Yes, it’s true: the Toyota GR86 is mostly a Subaru BRZ. Let’s get that air cleared right off the top. It’s an important point, but not as important as some people make it out to be. Collaborations like this are keeping sports cars alive, especially affordable ones, because they don’t sell well enough amid the current sea of SUVs and pick-ups to be profitable otherwise.
More collaborations equals more sports cars. Please don’t balk at this. There are precious few great little sport coupes on the road as it is.
And what a great little sport coupe this is. The 2022 Toyota GR86 — formerly known simply as the 86, with the GR designation added to signal involvement from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division — has been completely redesigned for its second generation alongside the BRZ. Both roll off the same Subaru assembly line in Gunma, Japan, and both share the same fundamentals. Toyota puts its own stamp on the GR86 through subtle engine tuning and chassis and suspension adjustments.
Compare the specs of these sports cars: Toyota GR86 vs Subaru BRZ vs Mazda MX-5
But its biggest distinction comes in the looks department, where Toyota opted for a more outright sinister appearance for the GR86’s front-end design with a simply blacked-out grille, as opposed to the maniacal grin seen on the BRZ and similar vehicles like the Mazda MX-5. Styling is subjective, but the look chosen for the GR86 is clean and classy. The side panels are shared with the BRZ, but there is a distinct element on the rear: a duckbill spoiler is included on the GR86 Premium that’s not otherwise offered on either car.
Under the hood, the GR86 houses a Subaru engine, a 2.4-litre with four horizontally opposed cylinders, producing 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque that peaks at 3,700 rpm. This is a vast improvement over the 6,600 rpm peak on the previous-generation 86 and BRZ, which makes the biggest difference in drive feel: this car is now downright uppity by comparison. The 6-speed manual transmission we tested is shared between both cars as well, as is the available 6-speed automatic. Opt for the manual if you can: it’s one of the better manual transmissions this reviewer has come across in recent years. The throws are snappy, clutch pedal travel is short and springy, and the lower gear ratios are nice and short to get the engine up to peak revs quickly. Moving through rpms is easy to monitor through the combination speedometer and digital tachometer in the centre of the instrument cluster. There’s no feel lost in the switch to electronic power steering: turn-in is quick and precise. Although there’s no rev-matching system as found on more expensive manual-transmission cars, there is a digital shifting guide for those who want it. And with a curb weight of just 1,285 kilograms or 2,833 pounds, the engine has no trouble whatsoever putting everything into motion. Put this all together, and the GR86 is an autocrosser’s dream.
As for ride and handling: yes, it’s stiff, and you’ll feel it on winter-ravaged Canadian roads. However, that’s to be expected from any sports car that doesn’t come with an adaptive suspension; it’s not as bad as it could be, really; and it’s unreasonable to expect miracles for less than $40,000 – or to be exact, $34,490 Canadian for this Premium grade before the $1,820 destination charge, which brings the total cost to $36,437. This rear-wheel drive coupe makes up for the roughish ride it in its cornering ability, aided by a double-wishbone rear suspension and a Torsen limited-slip differential. On the Premium grade, its 18-inch aluminum alloy tires are wrapped with nicely sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires.
The interior components of the GR86 are largely shared with the BRZ as well, and there are some quirky things about it. For example, the glove box looks like it was shoved into place as an afterthought. And don’t even consider planning to use the second row on a regular basis: head room and legroom aren’t sufficient for adults or even my pre-teen, and space is so short that passengers here have to share the cupholders at the back of the centre console with the people in the front row. Forward occupants will be much happier, though: there’s plenty of seat adjustment for both taller and shorter adults, provided they don’t need to compete with anyone in the back. Having those cupholders tucked away rearward means there’s nothing to compete with the motion of the manual shifter, plus the doors have been molded to accommodate a tall bottle on each side. There are heated front seats available — not standard — on the Premium grade. Ventilated seats aren’t offered, which may not be an issue for most buyers, but it’s disappointing to see that a heated steering wheel also isn’t available given the price point.
Battle of the four-cylinder Toyota sports cars: Supra vs GR86
Car Review: 2022 Subaru BRZ Sport-tech
Remember the previous generation 86’s back-up camera? It was a tiny projection into the rear-view mirror. Technology-wise, just about anything new was going to be an improvement. The eight-inch touchscreen isn’t fancy, but it’s relatively easy to use and gets the job done. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both wired, but they’re standard equipment, and you’ll need to plug your phone in to charge anyway: two USB ports are available, but there’s no wireless charging pad.
Trunk space is the same as the BRZ at 178 litres. That’s more than the 130 litres in an MX-5, but it’s also a relatively shallow space with a higher load floor than you might expect, so be prepared to call upon your Tetris training.
In the BRZ, there are safety features available but most of them can only be equipped with the automatic transmission, and the same is true in the GR86. The GR86 Premium comes with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert regardless of which transmission you choose, but to get radar cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, and lead vehicle start alert — basically, everything in Subaru’s EyeSight suite of technologies — you’ll need to opt for the auto. Automatic high beams are an auto-only feature as well.
One final technicality that’s important to cover: the Toyota is slightly more expensive than the Subaru, by roughly $2,000 in each configuration. What might convince you to spend a little more? You may prefer the look of the Toyota, or you might enjoy the feel of the slightly altered suspension tuning. Brand loyalty is another potential factor.
But any way you slice it, this little car is a huge riot. That satisfaction you get when you downshift and pull out for a pass on a two-lane road and effortlessly leave slower traffic behind you is worth the price of admission, and it gets right to the heart of what a love for driving is all about.