Few vehicles leave a mark on you like the Mazda MX-5 Miata. It’s the kind of car that sticks to your bones after you drive it, like a good Thanksgiving roast. Few vehicles offer the same level of driver enjoyment at the price point, ensuring it holds a close place in your heart – even if you’re not an enthusiast. On paper, if there’s one car that can match the Miata pound-for-pound for enjoyment and pricing, it’s the Toyota GR86. While I was a huge fan of the first-gen 86, it had a few glaring issues that kept it back from being close to the Miata on my totem pole of affordable greatness. The latest GR86 marks a massive improvement over the first-gen sports car and does something I never thought possible – stand toe-to-toe with the Miata.
Finally Has A Fitting Engine
The most obvious downside to the 86 was its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. With a rating of 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, the engine was an absolute dog. Journalists and enthusiasts are some of the few people that complain about outright power, but this engine needed, was crying for, more power. The rest of the 86’s package was superb – lithe, agile, enjoyable, tactile. But that freaking engine was atrocious.
Mercifully, Toyota and Subaru fitted their respective sports cars with far better engines for 2022. The GR86 and its BRZ twin now come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that generates 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. These might not sound like transformative figures, but by golly, the new engine makes a world of difference. Whereas the 86 always felt slow, the GR86 now feels brisk in a straight line. You also won’t lose a drag race against a Toyota Prius anymore.
The good things, like the way the shifter lets you know you have the right gear, the placement of the pedals, and the decent fuel economy are all still here. It’s just that the GR86 now has the power to make everything else feel as special as it should.
Simply Sublime Handling
One thing about the Miata that I love, but others don’t seem to like, is the large amount of body roll the sports car has. Turn into a corner in the Miata and the whole vehicle leans. I enjoy it because few cars offer that kind of feeling anymore and because it’s another way that the car communicates with the driver. But after driving the GR86, with its razor-sharp handling, lack of body roll, and taut suspension, you get the idea that a stiffer chassis results in a better sports car.
While I may be comparing the Miata to the GR86 a lot here, at this price point, not much can match the GR86 on the handling and feel front. This little sports car is world-class. Toyota could, if it wanted to, charge a whole lot more for this thing and it would still be worth it. As far as driver enjoyment goes, the GR86 is better than the four-cylinder GR Supra.
If you have a dog and you would like to use the rear seats for your dog, just know that long drives may make your dog nauseous. My pitbull, who happens to usually be great in cars, got nauseous and started to dry heave during an hour-long drive on 95 north. He’s never gotten carsick before, but there was something about the GR86’s ride that upset his stomach.
Still Cramped and Noisy
Toyota updated the GR86’s interior for 2022, so the design is more appealing and the tech is better, but it’s still a tiny, budget-friendly sports car. So, the materials aren’t all that nice and the rear seats are still unusable. I like the way the updated center console looks and how the displays for the HVAC controls are now within the dials themselves. The toggle switches at the bottom of the center console are nifty looking and fun to use.
The seats in the Premium trim have leather-trimmed bolsters and Ultrasuede inserts that look great and are supposed to hold you in more than regular cloth. While they certainly do look great, the Ultrasuede inserts are hard to clean and trap dog hair like it’s their job. Oddly, Toyota’s decided to put Ultrasuede elsewhere around the cabin, so cleaning the entire car can be a nightmare.
The same negatives that affected the 86 also affect the GR86. The sports car’s cabin is loud. Like you can’t talk to your passenger at highway speeds loud. The rear seats are barely large enough for a 50-pound pittie, while the trunk is just large enough for a modest Whole Foods run. These are downsides you’ll find with most sports cars, but in the GR86, these are relatively worse because of its size.
For the people out there that were like me and wanted something a little bit more from the 86, I’m happy to report that the Toyota GR86 brings that bit more. The new engine, updated design, and new tech does wonders for the pint-sized sports car, putting it in a league of its own. Even for me, a diehard Miata enthusiast, the GR86 is somehow better. I didn’t think Toyota could do it, but it did. All for a vehicle that starts at under $29,000 (with destination) for the base trim. The GR86 is one of the those rare vehicles that doesn’t make you feel like you’re missing out on the word of pricey sports cars, because it goes above and beyond.