimates may vary based on your location, driving history, and personal circumstances.
|At a glance||2023 Toyota GR86 GT|
|Warranty||Five years, unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months or 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$840 (3 years)
$1400 (5 years)
Is the Toyota GR86 fuel-efficient?
Toyota’s claim for the GR86 is 8.7L/100km for the automatic, down from the mid nines used by the manual, which in itself is interesting.
We spent plenty of time during our week with the car in stop/start traffic and our indicated return was 9.3L/100km. Keep in mind, too, that the 50L fuel tank needs to be filled with 98-octane premium fuel.
|Fuel Useage||Fuel Stats|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||8.7L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||9.3L/100km|
|Fuel type||98-octane premium unleaded|
|Fuel tank size||50L|
What is the Toyota GR86 like to drive?
Under the snout there’s a 2.4-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine that makes an easy 174kW and 250Nm. Is it the power bump that fans have been asking for? In part, yes.
The choice between manual and automatic transmissions requires no extra outlay. Those of you who want an automatic, then, need part with no extra money for once. Not bad.
Let’s get rid of the only negative – and it’s a minor one – that we could find after a week behind the wheel. The GR86 can be a little on the firm side over the worst road surfaces your urban commute can ask it to endure. It is, after all, a sports car, though, and as such I’d wager that most of you would be more than willing to live with that.
Whether the engine makes enough power now to silence the detractors is irrelevant to some extent. I’ve always stated that it says more about the quality of the chassis if you feel like a car could easily handle more power. Such is the way with the GR86. However, unlike the original example, the 2.4-litre engine is now more fitting and more exciting, too, the mark of any quality sports car.
With 174kW right up at 7000rpm – and it loves heading there too – and a decent 250Nm available in the meat of the rev range, the 1308kg automatic GR86 GT feels sharp and punchy. The engine note is a good one, also, putting a smile on your dial every time you hear it. The fact it loves to rev as much as it does means you don’t feel bad about asking it to do so.
The automatic, while not as sharp or precise as a dual-clutch transmission might be, is more than capable of keeping that smile on your dial. The difference between 6.3 seconds for the manual and 6.8 seconds for the automatic getting from 0–100km/h is neither here nor there, and while the manual might be faster, you’ll need to get your shifting perfect if you’re to match the auto in the real world anyway.
There’s a 20kW climb from the old car, but with the extra power the engineers have obviously been careful not to remove any of the driver engagement. This is a truly entertaining sports car that rewards the driver, whether you’re as fast as you dare on your favourite twisty road or simply driving to work. It’s always fun in the GR86.
I almost annoy myself writing this, but I really like the automatic GR86. I shouldn’t. No enthusiast should. I should instead argue strongly that everyone should buy a manual. And yet, the automatic does make some sense.
Its strongest benefit is in stop-start traffic around town, of course, where a manual starts to get annoying even for the most vocal manual enthusiast. However, even when you’re having fun on the open road, the fact you can simply use the paddles to pretend you’re in an F1 car makes for an engaging drive on any road.
I reckon if I were using the GR86 as a daily driver and I spent a lot of time in traffic, I’d buy the auto. There, I wrote it. Can’t back away now.
The base GT gets lesser-spec Michelin rubber than the GTS, but the point-and-shoot nature of the GR86, and the fact that you don’t need to be doing warp speed to have fun, means that the tyres are more than capable of keeping it pointing in the direction you intend to be heading in.
If you move the auto into manual mode and use the paddles, you’ll obviously feel more engaged, but you’ll also be faster too, I’d wager.
The GR86 responds beautifully to steering inputs, with sensational balance over the nose, and a tendency to do exactly what you want it to. There are no skeletons lurking in its closet. Not that we could find anyway.
What’s most important to us is that you can actually feel what’s going on beneath you. Direction changes, the response of the chassis, or feedback through the steering wheel, every input and reaction is closely harmonised with the driver. This is a motorkhana car if ever there were one, especially on a wet skidpan.
The quality of the driving experience, and the fact that you can get out of a 911 Turbo S, for example, and still smile like a clown behind the wheel of the GR86, is a measure of how well rounded it is. And how utterly capable of doing exactly what it should be doing. The reasons we’ve always loved driving the 86 remain in the new GR86, there’s no doubt about that.
|Key details||2023 Toyota GR86 GT|
|Engine||2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol|
|Power||174kW @ 7000rpm|
|Torque||250Nm @ 3700rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||133kW/t|
|Spare tyre type||Tyre repair kit|
Should I buy a Toyota GR86?
Unless there’s a seismic shift in the way the world’s politicians think about the future, it would seem the days of the internal combustion powered, naturally aspirated, lightweight, rear-drive, front-engine sports car are almost over.
I know that was a pretty specific wrap-up, but the GR86 is a pretty specific sports car. In many ways, like the MX-5, it remains a potent reminder of everything those of us afflicted with nostalgia love about driving.
From what we’ve seen, the GR86 delivers a level of engagement no electric car can match. It’s not all about speed either, with precision, balance, and feedback all equally important when you’re behind the wheel. As such, it’s likely the GR86, and in fact the original 86/BRZ for that matter, will go down as affordable icons.