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car review

The 2022 Toyota GR 86.Photography by EMILY ATKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

If the 2022 Toyota GR 86 were an amusement-park ride, it would be the Scrambler. It’s fun in an analog way, just like the simple, but wildly entertaining old school machines found at country fairs since the 1950s.

The Toyota 86 first launched in 2012, known in Canada as the Scion FR-S, and rebranded as Toyota GT 86 in 2017. The car’s appeal is based largely on its relative affordability and the rear-wheel drive, manual transmission nod to the golden age of analog motoring. It was a time before automatic transmissions became “standard” equipment, and before cars became bloated computers on wheels.

Since the launch, the cars have been used for performance rally, one-make races, autocross and dirt trials, while a huge fan base makes a science of customizing them. More than 200,000 86s have been sold worldwide, Toyota reports.

In updating the car for 2022, Toyota thus had a large following to appease. Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) “sought to develop a vehicle that would provide happiness to 86 fans, and realize an evolution of the 86′s unique driving sensations,” the company said at the 2022 model’s launch. The Gazoo Racing (GR) branding signifies the car has been upgraded to a sportier standard.

Based on the benchmark of pleasing existing fans, the GR 86 will likely be a success. Toyota has improved performance without adding complexity to a vehicle that is prized for its pure driving experience.

The GR 86 looks like what it is: an entry-level sports car.

A large part of the appeal will be thanks to the new, larger engine. The flat four boxer format remains, but the displacement has increased from 2.0 litres to 2.4, boosting horsepower from 205 to 228 and peak torque from 156 to 184 lb.-ft. It is now almost a second faster off the line. The new GR 86 takes 6.3 seconds in a sprint from zero to 100 km/h.

The new engine is tuned to deliver maximum torque at 3,700 rpm. In the previous version peak torque wasn’t achieved until 6,600 rpm, meaning the new setup delivers smoother acceleration. It’s also been tweaked with increased bore, higher compression and changes to the intake and exhaust systems.

The car is very light, at 1,270 kilos, and Toyota has ensured excellent handling with a low centre of gravity, limited slip differential and sport-tuned suspension. Big brakes and sport tires on 18-inch wheels, for the manual transmission model, complete the set-up.

Driving this pocket-sized fun fair ride is a workout. The GR 86 rewards a driver who really knows how to work the manual transmission for maximum entertainment value. That means you must pay attention in variable driving conditions, like twisty back roads or (unfortunately) congested city driving, to ensure the revs don’t drop too far. Thankfully, the pedal setup allows for heel and toe downshifting to make that easier.

The GR 86 achieves its objective of delivering more of what fans of the old FR-S or GT 86 love – unadorned, simple driving pleasure. The power boost, new sleeker looks, and continuing availability of a manual transmission boost the car’s relative appeal in a very small class of vehicles.

And while it will be competing against its twin, the Subaru BRZ – the two manufacturers developed the cars together – the GR 86 satisfies the desire for an uncomplicated ride. It won’t just appeal to the younger driver who has discovered the joys of a pure driving experience; its retro credentials will no doubt make a fan or two out of people who learned to drive back when the Scrambler was new.

Tech specs

The GR 86 achieves its objective of delivering more of what fans of the old FR-S or GT 86 love – unadorned, simple driving pleasure.

2022 Toyota GR 86

Base price: Canadian pricing not yet available. Estimated to start under $30,000 USD in the U.S.

Price as tested: N/A. Model tested was Premium 6MT

Engine: 2.4-litre flat four boxer

Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy (litres/100kms; city/hwy): N/A

Alternatives: Subaru BRZ; Mazda MX-5; Nissan 370Z

Looks

The GR 86 looks like what it is: an entry-level sports car. However, its small stature and tall wheels, ducktail and aggressive front fascia do more than hint at the fun contained in the small package, they scream it. Fanboys drooled over the prototype during our brief test drive.

Interior

The model we drove is a prototype, so Toyota warned that the finishes may not be on the production cars. Nonetheless, the interior is delightfully simple, with minimal switchgear, and small touch screen. The front sport seats are hard and roomy enough that a smaller or average sized person won’t benefit from the side bolsters in hard cornering.

Performance

The GR 86 is faster, more responsive, more aerodynamic and handles better than its predecessor.

The 2022 GR 86 has been markedly improved from its predecessor. It’s faster, more responsive, more aerodynamic and handles better. That said, it is still not a particularly quick car, and rowing the manual transmission though the gears from a standing start generates a lot of unpleasant noise from the (apparently) straining boxer engine. It’s not a car that delivers a thrilling shot of acceleration.

Technology

The lack of technology in this car is half of its appeal. There is very little to interfere with the analog motoring experience. Only the automatic version gets Subaru’s Eyesight safety nannies, while the manual has wired Apple Car Play and Android Auto and not much else, except a mediocre six-speaker stereo.

Cargo

There is only enough cargo space for a suitcase or two in the trunk.

The trunk is barely big enough to pack a suitcase or two, but what more do you need for a weekend road-trip or daily commute? The rear seats do fold down, making is conceivable that a pair of skis might slide in. Back seat passengers are not recommended, due to a complete absence of leg and headroom, yet Toyota is unintentionally funny in noting that it has child seat anchors back there.

Verdict

More power, better responsiveness and a pretty similar price tag to the old Toyota 86 – what’s not to love about the new GR 86? This car will appeal to fans of the analog style of car – rear-wheel drive, manual transmission and naturally aspirated engine. If you love driving in a pure form, this may be the car for you.

The updated Toyota GR 86 (formerly called the GT 86) captures the sports car essence of rear-wheel drive and light weight, while also delivering more power and torque than its predecessor. Thomas Holland and James Engelsman from Throttle House were all smiles whipping the nimble coupe around their test track.

The Globe and Mail

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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