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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


New Toyota GR86 a proper driver’s car for the purists

Replacement for the GT86/86 might not have a turbo, but still thrills as the revs climb higher and higher.


In the run-up to its unveiling in 2021, rumours and speculation had been sent into overdrive that the second generation Toyota GT86/86 would finally be offered with a turbocharged engine.

Turbo, forget it

The hope was further raised when it became known that the engine in question would be Subaru’s then brand-new 2.4-litre FA24 that offers turbocharging on some models in the United States.

Come the eventual reveal, the now newly named GR86 did indeed come with the new flat-four Boxer engine, but without forced induction once again despite power jumping up from 147kW/205Nm, to 174kW/250Nm.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Toyota GR86 an analogue adrenaline rush in a digital age

As much as the disappointment could be seen as understandable, the other side of the argument is that the GR86, like the GT86, has been designed as an affordable, old-school two-door coupe that rewards input rather than being about power.

The AE86 influence

Like the iconic AE86 its name is derived from, the GR86 is an out-and-out driver’s car that requires effort to unlock its true potential.

This not only as a result of its engine being normally aspirated and therefore required to be worked, but also because of it being rear-wheel-drive and with a gearbox arguably more workman-like than in the all-wheel-drive GR Yaris.

New Toyota GR86 road test South Africa
Rounded rear facia seemingly harks back to the long since discontinued Scion tC.

In this regard, the GR86 can be seen as somewhat tamed compared to the GR Yaris and its senior sibling, the GR Supra, but in truth, and while no lightweight like the AE86 that weighed less than 1 000 kg model dependent, it produces even a more of a thrill in the same way its iconic namesake exerted not only in reality, but also in fiction.

Explain the colour..

The latter point is especially true to the GR86’s appearance as our tester came finished in a panda black-and-white draping with Japanese lettering on the side.

A one-off done intentionally and not available from any Toyota dealership, the livery pays tribute to the anime Initial D in which a 1980s AE86 Sprinter Trueno GT Apex becomes the star of illegal Japanese street racing by beating everything from Mazda RX-7 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evos, to Nissan Skyline GT-Rs.

Road test of the new Toyota GR86
What does it mean? Fujiwara Tofu Shop name and indeed the livery a tribute to the cult Initial D anime series.

As for the Japanese scripting on the doors, it reads Fujiwara Tofu Shop in reference to the tofu shop owned by the father of title character, Takumi Fujiwara, whose ability to make the most of the AE86’s weight and develop a certain skill while delivering tofu despite not being interested in cars or racing initially, makes him the unlikeliest of any street racer to perfect the art of racing and drifting.

New Toyota GR86 road test South Africa
The standard alloys measure 18-inches and come wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres.

While indeed a clever tribute to Initial D and the AE86, or hachi-roku (Eight-Six in Japanese), the simple truth is that the ability of a Takumi doesn’t resonate with everyone, especially in South Africa where the roads are the opposite of those in the anime and driver ability anything but on the same level.

That being said, getting behind the wheel of the GR86 comes with a type of Takumi-eque nostalgia as, like the AE86, opulent luxury has been eschewed for a driver-focused feel with little in the way of distractions the moment you open the door.

Two’s company

While a massive improvement over the GT86/86, the GR86’s cabin still appears comparatively basic as evident by the presence of shiny plastics and the infotainment system looking almost aftermarket.

Toyota debuts new GR86 in South Africa
At 239-litres, the boot is small due to Toyota having seen it fit to offer a full-size spare wheel.

Despite the inclusion of rear seats that, to be blunt, are laughable as not even small children will have any headroom and legroom, the GR86 is a strict two-seater that shuns interior practicality for purist enjoyment.

Practicality does, however, feature in the guise of the boot that can take 239-litres of luggage, even with the full-size spare wheel located underneath the GR86 branded plastic cover.

Without the panda

With its tribute livery stripped off, the GR86 still looks the part as apart from having the same dimensions as the GT86, Toyota has retained the compact coupe aesthetic, but with a sleeker appearance at the front and a rounded rear facia that takes after the Scion tC – a slightly bigger coupe sold in the United States by Toyota’s long defunct Scion brand.

