Back in 2009, the Toyota FT-86 Concept car had enthusiasts everywhere salivating. A new Toyota sports car was teased; a lightweight RWD coupe that used the Porsche Cayman as its performance target. Even more intriguing was that it was a joint project being co-developed with Subaru. Launched under the Scion banner as the FR-S and later relaunched as the Toyota, the car was a hit for both brands. Now the final send off of the classic sports car formula in the age of internal combustion engines is upon us with the 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium AT.
Gazoo Racing began as a racing team secretly backed by Toyota where the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, drove under the pseudonym Morizo Kinoshita. For years Gazoo Racing served as a test bed across various motorsport disciplines around the world. In 2019 Toyota’s GR brand was formally launched with the GR Supra, followed by the GR Yaris, GR86 and the recently announced GR Corolla. Already the brand has garnered a solid reputation for delivering sporty cars that are fun to drive with true motorsports pedigree.
Though the proportions of the GR86 remain almost identical to the old model, new body work has given it a more muscular appearance. Aerodynamic treatments start with large vertical intakes in the front bumper, leading to side air intakes in the front fenders, an aggressive side sill spoiler, arched fins on the rear wheel arch culminating in a duckbill shaped trunk.
In Premium trim the GR86 has an additional duckbill spoiler, as well as 18-inch satin black wheels similar in design to the rest of the GR lineup. We also get a set of sticky summer Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires versus the base model’s Michelin Primacy HP all seasons.
Interior finishes took a big leap forward in the old car going from Scion FR-S to Toyota 86. Now with the GR86 Premium the interior takes another step with premium touches peppered throughout. The comfortable and supportive seats are heated and handsomely upholstered with leather and Alcantara. The rear seats fold completely flat creating just enough space to be able to transport a full set of track wheels and tires (yes we tested this!).
Aluminum pedals, Alcantara door trim and the hand parking brake let the GR86’s sporting intentions be known. GR86 logos are embroidered in the mats, as well as making an appearance on the nicely sized steering wheel and push start button. The only complaint we have with the interior is the one touch turn signal stalk which we could never really feel confident about signal canceling with.
The seven-inch TFT display has all sorts of fun performance-oriented gauges and displays to choose from such as a G-Force meter and a dyno graph that traces your current position in the power curve. Another neat touch is how the tachometer focuses on the 3,000-7,400RPM range when track mode is selected. The eight-inch touchscreen is big enough for modern standards and blends in both appearance and ergonomics. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto keep the experience up to date and the eight-speaker sound system works well.
And now to address the elephant in the room. Performance oriented Subaru vehicles were once synonymous with two things – All-Wheel Drive and Turbocharged Boxer engines. What they ended up delivering was a fantastic handling rear wheel drive chassis and a boxer engine, only it was normally aspirated. Every media outlet craved more power by way of a turbocharger; it seemed only logical given Subaru’s pedigree. Now here we have the new car – again a fantastic handling rear-drive chassis, boxer motor, and no turbo!
The story is largely the same as it was the first time around. Anecdotes about how it was designed as the ultimate pure sports car, how a turbo would add complexity, weight and most importantly cost. So is the engine of the new GR86 again it’s Achilles heel? We’re happy to report it is not. By boring the motor out, displacement is increased from 2.0 to 2.4-liters but more important than the increased displacement is a dramatically different torque curve.
This new engine has a broad power band comparable to what a small turbocharged engine might provide. 184 lb-ft. peak torque is now reached by 3,700RPM, and the party keeps going all the way to 7,400RPM. The new engine makes its peak 232 horsepower at 7,000RPM but it feels like so much more. It’s enough to keep the tail end loose with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires and drops the 0-60 mph by over a second.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say the engine sounds good, but it’s a marked improvement over the previous generation to be sure with the help of some attenuated engine sound piped into the cabin for added effect. The noise in concert with much more usable torque gives us an engine that feels and sounds happy to rev out to the 7,400RPM redline compared to the old motor’s somewhat cringeworthy weedy soundtrack and lackluster torque.
It’s even more good news when it comes to the chassis. Borrowing elements from the new Subaru Global Platform, the new GR86 has 50% more rigidity than the outgoing model with only a small 20-pound penalty. Seating position and visibility are excellent, steering and braking feel just as good with positive road feedback and pedal feel. MacPherson Struts and Multi Link rear suspension keep handling and ride sporty yet simple to swap out to meet track day needs. We find the standard setup a little bit harsh for daily driving the streets of Toronto perhaps due to the added chassis rigidity – but if cornering performance is at the top of your priorities then this is a great place to start.
Our test car is equipped with an automatic transmission, which we found doesn’t shift with quite the same immediacy as a dual-clutch unit but the paddle shift action in manual mode is still engaging enough to be fun on spirited drives and track sessions. The gear selector looks and feels like a manual so much so that a few times we forgot we weren’t actually in a manual – its mechanism even selects gears with a satisfying clunk. The auto shift programming worked well and in sport and track mode holds on to gears well into the higher rpm range.
As an added bonus the automatic GR86 comes equipped with Subaru‘s excellent EyeSight active safety suite. This includes Pre-Collision braking and throttle management, dynamic radar cruise control, and lane departure warnings. The system beeps when it acquires a target ahead like a fighter jet getting a missile lock. If you are considering a car with commuting duties the automatic may be the right choice for you but of course, if it’s to be your weekend warrior where ultimate engagement is key opt for the six-speed manual.
All this newfound power does require premium grade gasoline to keep the high compression engine humming. Rated at 11.1L/100km in the city, 7.7L/100km on the highway for a combined 9.6L/100km, we observed a very respectable 9.0L/100km. Our test did a bit of everything from running errands downtown to highway cruising. Starting at $31,490 the GR86 Premium AT is well equipped with everything needed to have a great time. For an additional $3,000 the Premium seems like a no brainer for the bigger wheels, stickier tires, and premium interior.
Often times the sequel fails to reach the heights of the predecessor. Toyota and Subaru should be commended for continuing their successful partnership and delivering substantial improvements while keeping everything that made the old car great. Akio described the original 86 as a piece of sports equipment, an accessible entryway into motorsport. The new one carries on this mantra. If you are looking for a modern sports car that adheres to the classic formula, is affordable to run, the 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium AT is the ticket.