The Toyota GR 86 Might Be the Best Little Manual Transmission Sports Car on the Road

Toyota Gr 86 Featured Image

It comes in automatic, too. If you must.

With a starting price of about $27K and all-in at $31K, you’re winning already. And that’s just one of the reasons I’ve long loved this little car: Its elegant shape and classic sports car design  instantly win me over. But its drive experience, details and price put the 2022 Toyota GR86 over the top.

This is one of the smaller cars in Toyota’s lineup, and one of the most affordable sports cars on the road. This two-door coupe seats four but the rear seats are really better suited for a handbag, backpack or groceries. It sits low to the ground and is fun to drive, but it’s also loud, with the engine’s sound fed back into the cabin for the authentic sports car experience. It’s not filled with a ton of gadgets, instead, it has the basics and allows you to access additional features, like navigation, through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and cup holders that are tucked into the butterfly wing center console (there are bottle pockets in the door panels, too).

For 2022 Toyota replaced the 86 with the GR 86, adding about 20 horsepower and more torque but keeping the price roughly the same. 

Related: 2022 Toyota GR 86 First Drive Review: Don’t Let This Sexy Little Sports Car Fool You: It’s Fun, Fast and Affordable

The Engine In The Toyota Gr 86 Is Co-Built With Subaru And Is Also Used In Subaru'S Brz Sports Car

The engine in the Toyota GR 86 is co-built with Subaru and is also used in Subaru’s BRZ sports car. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The GR 86 Backstory

The 86 was the sporty model in the Scion family, Toyota’s very approachable brand produced in partnership with Subaru until 2012. Scion was intended for young drivers, especially those who like to modify their cars, so the brand was well priced, delivered a reliable car and was a solid foundation for new drivers.

But, alas, Scion was discontinued, though the two companies continued the partnership to keep the 86, and Subaru’s version, the BRZ, on the road.

But with Toyota’s renewed focus on performance cars, from NASCAR to performance models like Supra (priced from $43K-$54K), Toyota is putting its racing knowledge into models like the the 86, and thankfully so. This little car has a body built for speed but needed an engine and suspension to match.

Related: 9 Reasons Why Every Woman Will Love the 2021 Toyota Supra

The Rear End Of The Toyota Gr 86 Has A Large Spoiler, Reminding Me Of The Toyota Supra

The rear end of the Toyota GR 86 has a large spoiler, reminding me of the Toyota Supra. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Gazoo Racing Adds Even More Awesome DNA 

Even if you’re not the speed-demon type, you should know Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s partner in all things performance. Through the partnership, Toyota is able to experiment and test the speed and agility of its cars and turn out models for both the track and daily driving. These are more comfortable to drive, bring more precision to city streets and get better fuel economy. But that’s the mission behind racing: To be the best at everything.  

The result is a line of GR-branded cars that have more power, better braking and reinforced frames so they can really handle the track. First there was the GR Supra and now, the GR 86, the Supra’s mini-me. There will be more in the GR family coming soon, too, including the just introduced GR Corolla. 

Related: This is Why Everyone Is Gaga for the BMW-Inflected 2020 Toyota Supra 

The View From The Driver'S Seat In The Toyota Gr 86

The view from the driver’s seat in the Toyota GR 86. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Toyota GR 86 is Toyota’s Most Fun-For-the-Money Car

I first got to drive the Toyota GR 86 at a drive event for the World Car Awards, and I was blown away. There are two models, base and Premium, and each are available in an automatic and a stick shift manual transmission and priced from $27,700 to $31,800. I took a spin in the automatic and was impressed; it was fun. It’s a giggle just to hit the starter button—the engine is loud and exciting—and it accelerates quickly, maybe a bit unexpected for a 228 horsepower engine with 187 torque. And, it easily held its own around the curves and hills of California’s canyon roads.

But I wanted to drive the manual transmission, so I got a chance at home in Texas. And it was a blast; it’s a natural hand-in-glove experience, easy to maneuver on traffic and through curves and hills. It’s easy to navigate around parking lots and in traffic, despite the low roof line that cuts into your rear view visibility. 

Now, you might think that Texas is all flatlands and dusty plains, but no, we have hills here, too. A manual transmission is a bit more of challenge on a hilly roads, especially when you’re starting off in first gear, but the GR 86 was just fine. Automatic hill hold lets you lift your foot off the brake and the car holds steady until you start to let the clutch out and give it a bit of gas (thankfully). 

