The officers accused me of taking it too fast in a turn. I didn’t argue. But the 2023 Toyota GR86 rear-wheel-drive sports coupe with stock Pilot Sport 4 performance tires could’ve gone much, much faster.
A winter snowstorm had skirted the Chicago area and left in its wake brilliant blue skies and temps flirting with the 50s. In early spring in these parts, that’s a party. The pavement was dry, the roads were clear.
I admitted I may have gotten excited. They asked about the manufacturer plates, I explained my job, then we talked about cars. The officer whose kids had grown up and moved out said it looked like a way more expensive sports car than the $30,000 list price.
The way the sun sparkled on the steel-colored coat might’ve triggered some March madness. He asked about the 6-speed manual and the 228-hp 2.4-liter inline-4. I praised the limited-slip differential, the pure connection with the road. He was intrigued. Toyota may have a new customer.
They issued a warning, complimented the car, and I motored off, more responsibly.
They weren’t the only ones to comment on the second-generation Toyota 86. The pros outweighed the cons during my blessed week of unexpectedly balmy temps in Toyota’s endearing affordable sports coupe.
Pro: “That looks way more expensive”
Teenagers and Boomers complimented my car, and my favorite females called it nice without calling it cute.
Pro and Con: Dinky infotainment
I don’t know if this is a con anymore. The 8.0-inch touchscreen and Toyota’s old interface stays out of the way, and there are climate dials below it. Once your preferences are set in the touchscreen, you can forget about it. In the 86, the less distraction the better.
Pro: Excellent handling
The MacPherson front strut and double wishbone rear suspension mostly carry over from the predecessor, but the 50% increase in structural rigidity and diagonal bars tying the subframe to the frame, as well as PS 4 tires, keep the coupe planted on all points. It’s longer and leaner than its predecessor, and it’s all-around better. I can’t fault the cops for thinking I was going too fast in a turn; if they drove it, they would have faulted me for not taking it much faster.
Con: No driver-assist tech
Models with the manual transmission don’t get Toyota’s usual bevy of standard safety features. That’s a significant safety tradeoff, but at least drivers with the manual will be paying more attention to the stick and less attention to their phones. I can’t say that about the other drivers on the road.
Con: Skip the automatic
Sure, it’s $1,500 more for the 6-speed automatic and its attendant safety features, but this car is meant to be operated and driven. Plus, the automatic bogs down the 0-60 mph time to 6.7 seconds. Get the manual.
Pro: Stick to the manual
The manual clocks in with a 6.1-second 0-60 mph time, and with the right driver, it’s likely quicker. Maybe more importantly, it’s easy to learn, with a clutch pedal that’s neither too firm nor too soft, and the engagement point feels natural. The small shifter has smooth action, but the middle slot can seem narrow at first. If you’re new to a manual, you can pick it up in a couple of hours.
Pro: More power
With the second iteration of the 86, Toyota didn’t 86 the power, it increased it from a 205-hp 2.0-liter flat-4 to a 2.4-liter flat-4 making 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Peak torque arrives at 3,700 rpm, versus a distant 6,700 rpm in the previous edition, and that helps unlock more speed out of turns. It’s a big difference for a road-hugging car that only weighs 2,811 pounds.
Con: Compromised storage
Technically a four seater, the 86’s back seats are best folded down to expand the trunk’s paltry 6.3 cubic feet of space. There’s a lone cupholder behind the emergency brake, but the door pockets can hold water bottles too.
Pro: Great steering
Toyota revised the electronic power steering for this generation, improving on what was already a direct and communicative experience. It’s even better now, good enough to tempt me to test its quickness.
I love this car. The price, the package, and the feel all offset its impracticality. It earns a TCC Rating of only 5.8 out of 10 because of its everyday limitations, but if you only drive yourself and a lucky passenger, or you have enough money to afford a toy car and don’t need sick and expensive power, it’s an engaging throwback that’s as modern as it needs to be.
2023 Toyota GR86 Premium
Base price: $31,595 including $1,095 destination
Price as tested: $34,015
Drivetrain: 228-hp 2.4-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed manual and rear-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 20/27/22 mpg
Pros: Handling, steering, looks, more power
Cons: Tight cabin, no telescoping steering wheel, dinky infotainment