Affordable performance cars are becoming a rare commodity. Yes, the venerable Mazda MX-5 soldiers on, but Renault Sport is dead, Peugeot no longer makes a GTI and the Ford Fiesta ST has six months left to live. Thankfully, Toyota – via its Gazoo Racing (GR) division – is still a proud purveyor of cheap thrills.
Back in 2020, Toyota launched the GR Yaris, a pocket rocket that harked back to the halcyon days of rally-inspired homologation specials (think: Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution). It had journalists scrambling for superlatives and dealers scrambling for stock.
The long waiting list also created a supercar-style ‘overs’ market, with some buyers paying well above the £29,995 list price to jump the queue.
Yin and yang
The new GR86 is the yin to the GR Yaris’ yang. It’s a 2+2 coupe rather than a hot hatchback. Naturally aspirated rather than turbocharged. Rear-driven rather than four-wheel drive. And set up to slide rather than focused on point-to-point pace.
The only things shared by these siblings are a price tag (the GR86 also costs £29,995 – or £299 a month on PCP finance) and the scarcity of supply versus demand.
In plain English, that means the full two-year UK allocation has already sold out, with all 430 cars snapped up in 90 minutes. This review seems a tad academic, then, given you can’t actually buy a GR86 (not without playing the overs game, at least). Still, those 430 eager beavers can rest assured they made the right decision. The GR86 is brilliant.
Can we just torque?
Its DNA is closely related to the outgoing GT86, but this new car is altogether more focused. The ‘boxer’ engine has been bored out to 2.4 litres, increasing power by 34hp and torque by 33lb ft, for a total of 234hp and 184lb ft respectively. With just 1,276kg to shift – similar to a Fiesta ST – it will sprint to 62mph in 6.3 seconds and top out at 140mph.
The added torque transforms how the GR86 drives, answering the main criticism of its predecessor. Its growly flat-four no longer relies solely on high revs, pulling strongly through the mid-range to its 7,400rpm limiter. The control weights feel carefully calibrated, too, with endlessly chatty steering, perfectly spaced pedals, a snappier manual gearbox (an automatic is optional – don’t even think about it) and a proper handbrake.
Slip and slide
While the GT86 was famously shod with low-grip ‘Prius tyres’, the new car wears larger 18-inch wheels with more grown-up Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber. It’s harder to unstick, no question, but still very willing to go sideways, particularly if you select Track mode for the stability control. Damp roundabouts in November are laugh-out-loud fun.
Even without indulging your inner hoonigan, though, what shines through is a wonderful sense of fluency and throttle-balanced poise. It’s something no hot hatchback can match. For me, the GR86 is also more engaging and exciting than an MX-5, albeit without the option to lower the roof and drive al fresco.
There are downsides. The ride is pretty abrupt at low speed and you’ll do well to manage 30mpg. The Toyota’s interior also feels like a Japanese car of the old-school, with cheap plastics and basic infotainment. At least you can connect your phone and use Android Auto or Apple Carplay instead.
By far the biggest downside, however, is that so few cars are available. And inevitably, as the clock ticks towards 2030, this will be the last hachi-roku (Japanese for ‘eight-six’) model of its kind.
Knowing that, my week with the Toyota felt strangely bittersweet. Because this affordable performance car will be even rarer than most.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
TOP SPEED: 140mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 32.1mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 200g/km