Mounted on 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, the GR86’s external simplicity includes a small bootlid spoiler and a pair of menacing exhaust outlets that still pales in comparison to the overexuberant design of the GR Yaris and Supra.

Inside is where the magic happens

As mentioned, the same goes for the interior which looks cumbersome from the outside. Requiring a few contortions to get, the snug cabin receives a new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that is easy to fathom and also gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Behind the steering wheel taken directly from the GR Yaris sits a 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster flanked by a pair of almost outdated looking readouts.

Road test of the new Toyota GR86
Interior puts driving first

In truth, the old-school readouts are anything but a hinderance as a type of analogue feel prevails that makes faulting the GR86’s cabin seem unfair.

However, hinderances are present, the most prominent being the still irksome cruise control stalk jutting out of the steering column, and the plasticky feel of the shortcut buttons around the infotainment system.

Road test of the new Toyota GR86
New infotainment system looks somewhat aftermarket, but is easy to fathom.

As for features, the GR86 comes equipped with keyless entry and push-button start, dual-zone climate control controlled via a series of sporty looking dials, folding electric mirrors, a six-speaker sound system, reverse camera and, a welcome addition never offered on the GT86, Hill Start Assist.

For all its creature comforts, the GR86’s main drawing cards are those carried over from the GT86 that signifies its real intensions; the handbrake located right next to the driver and opposite the stubby gear lever, as well as two buttons on the slimline centre console marked Track and traction control off.

Yes, there is glory

Similar to Initial D and the AE86, the GR86 is all about the drive and feel and once on the move, little prevents you from wanting to bury your foot in the firewall, play some Eurobeat music on the audio, and imagine yourself as being Takumi somewhere on a dark mountain pass preparing to annihilate your rival.

Making that foot part of the GR86’s structure is indeed required as unlike the GR Yaris or the GR Supra, the lack of any forced assistance means exploiting the higher regions of the rev-change to keep momentum going.

Road test of the new Toyota GR86
Switches of truth. New Track mode has been designed, as its name says, for track use, while the other option is switching the traction control off entirely.

Doing this is, however, a rush in itself as the power is instant and without lag, accompanied by a typical flat-four note that leaves little doubt as to who developed the engine.

From behind the wheel, the input needed to make the GR86 dance is something worth appreciating. Besides the leather/suede heated sport seats being supportive and in-line with the snug feel of the cabin, the six-speed manual gearbox requires some muscle in spite of being slick and fitted with the grin inducing Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT) function that blips the engine on downshifts.

Toyota debuts new GR86 in South Africa
Front seats are supportive and feature heating, but manual adjustment.

The same feeling extends to the clutch that, like in the GT86, has a high bite and requires careful modulation to avoid stalling. Once passed this stage, the talents of GR86 continue as the steering is sharp and the handling on par for a sports coupe.

At 1 260 kg, the GR86 is slightly heavier than the GT86 and while its top speed of 226 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 6.3 seconds appears pedestrian compared to its other GR sibling, the input needed to come close to these numbers won’t scare purists off anytime soon.

Toyota debuts new GR86 in South Africa
Rear seats are questionable as space is virtually zero, even for children.

Unsurprisingly, the down-side is a fairly firm ride that becomes really uncomfortable on badly tarred or patched section of road, not helped by the suspension, the tyres or the GR86 sitting just 130 mm off of the ground.

The brutal truth prevails though that interested buyers are likely to accept the GR86’s shortcomings in everyday usage, simply because of the pay-off that exists the moment you get out of a gridlock situation and presented with the opportunity to let loose a car that goes back to basics in order to thrill similar to Takumi’s hachi-roku.

Conclusion

It isn’t without its shortcomings and while its sticker price of R733 500 is anything but affordable driving nirvana for the masses, the Toyota GR86 still rates as a pure driving sensation that harks back to the glory days of when Japan dominated the coupe scene in the 1990s.

New Toyota GR86 road test South Africa
No more GT86 or simply 86, but GR86.

While indeed no match for its pricier GR siblings on outright pace or speed, it still leaves a massive smile at the end of the day along with the sensation of having had your input behind the wheel rewarded worthy of a Takumi.

NOW READ: Tail-happy, more powerful new Toyota GR86 priced

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