To give you an idea of what Toyota’s new GR86 is all about, let’s first consider what it doesn’t have.
No switchable steering modes, adaptive dampers or automatic stop-start. No voice controls, head-up display, mood lighting, sat-nav or self-parking. Minor controls are served by buttons, toggle switches and dials, not hidden in some inscrutable touchscreen (the only touchscreen in the car handles radio controls, nothing else).
Seat adjustment is by manual levers, and the seats themselves are not clad in shiny leather but more purposeful, grippy Alcantara. The cabin is sparse and functional, utterly devoid of embellishment.
There’s no turbo either. The engine is that rarest of things, a naturally-aspirated combustion engine without a hint of hybrid assistance. Even the parking brake is an old-school pull-up handbrake, not an electronic lever.
And what’s this ahead of that handbrake? A manual gearlever. There is a 6-speed automatic variant available, but if you’re going old-school, go all the way. And it’s truly do-it-yourself – unlike many of the remaining manual cars on sale today, there’s no rev-matching function on downshifts.
Strip out all these things, and what’s left is perhaps the purest, no-nonsense driver’s car you can buy new in Singapore. Toyota may have given short shrift to modern fripperies, but it has paid full attention to time-honoured fundamentals, and it shows.
Start with the car’s mass – not just its quantum, but also its positioning. Shorn of all fanciful excesses, the GR weighs just 1291kg in manual form. And that weight sits as near the car’s middle as the front-engined layout permits, with the engine sited well back in the engine bay. The boxer layout, where the pistons sit horizontally and at the same height as the crank, also concentrates the engine’s mass much lower than in a traditional in-line engine, lowering the GR’s centre of gravity.
An ancillary benefit of that lowline engine is that the bonnet too, can sit lower, lending a pleasing arrowhead look to the GR’s nose. It also means that the driver’s view forward is unhindered, allowing the driver to sit lower as well – which in turn drops the car’s centre of gravity yet further. A lovely example of a virtuous circle.
The GR’s styling is a clear progression from its GT86 predecessor, with similar proportions. There is more definition to its flanks – a bit more visual muscle around the wheelarches – and a more assertive front end. There is welcome touch of added menace, without looking like it’s trying too hard.
Despite the low roofline, there is ample space for tall occupants inside. At least in front – the tiny rear seats are next to useless unless the front seats are slid way forward. That low-slung seating position imparts a sense of purpose, as do the perfectly-placed steering wheel and gearlever sitting high on the central tunnel, just a handspan away.
Once awakened, the engine putters away with a slightly uneven burble, a characteristic of its boxer layout. It’s a nice quirk that subtly reminds you that this is a car that treads a different path.
Move off, and the first thing you notice is the abruptness of the clutch, making smooth departures a hit-and-miss affair, although the gearshift action itself is delightfully crisp and direct.
But you then start to revel in the alertness and immediacy of the steering’s response – steering weight and ratio are beautifully-judged, and the car’s responses are delightfully linear – you hardly ever need to adjust your trajectory mid-bend.
You can place the car with such precision and delicacy too. The directness of the steering helps immensely of course, but so does the fact that you’re seated so near the road surface, putting you that much closer to the action.
The car’s handy size is a virtue as well – the GR is no wider than it absolutely needs to be, giving you more cornering-line options on narrow roads and egging you to go for gaps that you would think twice about in anything bigger.
There is a lovely, eager agility in the way the GR moves. It corners flat but you can still sense the ideal weight distribution, the slight weight transfer to the rear under acceleration, and the sheer poise of the car through and out of corners.
You don’t get the sensation of the car pivoting around its middle like you do with the best mid-engined cars, but the GR’s eagerness to change direction and deftness through bends is still on a different plane from even the very best sports saloons and hot hatches.
Give it too much throttle (whether by accident or design) exiting a turn and the rear wheels will spin up before being reined in by the traction control.
But even in that split-second of slip, you sense that the impending oversteer will come as a linear, controllable slide rather than a heart-stopping spike of tail-out drama. To confirm, find a quiet, big space, disable the traction control and try again. And so it proves – the GR’s chassis works with you instead of scaring you witless.
The engine has grown by 400cc over the predecessor GT86’s powerplant, and now displaces 2.4 litres. Power has risen by 27bhp to 231bhp, but more critically, peak torque is up by 23Nm to 250Nm, and is now delivered at 3700rpm instead of a stratospheric 6400rpm so the car now feels much more punchy in urban traffic and in the low to mid-range.
The gearbox’s 6 closely-stacked ratios help keep the engine in the zone, and the century sprint is now done and dusted in 6.3 seconds – not especially quick by today’s turbo-fuelled standards, but still a very useful 1.3 seconds better than the languid GT86 predecessor.
There is still not much of a soundtrack low down, but extend the flat-four towards its 7000rpm redline and the engine note turns thrillingly strident, providing perfect aural accompaniment to the car’s exponential increase in forward thrust.
And yet the GR can be a civil companion too. Despite its planted, roll-free handling, it is not a hard-riding, road-going go-kart. While there is a definite firmness in the setup, compliance over bumps is still good and progress over bad roads never turns harsh or crashy.
Thank endless hours of careful suspension tuning for that, plus the choice of sensibly-sized 18-inch wheels instead of trendier and larger items. Sound insulation is much improved as well, so the long trek up the North-South Highway for the inevitable Sepang trackdays will no longer be a test of endurance.
The GR is the antithesis of the bloated, tech-laden, overpowered and overwrought cars that blight our roads today. It has one goal – to entertain the driver – and remains fixated on that goal without regard to market pressure or current trends. It may be resolutely old-school, but we need more modern cars to display the single-minded philosophy that this brilliant little sportscar exhibits. Bravo Toyota.
Toyota GR86 2.4
ENGINE 2387cc, 16-valves, flat-4
MAX POWER 231bhp at 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 3700rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 178.9bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed manual / 6-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 6.3 seconds / 6.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 226km/h / 216km/h
CONSUMPTION 11.3km/L (combined) / 11.4km/L (combined)
PRICE $138,888 without COE
AGENT Borneo Motors