While it might look fairly different from its forebear, the 2022 Toyota GR86 retains a happy face. I like the way the new coupe looks, especially slathered in Toyota’s Track bRed paint (look, I didn’t come up with 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 rather prominent wing, giving the rear some extra aggression.
The exterior was never anyone’s primary source of criticism with the original 86, but the interior was, and Toyota made good strides in beefing up 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.
Material choices are better, especially in Premium trim, where microfiber suede combines with leather in the seats, steering wheel and shifter for a more adult cockpit. This is an affordable sports car, though, so hard plastics are still all over the place. Other than the odd occasional creak during driving, I’m a big fan of what Toyota’s done inside the GR86.
The Toyota GR86 is also a little easier to live with than its primary competitor, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The door panels have storage pockets, albeit small ones. But they pair well with a surprisingly capacious cubby under the center armrest’s clamshell door, which has cup holders wide enough for medium-size Nalgenes. The trunk is solid, too, offering 6.3 cubic feet of space: That may not seem like much, but it’s far better than the Miata’s 4.6-cubic-foot boot.
But you aren’t considering the Toyota GR86 because it’s practical. You’re here for fun, and you’re in luck, because the GR86 offers it in spades. Under the hood is a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated flat-4 engine, and it eliminates the old model’s need for more power. 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet may not look like much on paper, but it feels like a huge bump when driving, thanks to the torque arriving at a much more appropriate 3,700 rpm instead of the previous generation’s 6,400 rpm. Pulling and passing are possible in nearly any gear at any speed, reducing the need for unnecessary shifting, but I still find myself letting the revs climb, since the GR86’s engine note keeps getting louder and better as the tach needle rises.
A six-speed automatic transmission is available, but my tester sports a six-speed manual. It’s a good setup, but it’s not perfect. The clutch is nicely weighted, but the bite point is a little too high for my taste, preventing some shifts from feeling as smooth as they might otherwise. Throttle modulation is easy when the car is in gear, but the by-wire system seems to react inconsistently when starting off and when blipping for downshifts, leading to some awkward lurches. There’s also a fair bit of rev hang, requiring some short pauses during upshifts for the smoothest engagement. The stick itself is precise, but the throws are a little long, and first gear occasionally requires some finesse to enter the gate completely.
As you might expect from a compact sports car that hugs the ground, the ride quality isn’t exactly pillowy. The GR86 rides more stiffly than the average Miata, but some body roll exists to communicate limits before things get truly silly. But through the corners of Michigan’s winding forest roads, the GR86 feels great, making me want to take every turn a little faster than before. 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot 4 summer tires provide more than enough grip, and leaning on the gas too early will get the rear end squirming a bit. A little theater keeps things lively. 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 feel are actually on the low side. My city mileage is closer to 22 or 23, and I am regularly seeing highway stretches in excess of 30 mpg, so a light foot can go a long way.
Tech was another major shortcoming in the first-generation 86, but Toyota has you covered there, too. Replacing the old infotainment system is an 8-inch touchscreen running a bare-bones version of Subaru’s Starlink software — a reminder that this car and the BRZ coupe are kissin’ cousins. It’s not exactly pretty, or heavy on features, but it offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through its 2.1-amp USB-A ports, and responsiveness is high enough for daily use without frustration. A new 7-inch digital gauge cluster doesn’t have the flashiest graphics on the block, but all the pertinent information on display is easy to read at a glance, and who doesn’t love a big ol’ tachometer front and center?
The GR86 is a mixed bag on the safety front. Premium-trim manual models are limited to blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and base models get neither. If you want to step up to the package that includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning, you need to opt for the automatic transmission. That’s a huge bummer, as other automakers have incorporated these systems into stick-shift cars with little issue.
Even though the 2022 Toyota GR86 picks up a number of major upgrades, its price remains affordable. A base GR86 will set you back $28,725 including $1,025 in destination charges, while the Premium trim brings that up to $31,325 by adding fancier interior surfaces and better tech. My tester rings in at a reasonable $32,432, thanks to the fancy red paint, some various accessories and carpeted floor mats. That puts it right in contention with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a convertible with similar pricing and a slightly softer approach to the sports-car lifestyle.
Toyota answered the wishes of many enthusiasts with the 2022 GR86. It rides a little more like a sports car, the interior no longer feels extremely cheap and the powertrain picked up a bunch of get-up-and-go. It’s a big improvement that’s every bit as fun.