Not Too Fast - But Definitely Fun
The 2023 Toyota GR86 Premium is a fun little ride. It may not have the power to really excite, but it handles like a fun sports-car should.
By J-F Wright
Fri, Sep 22, 2023 09:17 AM PST
images by the author, edited by Erica Wright.
Judging by its looks, the Toyota GR86 should be a very fast car. The rear exterior wing, the really low silhouette, and the fact that it’s a sports-car all add to this feeling of potentially quick excitement. But, alas, the actual power of the GR86 seems to be a bit below the level that the exterior hints at.
So, let’s start with the exterior. That is, after all, what one sees first when approaching a car. As noted, the GR86 looks fast. The low and wide stance, especially that of the front, just ooozes "sports-car". The way the silhouette seems to flow through the air like a wave, even when the car is standing still. The way the rear spoiler - the wing - seems to collect all the visual lines on the car and nicely end them in an upward fashion.
The front facia, including the headlights, add to the already aggressive stance with a massive air intake and lights that seem to flow back up onto the hood in a very aerodynamic way. The fact that there are two exhaust pipes might not mean much, there are plenty of cars that sport that look, but it is definitely a nice touch to the rear of the GR86.
There are four seatbelts in the Toyota GR86… Does that mean that there is space for four people..? Not really. At least not if the rear passengers are adults - that’s not going to work. But, small kids will fit back there. Kinda. For very short drives around town. My six-year-old needed me to pull my seat forward so her legs would fit - and still her feet were hidden under my seat.
Our test vehicle has an automatic transmission, yet there is a shifter knob that much more resembles a manual transmissions’s. Actually, in all honesty, when the GR86 was delivered I made a comment to the driver about the manual transmission - which he nicely informed me was just an optical illusion. The GR86 Premium - which is what our test vehicle is - is not offered with a manual. However, the standard - plain - GR86 is only offered with a manual transmission, so is the GR86 10th Anniversary Special Edition. I have some thoughts on this when it comes to driving characteristics, below.
The seats in the 2023 Toyota GR86 are very sporty. “Sporty”, when it comes to car seats, most often means that the seats have given up some level of comfort to make way for a tighter and stiffer seat - the idea being that you’ll want to sit tight and steady even during hard cornering. These seats will keep you in your spot through whatever advanced maneuvers you attempt, yet they are still decently comfortable - a good middle-ground.
As noted above, I have some thoughts on the automatic transmission. The fact that a manual is offered - actually the only choice - for the other two trims (standard trim and GR86 10th Anniversary Special Edition) is probably a great thing. The automatic transmission doesn’t do the car justice - it’s a bit slow, and when it’s not slow it’s a bit jerky and it’s hard to anticipate the shifts. I feel that a manual transmission is the way to go, since that will help alleviate the fact that the GR86 doesn’t have the power to back up its looks.
Yeah, I said it, the GR86 has more bark than bite. Actually, a bark would indicate that the GR86 has an aggressive sound to it, which it doesn’t - especially compared to the sister-model GR Corolla which has a great growl. In this case, the “bark” would refer to the sporty looks of the GR86, so maybe a better idiom is “All snarl, no bite”..?
The 228 horsepower produced by the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder boxer engine makes for a decent number, but in reality feels underwhelming. 228 horses is not a low number for such a small - and light - vehicle, so I’m not sure how the peppiness gets lost on the way out to the wheels.
As far as handling goes, the GR86 excites. Unfortunately the acceleration and peppiness (again) just doesn’t do the suspension justice - but with a great deal of planning and down-shifting you can whip around corners like it’s nobody's business. The GR86 is a really tight ride, great for quick cornering and windy roads - it really is a fun drive, and the control and stability of the ride is immediately felt by the driver.
Noting the underwhelming power to a friend he mentioned that this car lends itself really well to the aftermarket crowd. And so it does - there’s plenty of room under the hood to add all kinds of enhancements.
Actually, maybe that’s the answer to my under-power-woes: The Toyota GR86 Premium is meant for the aftermarket…? It’s a very nice car - I, personally, really like the exterior aesthetics - and given the correct power enhancements the driving characteristics might catch up with the styling, making it a great entry-vehicle to the sports-car market.
The Toyota GR86 Premium impresses with a stellar exterior, great handling (suspension), and sporty seats. The Premium trim comes with an automatic transmission that just doesn’t do it justice, if I was the target market I would definitely be eyeing the manual offered in the other two trims. As far as power, the GR86 feels a bit underwhelming - but it probably does really well in the aftermarket world.
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.