Or, should we call this review "Along The Great River Road (Part 3)?"
Now that you read where the 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium has been, it’s time to talk about the car itself.
If you’re in the know, then I should not explain what this 2+2 sports coupe is. For the rest of the universe, this the second generation of a collaboration between Toyota and Subaru who co-developed a lightweight 2+2 coupe for enthusiasts at an affordable price point. They were made for maximum fun, despite the cries for more horsepower and turbocharging.
The new generation model adds more to the equation. There is more horsepower – 228 from a larger naturally aspirated 2.4-liter BOXER four-cylinder engine. It also gained some weight, scaling closer to 2,900 pounds with an automatic transmission. Toyota added the Gazoo Racing badge to align the new GR86 with its performance sub-brand stablemates – the GR Supra and the upcoming GR Corolla.
Yet, the formula remained the same. That’s one thing I found to be true. The core of the GR86 is its sub-3,000-pound curb weight making the best out of its 228-horsepower engine by keeping it rear-drive only. In other words, this is strictly for the enthusiasts.
One question that came to mind when it was proposed that I was to utilize the GR86 for this Great River Road excursion was whether it would be the right vehicle for this trip. Would it be too hardcore for everyday driving? Would it manage Iowa’s bumpy and lumpy roads? How would those sport seats feel after hours of driving between scenic byways, city streets, stretches of highway, and the occasional roll-through of small towns in three states?
Let me address something more important, first: It was clearly nothing like anything on the road we encountered. There was not one like it on any road on this trip – not even a first-generation 86/FR-S/BRZ! Heck, there wasn’t even a new Subaru BRZ on the road! All the GR86 had to do was to hold its own against every pickup truck sold in Iowa, along with a bevy of Jeeps, Chevrolet, GMC, and Ford SUVs. OK, maybe a Toyota SUV or a dozen. You get the idea.
Its uniqueness on these roads may be a blessing. It shows that you can pack a suitcase, throw it into the 6.26 cubic-feet trunk and go somewhere. Maybe two. You can take someone with you. And, you can find a fun byway and point the GR86 onto it and have fun.
It brings me to some of my feedback. For one, the trunk size is deceptively larger than its specified capacity. That is before you fold down the rear seats. As for the rear seats, they’re great and can hold the line on your insurance bill, but they’re only good for small children. You’re better off driving with just you and a friend/spouse/family member/date…
The driveline is fine. You really don’t need more horsepower to manage the GR86. The power-to-weight ratio worked out just fine. This tester had the six-speed automatic transmission. While you can get the GR86 with a six-speed manual gearbox, there is an argument where some have said that the automatic shifts quicker – and better. To me, it does the job quite nicely.
In terms of fuel economy, how does an average of 31.9 MPG sound? From a lightweight 2+2 sports coupe? That’s a win in my book!
Luckily, it is still a rear-wheel drive 2+2 sports coupe. This is what enthusiasts crave. They also get a set of 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires made for grippy touring on black-finished alloy wheels. That combination alone would be better off on smooth tarmac rather than the crappy roads I encountered in Iowa.
Part of that discomfort with Iowa’s roads came from the firm suspension set-up. I love a firm suspension, as long as it has some good dampening that can be adjusted for comfort in the situations I put the GR86 through. There were sections of highway where the feedback was perhaps too firm – enough to let the expansion joints were felt through my seat.
Again, the GR86 can be driven on smoother roads without any feedback from the suspension. Those are the roads where this car absolutely stands out.
What the GR86 does well in many situations is exhibit its sharp reflexes. It can maneuver quickly and precisely, especially on lane changes. It takes on the curves like a champ – precisely without any drama.
In terms of steering, the on-center feel was fine and the response to the wheel is very good. I just wished it had a tad tighter turning radius. Not asking for much…just a tad more tightness for certain maneuvers.
The brakes are superb. Pedal feel is on point and responsive down to the calipers. Stops were equally good in normal and panic situations.
Behind the wheel, I like how they (Toyota and Subaru) improved on the cockpit environment. The digital instrument is driver-focused while proving me with the information I need – in particular, the information screen on the left of the tachometer/speedometer. There is an eight-inch touchscreen that offers wired smartphone integration, among other audio sources. Eight speakers emit sound throughout the cabin.
One thing that I noticed in the GR86’s cabin is the large number Subaru switches and readouts. After all, it is a collaboration with Subaru, right? There is one Toyota component that is visible in the GR86 – the cruise control stalk. Not to mention the requisite logos for Toyota and Gazoo Racing. For all of the nitpicking I do, I found this cabin useful, tactile, and easy to operate across the board.
The front seats are heavily bolstered and will fit most bodies. They are manually adjustable for height, rake, and recline, along with an adjustable headrest. No fatigue was induced at any point during the road trip. That’s a good sign, don’t you think?
I would be remised if I did not talk about the exterior. While you can spot some of the nods to the first generation 86/FR-S/BRZ, I found this newer version much easier on the eyes. I can get in and out with having to brush my head on the window opening. The doors clear the curb just right.
That grille with the larger headlamp units, the cleaner rear deck and taillights are set this new design off just right. One last look at this GR86 and you cannot ignore the two exhaust tips peeping out of the rear diffuser, backup light and reflectors.
In all, it is a thing of beauty. The GR86 looks like it wants to play every day – even if you’re pooped to party.
What amazes me the most is how much it cost. The sticker price on this specific Trueno Blue Premium example came to $33,507. You can get a 2022 GR86 as low as $27,700. The 2023 models will be just $200 more.
To my friends and contacts at Toyota, you chose well. You chose a car that was made for sporting drives, fantastic curves, and better-than-expected efficiency. You gave me a chance to experience your latest 2+2 sports coupe and newest member of the Gazoo Racing sub-brand on a road trip that tested my endurance and induce the tagline “Let’s Go Places” to new heights.
The larger point to all of this is the insistence that we should have cars offered to us – coupes, in particular – in an SUV-driven market. I fully endorse this! The more cars for enthusiasts, the less moaning from that crowd.
The GR86 is a 2+2 sports coupe you may have to put an order in. When it does arrive at your local Toyota dealer, I believe you will enjoy it to the hilt. Just find some really good, smooth roads when you do.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern