Sporty looks, handling and a price sure to entice …
Hyundai’s Veloster N last week tops the A-list for sporty, affordable wanna-be racers because it has oodles of muscle and attitude. This week’s Toyota GR86 Premium is a bit easier on the eyes, but easily wedges into this segment at an A-.
Here’s my reasoning.
If you want power, agility and looks, the Veloster is a kick-ass option and as tested only $35,005. In every way the GR86 (more on the name in a sec), is the Veloster’s equal, except on the power front. Veloster had 275 horses while the Toyota has a still generous 228 hp.
But before you think GR86 should maybe drop to B+ with such a big boost bulge, consider this, the Toyota rides better (still bumpy), offers more sensuous lines and costs less. You heard that right.
The difference is the GR86 is a sporty car, not a racer. Think upgraded Celica from years ago.
A little background. The GR86 is a close cousin to Subaru’s BRZ. Subaru and Toyota jointly engineered the BRZ and GR86, which is why it’s Subaru’s only non-AWD vehicle (keeps costs down) and why it packs the only 4-cylinder boxer engine in Toyota’s lineup. Boxers are a Subaru specialty (Porsche too) and provide smooth power that’s very linear.
Both cars have sporty, sophisticated looks that get noticed. I even had a guy with a thundering Tacoma buzz me on the highway in hopes I’d give chase. It helped that the test car was bathed in an orange-tinted bright red that Toyota dubs Track bRed (get it? Track bred), and for which it charges $425 extra.
The good news for GR86 buyers is that after skipping the 2021 model year, it’s back and that flat-4 cranks 228 horses, a 23 horse gain from its previous 2.0-liter boxer engine. Torque is up too, nearly 30 pound-feet to 184. That means more grunt off the line and, get this, it’s connected to a 6-speed manual transmission. Stick fans rejoice!
View Mark’s video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkcBOVUcQa8
Shifting is smooth and easy and it’s easy to chirp the rear-drive tires, not to mention get a little tail waggle around sharp turns, especially if the pavement is a wee bit damp.
GR86 is simple driving fun with a light (weighs only 2,833 lbs.), but precise steering effort. A limited-slip differential also aids cornering and acceleration out of a turn. This is a car that makes you want to hit the twisties, just for the fun of dancing the Toyota around corners. How much fun is it? Well, Car and Driver named this and the Subaru (by default) to its Top 10 car list this year, and C&D writers are even more obsessed with handling and power than me!
I wish the shifter throws were short and sweet like those in Mazda’s MX-5 (think Miata), but they are longer and the ball-shifter is big for a small driver’s hand. Still, a stick is a hoot to drive. For the record, an automatic is available for $1,500, but really?
Ride is bumpy as this is a short-wheelbase car, just 101.4 inches, but amazingly it was not as abrupt as last week’s Veloster, which really IS aimed more at buyers intending to purchase some track time. I found the GR86 ride tolerable for most city drives.
Braking is impressive and aids the sporty image. Discs are vented and 11.6 inches up front and just a fraction smaller in back.
Now, that name, why GR? It stands for Gazoo Racing, which helped develop the car and is Toyota’s longtime motorsports team and a division of the Japanese automaker.
Outside you’ll see GR and Toyota designers gave the nose a smooth rounded schnoz, avoiding the angular looks of the Veloster and funky Honda Civic Si and the boxier styling of Volkswagen’s venerable Golf GTi. There’s a modest trunk lid spoiler to add some tail flare and the roofline has a decidedly Porsche sweep to it. The result is a pleasant, sporty blend.
Inside, the interior is simple and easy to navigate, with extremely supportive seats, a new bigger info screen, plus two-level heated seats.
Seats themselves are a black suede type material with faux leather trim and gray stitching. There’s also a gray partial racing stripe that projects partway up the bottom cushion then reappears partway up the back cushion. Looks sharp.
Dash and doors are black and feature that suede material atop the doors to add a softer feel than the hard plastic elsewhere. The console is a flat black/gray that avoids reflections often found on consoles using black gloss trim. Satin chrome trims the console’s edge.
Toyota boosts the infotainment screen up to 8 inches and it’s easy to set and find channels, plus there are tuner and volume knobs. However, that volume knob led to an odd discovery. It’s so close to the touchscreen’s edge that apparently my little finger frequently touched the screen as I adjusted the volume, changing the radio to FM. Took me a while to figure it out as I couldn’t immediately tell that my pinky was the culprit as the touch was so slight.
Below the screen are big, easy to use climate control dials and toggles, and there’s a Track button on the console that changes the driver’s instrument panel for a racier look. I could not feel a dramatic change in performance with Track engaged, maybe a touch quicker acceleration.
Complementing the sporty interior is metal-faced pedals, all three, but Toyota does not go with a flat-bottom steering wheel that would give the GR86 a racier look and open up knee space for entering and exiting.
Speaking of which, crawling out of the GR86 is not too difficult, despite being a low-riding vehicle. It was much easier to exit than the Veloster, while both had tall side bolsters on their seats that can restrict exiting. There IS a rear seat in the Toyota, but it’s mostly useless. I’m short, so keep the driver’s seat fairly far forward and my 13-year-old grandson could not squeeze behind my seat to sit upright. Instead he laid sideways while we remained parked in the driveway.
The best use for the rear seat is for cargo as the trunk is a petite 6.3 cubic feet, so maybe the back seat is a bit more useful than I give it credit for. Rear seats do fold down to extend cargo room.
The Premium model’s stereo comes with 8 speakers, but to hear it you must crank it as the road noise is considerable, especially on cement highway pavement. I’d prefer a bit more sound deadening.
Electronic safety devices are minimal here, but are exactly what most of us would demand, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. No smart cruise or lane-keeping assist as the point of this car is to be driven, not computer-guided.
Gas mileage was just OK at 23.4 mpg in a week’s driving and about 70% on the highway. The EPA says to expect 20 mpg city and 27 highway. The biggest concern is the GR86’s preference for premium fuel. With performance there’s always a price. Ouch!
The better news is pricing. Starting price for the Premium model is $31,325 and includes delivery, while a base model with 6-speed manual lists at $30,225. Remember an automatic adds $1,500.
With a few minor add-ons the test car settled at $32,975, so about $2 grand less than the Veloster.
The choice between the two could come down to price, styling and ride. Performance geeks will be happier with the Veloster. Folks who appreciate value, more sophisticated looks along with sporty performance should shop the GR86 or BRZ.
Fast Stats: 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium
Hits: Sporty looks, light responsive handling, 6-speed manual tranny and good power and braking. Bigger info screen, 2-level heated seats, big easy climate buttons and toggles, supportive seats, metal-faced pedals. Simple high-value fun.
Misses: Road noise, bumpy ride, no flat-bottom wheel and prefers premium fuel. Useless rear seat and a touchscreen design that is too easy to bump the FM button when trying to adjust the radio volume knob.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 2.4-liter boxer 4, 228 hp/184 torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 2,833 lbs.
Wheelbase: 101.4 in.
Length: 167.9 in.
Cargo: 6.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 23.4 (tested)
Base Price: $31,325 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Track bRed paint, $425
Carpeted floor/cargo mats, $249
GR shift knob, $149
GR air filter, $75
Preferred accessory pkg. #2 (all-weather floor liners, all-weather cargo tray, first aid kit, quick charge cable package, keyed glovebox), $364
Auto-dimming mirror w/Homelink, $230
Rear bumper applique, $69
Door edge guards, $89
Test vehicle: $32,975
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage