2022 Toyota GR86 Review: Still young at heart

The 2022 Toyota GR86 may look very different from its ancestor, but it keeps a happy face. I like the way the new coupe looks, especially in Toyota’s Track bRed color (look I couldn’t think of the name), a $425 option. It plays well against the dark elements in the front bumper, window trim and 18-inch alloy wheels. My tester’s premium trim also includes a fairly prominent wing that adds some extra aggression to the rear.

The exterior was never the main source of criticism with the original 86, but the interior was, and Toyota made good strides in improving its quality. The 2022 GR86 has a much more attractive cabin with a layered dashboard that eliminates the original’s over-reliance on flat, useless surfaces.

The choice of materials is better, especially in the premium trim where microfiber suede is combined with leather in the seats, steering wheel and shifter for a more grown-up cockpit. However, this is an affordable sports car, so hard plastics are still everywhere. Aside from the odd occasional creaking while driving, I’m a big fan of what Toyota did inside the GR86.

The Toyota GR86 is also slightly easier to handle than its main competitor, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The door panels have storage pockets, albeit small ones. But they pair well with a surprisingly roomy cubby under the center armrest clamshell door, which has cup holders wide enough for mid-size Nalgenes. The trunk is also solid, offering 6.3 cubic feet of space: That might not seem like a lot, but it’s far better than the Miata’s 4.6 cubic foot trunk.

But you’re not considering the Toyota GR86 because it’s practical. You’re here for fun, and you’re in luck, because the GR86 offers it in abundance. Under the hood is a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter flat-4, eliminating the old model’s need for more power. 228 hp and 184 pound-feet might not look like much on paper, but it feels like a huge bump to drive, thanks to torque being delivered at a much more reasonable 3,700 rpm instead of the previous generation’s 6,400 rpm arrives Pulling and overtaking are possible in almost any gear and at any speed, eliminating unnecessary shifting, but I still find myself revving up as the GR86’s engine tone gets louder and better as the speedometer needle goes up.

A six-speed automatic transmission is available, but my tester sports a six-speed manual. It’s a good attitude, but it’s not perfect. The clutch is well weighted, but the bite point is a little too high for my liking, preventing some shifts from feeling as smooth as they otherwise might. Throttle modulation is easy when the car is in gear, but the by-wire system seems to respond inconsistently on launch and downshifts, leading to some uncomfortable judder. There is also quite a bit of rev-hang, which requires some brief pauses during upshifts for the smoothest engagement. The stick itself is precise, but throws are a little long, and first gear occasionally requires a bit of finesse to get fully into goal.

2022 Toyota GR86

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2022 Toyota GR86

The interior is so much nicer than before.

Andrew Krok/CNET

As you might expect from a compact sports car that hugs the ground, the ride quality isn’t exactly pillowy. The GR86 rides stiffer than the average Miata, but there’s body roll to communicate boundaries before things get really silly. But in the corners of Michigan’s twisty forest roads, the GR86 feels great and makes me want to take each turn a little faster than before. 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot 4 summer tires offer more than enough grip, and if you step on the gas too early, the rear end will squirm a bit. A little theater keeps things alive. The only real bummer here is road noise, which creeps into the cabin from seemingly every angle.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the manual GR86 at 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, numbers that I think are actually on the low side. My city mileage is closer to 22 or 23, and I regularly see 30+mpg stretches of freeway, so a light foot can go a long way.

Tech was another major lack in the first generation 86, but Toyota got you covered there too. The old infotainment system is replaced with an 8-inch touchscreen running a barebones version of Subaru’s Starlink software – a reminder that this car and the BRZ coupe are cousins. It’s not exactly pretty or feature rich, but it delivers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through its 2.1A USB-A ports and the responsiveness is high enough for daily use without frustration. A new 7-inch digital gauge doesn’t have the flashiest graphics on the block, but all relevant information on the display is easy to read at a glance, and who doesn’t love a big ole tachometer front and center?

2022 Toyota GR86

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2022 Toyota GR86

Who doesn’t love a fun, affordable sports car?

Andrew Krok/CNET

The GR86 is a mixed bag on the security front. Manual models with premium trim are limited to blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and base models don’t get either. If you want to switch to the package of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, you have to opt for the automatic transmission. This is a big disappointment as other automakers have installed these systems in shifter cars without much trouble.

Although the 2022 Toyota GR86 receives a number of important upgrades, its price remains affordable. A base GR86 will set you back $28,725, including $1,025 in target fees, while the premium trim will set you back up to $31,325 with nicer interior finishes and better tech. My reviewer chimes in at a reasonable $32,432 thanks to the chic red color, a few different accessories, and carpeted floor mats. This puts it in competition with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a similarly priced convertible with a slightly softer approach to the sports car lifestyle.

With the 2022 GR86, Toyota has fulfilled the wishes of many enthusiasts. It drives a bit more like a sports car, the interior no longer feels extremely cheap and the powertrain has received some catching up. It’s a big improvement that’s just as fun. 2022 Toyota GR86 Review: Still young at heart

Chris Barrese

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