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Henry Payne: Nimble Toyota GR86 gets more GRRRRR

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

As the sage says, never buy a first-generation car. Wait until gen-2. This time, Subaru and Toyota nailed it.

All credit to Subaru, of course, which is the engineering lead on the Toyobaru. They swapped out the 2.0-liter flat-4 for a 2.4-liter flat-4. That means a healthy gain in power (228 ponies) but more importantly, a 33 pound-feet torque boost to 184. That’s nearly on par with the Civic Si’s 192.

Reaching for the steering-wheel shift paddles to get my manual fix, I rowed the box in TRACK mode between 2nd and 3rd gears through Cave Creek’s twisties — taking advantage of GR86’s fatter torque curve, which arrives at a usable 3,700 rpm (vs. 6,600 RPM in the old car). Gazoo’s chefs have also sweetened the exhaust sound and I wound the flat-4 all the way to 7-grand.

The bigger flat-4 cylinder means GR86 loses none of its road-hugging goodness — the Toyobaru has one of the lowest center-of-gravity measurements in the industry as well as one of the lightest bods (2,833 pounds in Premium trim). Just for good measure, engineers also fortified the skeleton with high-strength steel, front cross members, a full-ring rear frame. My Premium edition was also shod with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 shoes — a step up from the base Michelin Primacy H/P tires.

Let me recommend the $2,600 walk from the base GR86 to the $31,325 Premium model with those Sport 4 gummies wrapped around black 18-inch wheels and other goodies like heated leather seats, blind-spot assist and a Supra-like duckbill tail.

The latter is testament to the GR86’s significantly more mature look. Squint your eyes and it looks like the 2023 Nissan Z. And that’s saying something for a Toyota brand that can be hit or miss on design these days (seen a Prius lately?). GR86’s design is sleek, minimalist, timeless. It’s the looker of the Toyobaru twins.


“That’s an attractive car,” said Mrs. Payne, picking our GR86 out in a crowded parking lot. She’s not prone to gush. Leave that to me. From the aggressive front to the dramatic rocker panels to the rear duckbill, GR86 has looks to match its athleticism.

Dressed in killer red, the low-slung roller-skate got a lot of stares around Phoenix — a notorious cars ‘n’ coffee town. It also attracted challengers. An all-wheel-drive Tesla Model Y sidled up at a stoplight. Oh, I knew that wouldn’t go well.

I took the bait, stomped the pedal and rowed the oars for all they were worth. The Tesla disappeared into the distance.

The manual would have done a bit better. Toyota says the automatic is a half-second slower 0-60 mph. Sudden acceleration also exposes the auto’s biggest flaw: poor tip-in. I tested the GR86 right after a silky-smooth, six-speed automatic Mazda CX-30 (Mazda engineers are obsessive about this stuff) and GR86 felt like a bucking bronco by comparison.


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