Then, on an incline at a traffic light the GR 86 not just held steady, but gave me enough power to quickly get through the intersection and on my way without feeling as if I needed to be heavy on both the clutch and the accelerator. I love engineering that anticipates the challenges and addresses them so I don’t have to. 

The Rear Seat Is Actually Ideal For Pups, Groceries And Handbags

The rear seat is actually ideal for pups, groceries and handbags. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A Doll of a Car

Once on the road, the GR 86 was simply a doll. It’s fast, light and moves easily through traffic and around curves. You’ll want to find more ambitious roads for your drive and maybe skip the highway altogether; fast is good but fun is better. I took the long way home, opting for some of our curvier roads just because it was more fun. 

Remembering that this car doesn’t have all the sophisticated details that other performance cars have, I was surprised to find a drive mode selector. However, it allows you to pick from two modes: Normal and Track, which simply turns off traction control. 

The Front Seat In The Toyota Gr 86 Notice This One Has Three Pedals! Photo: Scotty Reiss

The front seat in the Toyota GR 86 Notice this one has three pedals! Photo: Scotty Reiss

All This Fun Comes At a Cost… To Your Hearing

This little car is loud. It’s small and close to the road, and the engine is loud. You’ll need to speak a little louder when chatting with your passenger(s) or on the phone (hands free, of course). And you’ll need to get used to the loud engine sound in the cabin. If that’s a bothersome detail, you may want to keep looking. 

The loud engine sound in the cabin also gives the GR 86 a bit of a rough-around-the-edges feel, as does the ride quality, which might be better described as sporty. Again: It’s close to the road, with tight steering and suspension designed to hug every curve, so it’s naturally not going to have that floating-on-air feel of some cars. In this car you’re supposed to hear the engine and feel the road. That’s the point. 

Front Seats Fold Forward To Allow Rear Seat Access

Front seats fold forward to allow rear seat access. Notice the cup holders in the center arm rest between the front seats. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Pretty Good Interior Space For a Coupe

Believe it or not, this car seats 4, though not very comfortably. It’s really ideal for two passengers, but if you really, really need to bring along two more people there are seats and seatbelts for them. But with the sloping roof line and compact passenger cabin, it’s hard to imagine four passengers being comfortable for very long. The one exception may be if two of those passengers are the 4-legged type. My dog was very comfortable in the rear of the Toyota GR 86 and happy to go along for the ride (though buckling him into his harness took some back-bending). And while the diminutive seats may look good for little kids, installing car seats would certainly be a challenge, though a child’s booster seat would be easier.

The rear seat is actually a great place for things like groceries, a handbag, a backpack or a dog. You can easily stow and go, though if you need to harness your dog with the seatbelt, which you should do, that can take some work. Not having to figure out where to put a handbag or backpack in a car like this is a blessing. So while I found the rear seats not really usable for passengers, it’s great for your gear. 

Another interior space detail that is well done is the hatch back and cargo area. It’s not huge, but the rear seats fold down for more cargo space (there rear seat is one piece, so it does not split when folded, for good and bad). It can accommodate something long and flat like a golf bag, a rolled up rug or luggage. It’s a thoughtful detail and in a car this small, useful. 

The Gr 86 Logo On The Carpet; Can You See The 86?

The GR 86 logo on the carpet; can you see the 86? Photo: Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs 

The GR 86 is available in four models: Base model in manual or automatic, and Premium in manual or automatic. That’s it. Here’s how the pricing breaks down: 

  • Base model GR 86 has a 4 cylinder engine generating 228 horsepower and 184 torque and estimated to get 22MPG city/highway combined, 17” wheels with Michelin Primacy summer tires, bucket sport seats with fabric inserts, 2 USB charge ports, hand brake, GR stop/start button, 8” touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Toyota Safety Sense advanced driver assist and safety features, hill start assist, $27,700
  • Premium GR 86 adds 18” wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, heated leather trimmed seats with ultrasuede inserts, premium auto-leveling headlights, 7” digital driver information screen, center console with cup holders inside the arm rest, $30,300
  • Automatic transmission with adaptive cruise control: $1,500

There is so much to love about this car if it’s the right type of car for you: sporty, fun and barely practical. It’s also great if you’re in training for a Toyota Supra, BMW Z4 or Porsche 911; it’ll turn you in to a sports car person. And that’s such a good thing.

Disclosure: Toyota provided the GR86 for my test drive but all opinions are my own.

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss