The new Toyota GR 86 is more important than you may think

It’s easy to dismiss the GR 86 as just another Japanese low rent sports car but its significance goes well beyond that. In an era where the very idea of owning a car is questioned by social media frenzied zealots, let alone a sports car built for—shock—fun, the new GR 86 is a welcome addition to the world.

Other media reports suggest the GT86 predecessor was somewhat a mild success but never shaking up the market some might have predicted. Perhaps it was never meant to. Perhaps this was a first foray into building affordable sports cars for the masses, and show that Toyota are truly back in the game of delivering fun and engaging sports cars like they did 20 to 30 years ago. Perhaps this was more of a brand than a sales success, after all, sales metrics are only one form of measuring success. 

Toyota GR 86

Toyota have certainly gone from strength to strength, producing not only a new Supra on a platform shared with BMW’s Z4, but the much celebrated GR Yaris and now GR 86. Once again, Toyota have given us three distinct sports cars to choose from. We keep hearing about the decline in sales of sports cars but every time a new one comes out, we are all frothing at the mouth to either own or at least drive one be it the latest Porsche 911 or GR 86.

Because of the decline in sales however, it makes it a difficult business case to convince executives and shareholders that a sports car which will add little to the bottom line is a good investment. That’s why platform sharing is more commonplace even across brands. Can you imagine the challenges both Toyota and BMW faced when creating the Supra and BMW? Never mind the engineering challenges, these are two very different cultures.

That all makes the Toyota-Subaru pairing for the GR 86 and BRZ respectively a much simpler proposition. The differences are many times smaller than that of the Supra and Z4 yet distinct enough to offer some choices to customers.

Subaru unveiled the new BRZ last year, showcasing a more grown up version of the previous gen car. There were some similarities in design but this was a new direction that was to be reflected in the new GR 86.

Toyota GR 86 and Subaru BRZ

So here we have the new GR 86, replacing the GT86 nameplate to align with Toyota’s sporting arm and the rest of its model line up with the “GR” badging. Immediate design impressions are the front end is more resolved than the Subaru, with cleaner lines and a simpler intake actually reminiscent of the soon to be launched Nissan Z. Most of the rest of the car remains the same.

There are some similarities between the new GR 86 front end and the new Nissan Z

What was disappointing about the new BRZ when revealed was the interior design, a cluster of competing shapes, lines, motifs, and buttons and this obviously carries over to the GR 86. Not much flows naturally in the cabin, it instead looking like different aftermarket specialists have all had their hand in the design. No doubt it will be built upon Toyota’s legendary reliability and resilience and everything will work as expected but it does keep the car well below the rungs of luxurious motoring. There is though a new 7-inch TFT screen which provides all the usual functions to distract you from what this car is all about.

One of the biggest gripes of existing customers and some motoring journalists is how much the GT86 could’ve handled more power. Obviously this isn’t in the spirit of the car and adding more power means other beefier parts too potentially adding weight but certainly adding cost. Rather, the 86 (and MX-5 which always seems to fight this battle) is all about balance and extracting the maximum from the car within the ever tightening road laws. The new engine in the GR 86 is a direct injection horizontally opposed four-cylinder 2.4L unit pumping out 173 kW and 250 Nm of torque which is a sizeable improvement over the previous model’s 2 litres producing 147 kW and 152 Nm of torque.

The performance figures should quieten the naysayers. 0-100km/h is now 6.3 seconds, a huge step from the previous model’s 7.4 seconds with responsiveness also improved. In standard trim it should be enough to keep up with any regular hot hatch, but as most Japanese cars are such willing participants in performance upgrades, modified versions may start knocking on the capability door of cars two or three times the price.

Toyota GR 86 engine bay

That is all helped by the very low weight of the GR 86 at 1,270 kg. Extracting power out of a car is at times easier than stripping weight while keeping it road legal and with a degree of comfort. So the GR 86 starts out well and will only benefit from further enhancements. Torsional rigidity has improved by around 50% and with improved body rigidity makes it better handling and more compliant. The new model retains the front MacPherson strut and rear double wishbone suspension setup.

Cars have been getting larger for years with very few retaining the dimensions they started out with. The new 86 only gains fractionally in length at 25mm but actually is lower overall by 10mm. A low centre of gravity is one of the key playing cards of the GT86 and that continues with the GR 86, helped along with aluminium roof panels, aluminium fenders, low weight front seats and mufflers.

Tyres front and rear are 215/40 R18s, up from the previous model’s 16” and 17” wheels signalling the new car’s intent and capability.

What we don’t know yet is just how capable the GR 86 will be but given the specs, it seems like it could spring a surprise or two in the areas of performance and dynamics.

The GR 86 price is likely to be marginally more but no official word yet.

Give the amount of money car companies are spending on electrification of their model line ups we should be thankful they are still passionate enough about forgiving to give us the cars we want and need. 

No doubt other manufacturers will be watching to see the level of interest, particularly Toyota’s Japanese competitors who may want to step inside the ring. So far, that’s been Mazda with the MX-5 consistently since 1989, but will Honda share a platform with say Alfa Romeo to create a S2000 successor? 

There’s life in the internal combustion engine yet, and with many brands pooling their resources to deliver carbon neutral solutions we could yet see more cars like the GR 86 on the market. The success of this new generation GR 86 and indeed Subaru BRZ will be an important barometer.

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