Of all the opinions published about the original Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, one reigned supreme: It needed more power. A sublime chassis, excellent gearbox, and pinpoint steering were all let down by the car’s anemic naturally aspirated 2.0-liter boxer four. Well, the engineers got the message. In addition to new looks, a revised chassis, and a new interior, the 2022 GR 86 and BRZ get a new 2.4-liter engine with more power and torque. While it’ll be a few weeks until we drive the BRZ, we’re happy to report the new 86 finally feels like a complete enthusiast car.
No, the 228-hp 2.4-liter boxer-four isn’t the STI-derived turbo motor all of the hardcore enthusiasts were praying for. But it’s a massive step up over the lackluster 2.0 in the last-gen cars; where the old engine would gasp for air and bog down out of slow corners, this new unit springs to life, delivering its peak 184 lb-ft of torque at just 3700 rpm. The infamous 4000-rpm dead spot has been eliminated, replaced by a smooth rise in power as the engine approaches redline. It’s as if the engine was actually developed to be in a sports car rather than hastily thrown together to satisfy bean counters.
That’s not to say the GR 86 wouldn’t still be more fun with a turbocharger pushing boost into the motor. It probably would. The difference here is that the car no longer feels like it needs extra power to feel like a complete package. You’re not going to be pulling off massive powerslides out of corners, but this engine is grunty enough to satisfy in virtually every situation, responsive and eager where the last-gen motor was lethargic. Besides, there’s no way Toyota and Subaru engineers could’ve kept the 86’s base price under $30,000 if they added a turbo and all its necessary ancillary systems.
The rest of the car? Thankfully, everything we love about the last 86 has made it into this new generation, massaged to deliver an even more visceral experience. Additional welds and bracing mean an even tighter and less twisty chassis that, back to back with the old car, feels like it adds another layer of refinement and feedback. The car’s eagerness to rotate, especially under braking, is addictive. Even just a lift of the throttle gives you the front-end pointiness you need to tuck the car into a corner. The inherent balance hasn’t been lost, and because just 77 pounds have been added overall, the rear-drive two-door still feels light on its feet.
The steering and suspension, two things Toyota says it tuned specifically to differentiate it from the BRZ, also feel even better than before. It seems like there’s a bit more rubber between you and the road compared to the last-gen 86, but the feeling doesn’t detract from the experience. There’s less roll through corners, yet the ride isn’t any stiffer than before. The steering is nicely weighted and precise without being devoid of feel. What made the original so much fun hasn’t been lost here with all of the updates.
Similarly, the standard six-speed manual is still a delight to use. Throw and engagement feel nearly identical to the previous 86, which was already one of the better gearboxes on the market. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s ND-Miata-good, as you have to be deliberate with your shifts if you’re going quickly so as not to miss a gear. But it’s immensely satisfying to get right. The pedals are well-spaced for heel-toeing, and the clutch pedal has a light, short travel that makes getting away from a stop easy, even for beginners.
The optional six-speed torque-converter automatic also feels virtually unchanged from the unit in the last-gen car. It’s not a bad transmission, exactly, but if you want to do any real performance driving you’ll find it often has a hard time keeping up, especially when asked to downshift while coming down from high speeds. If you can get the manual, get the manual.
Despite the slight weight gain and performance increases, the ventilated four-wheel disc brakes haven’t increased in size for the new 86, still measuring 11.6 inches in diameter up front and 11.4 inches out back. But even after hours and hours of lapping at Monticello Motor Club, a massive circuit with a couple of big braking zones, every test car experienced minimal fade; a Toyota representative on site confirmed the cars were using factory pads and fluid. Track-day types will probably want to swap out that stuff for more capable high-temp items. But they would do that anyway; beginners who want to dip their toes into the wonderful world of track days will be pleased to know the car doesn’t need any modifications or upgrades to hit the circuit.
People who plan to hit the track with the GR 86 should also opt for the Premium trim. In addition to the neat ducktail spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels, you get stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. They eliminate the sponginess and front-end push caused by the Michelin HP Primacy all-seasons found on the base car. Of course, if you’d rather run your own tire setup, grab the base car and source some sticky rubber off of Tire Rack; you might save some cash in the long run, depending on how many track days you attend. Educated buyers will already know each new 86 comes included with a free entry into any single day NASA HPDE event, as well as a year-long NASA membership.
Aside from the engine, one of the knocks against the original 86 was its cheap-feeling parts-bin interior. And much as with the new car’s power plant, a lot of effort was made to improve the cabin with a higher-quality feel. The layout no longer feels lazily put together, and the infamous late Nineties digital clock is gone. The infotainment system no longer looks like it was plucked out of a tuner shop’s waiting room. All of the important touchpoints, the steering wheel, shifter, handbrake, door-pull, etc., are finished with high-quality materials. There’s also a bit more sound deadening, meaning less wind noise at high speeds. The driver’s seat is nice and low, and for 2022 the steering wheel has a telescoping adjustment, so drivers can really dial in the perfect seating position. Visibility isn’t great for checking blind spots, but that’s par for the course when modern pillars are as thick as they are. And if we’re quibbling, the Pilot Sport 4s also make a bit of noise on the road, but it’s nothing too dramatic.
That sound deadening means you also hear less of the exhaust, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences. The first-gen 86 never sounded great, and this new one isn’t any better. If anything, Toyota’s fitted a quieter exhaust to the 2022 car. To compensate, the car now pumps sounds through the stereo system to emulate engine noise. It’s noticeable, but can be gotten used to.
Opinions will differ regarding the new 86’s looks, but before you make a final decision, check it out in person. The car’s overall proportions are vastly similar to those of the outgoing car, so there’s no weird bloat or strange overhangs to ruin the design. The front end is simpler and more elegant; the headlights give a sort of F-Type vibe. It’s a solid design, and there’s every chance it’ll age quite gracefully.
Toyota says the 2022 GR 86 will arrive at dealerships in November 2021. Full pricing has yet to be announced, but the company says it’ll start “comfortably” under $30,000, putting it right into MX-5 territory. Honestly, I’m not sure which I’d rather have. It’s just that good.