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Toyota GR86 long-term test

2022 onwards (change model)
Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 54.0

Written by Luke Wilkinson Published: 24 November 2023 Updated: 5 December 2023

Toyota GR86 long-term test: front three quarter static, welcome shot

Luke Wilkinson is running a Toyota GR86 for the next three months – and, as you can see, he’s quite happy about it. But how well will it cope with his high-mileage schedule?

Update One: getting to know you (very gingerly)

We welcome the Toyota GR86 to the fleet and learn its quirks

This is my sort of motor. A compact Japanese sports car with a thrash-happy naturally aspirated engine up front, a six-speed manual gearbox in the middle and drive going to the rear. Toyota’s going to need a reciprocating saw to extract the keys from my hands in February.

I’ve only had the car a couple of weeks, but I’m already smitten. So smitten in fact, that I’ve covered around 1,000 miles in it. This little Japanese sports car has driven the length of the A1 twice, plus several challenging fell roads in Cumbria and almost every single twisty stretch of tarmac in Lincolnshire. As you can probably tell from the filth accumulating on the car’s side skirts and backside.

I’ve learned three things so far. First, the GR86 is a properly quick little car. Thanks to all the work Toyota has done under the bonnet, it’s a much more serious competitor for the likes of the Audi TT and the lowlier versions of the BMW 2 Series than the GT86 ever was.

Toyota GR86 long-term test: front three quarter cornering, low angle, British country road, white paint

The GR86 has an extra 31hp and 45Nm of torque over its predecessor. That doesn’t sound like a big jump in power, but it makes a huge difference in a car that tips the scales at just 1,276kg in its spryest form. For context, my old Suzuki Swift Sport long termer was around 200kg lighter than the GR86, but it had a little more than half the power – and it was a very fun car indeed. So, this is a riot.

It has humbled me, however. The second thing the GR86 has taught me is how much learning I still have left to do as a driver. December is quite possibly the worst time of the year to be beetling around in a rear-wheel drive sports car and, while we were taking the images you see in this update, the Toyota bit me on more than one occasion.

We were shooting these cornering shots near the office. I applied the lightest of touches to the throttle while exiting the corner and the GR86 instantly wanted to chase its tail. The thing that amazed me the most about its behaviour is that I had the traction control very much on, I was in third gear and the engine was well within the lower half of the rev-counter. The same thing happened on my way out of a car park in Peterborough that night. I suspect I’ll be learning a lot about counter steering and throttle management in the coming months.

Toyota GR86 long-term test: side view driving, British country road, white paint

For my last point, I’m going to have a whinge. Just a small one, I promise. I love everything about the GR86, except its screens. They seem to use the same sort of technology you’d find on a touchscreen phone from the early 2010s. That means, when the light hits them, you can read them.

Now, because it’s winter, the sun shines very low. Annoyingly, its angle of attack just so happens to be perfectly judged to shine directly through the GR86’s rear quarter windows and onto the screens, completely obscuring any content I have displayed on them. During the daytime, they might as well be blanking plates.

This is a minor complaint though, and one I can instantly forget by dropping the ‘box down a cog and letting the engine sing. I’ll get back to you soon. Hopefully the next update won’t be from the wrong side of a ditch.

Mileage: 1,786
Average fuel economy: 31.0mpg

Update two: pushing the limits… of practicality

Proof that you don’t need to have an SUV to carry loads of stuff

Toyota GR86 long-term review: front three quarter static, in front of a Christmas tree in Cockermouth, white paint

I’m moving house this month. It’s an awkward time of year to do it, partly because Britain is draped in a dense mist of drizzle and partly because there’s only about five minutes of daylight between the suffocating nights. That means anything I’m transporting from my old flat to my new flat is at least two times more likely to get soaked and ruined by the rain or dropped and ruined by my clumsiness as I blindly stagger along my new home’s driveway.

It’d be easy to complain about the upheaval, which I’m sure I will as I struggle up the stairs with my umpteenth box of kitchenware. But one thing I’m determined not to moan about is the GR86. It isn’t the ideal vehicle for a house move, I’ll admit – but, as I explained in my Suzuki Swift Sport long-term review, practicality is a mindset. Any car can temporarily lend itself to load-lugging duties through the correct application of the owner’s persistence. And a large hammer.

I had the chance to put my theory into practice before I’d even received the keys to my new property. As the rather festive header image for this update indicates, I spent Christmas in Cumbria with my family. While I was there, my Mam (very graciously) took me shopping to buy every conceivable item I could need for my kitchen. Small appliances, chopping boards, crockery, glassware – you name it, she was on a mission to find it.

Toyota GR86 long-term review: boot space, loaded up to the roof with stuff, white paint

And find it she did. We left our local ASDA pushing a trolley overflowing with home goods – but it was only once I arrived at the boot of the GR86 did I recognise the scale of the challenge that stood before me. The car offers a mere 226 litres of luggage capacity, almost all of which was swallowed up by Mam’s generous ASDA haul. But once that was on board, I still needed to find space for my case, bedding, empty moving boxes, work bag and myself.

Thankfully, the GR86 has folding rear seats. Their release cables are a little tricky to access as you need to fold yourself into the boot to reach them, but the extra space they provided was worth testing my flexibility for. With the rear seats tumbled, I could spread my flat-packed moving boxes out over the entire load space, chuck my bags behind the front seats and crowbar my kitchen setup into the boot, before slamming the lid and praying the pressure wouldn’t leave a visible dent in the panel.

Happily, it didn’t. But as you’d expect with a cabin so tightly packed, my drive down south wasn’t exactly comfortable. My view out of the rear window was impaired by the mountain of clobber looming behind my left ear and, every time I changed from third to fourth, I belted my elbow into my suitcase. On the plus side, though, the extra weight over the rear axle did help to control some of the GR86’s tail-happy hooliganism – a welcome benefit in the monsoon conditions I was travelling in.

Toyota GR86 long-term review: front seats, box on passenger seat, rear seats folded flat and piled high with stuff

Don’t mistake these observations for complaints. Despite the hassle, I wouldn’t have traded the GR86 for any other car. Even with half a metric tonne of house supplies on board, my drive through the Lake District’s swooping A-roads was joyous – and I even peeled off the beaten track to (very carefully, so’s not to break any plates) tackle some of my favourite B-roads. The drive was infinitely more enjoyable than it would have been in any large SUV or family hatchback.

Cars like the GR86 are precious. Humanity’s quest to make its vehicles safer, more practical, less polluting and more convenient has pretty much killed the affordable sports car niche today – and I very much doubt it’ll be able to return to its former self once we’ve entered the all-electric era. EV technology is still too expensive and too heavy to replicate the sensation.

For that reason, I’m determined to enjoy cars like this as often as I can before legislation consigns them to the history books. Even if it means battling discomfort to do so.

Mileage: 2,871
Average fuel economy: 30.0mpg