After the sporty crossover SUV came into existence, the days of the affordable sports car were numbered. A once-hot segment in the auto industry has now faded away and only a handful of options remain.
The Toyota GR86 is one, and it’s from a brand that was deemed most boring a decade ago. Former Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda promised to change that reputation and Toyota’s transformation from a humdrum automaker to one that has more genuinely fun cars than most other car brands has been nothing sort of revolutionary.
The GR86 arguably started that trend for Toyota and it rose to fame and quickly developed a cult-like following. That’s because Toyota wanted you to have fun with it, and take it autocrossing, or to a track. It was sold as a Scion at first, a brand fully marketed to the import-tuning crowd. They even made sure it could fit four wheels and tires on the inside so you could swap to a set of stickier rubber for a track day.
It was a stonking good car but it had issues. Chief among them was a lack of power, a finicky clutch, and an uninspired exhaust note. I drove the new GR86 last year and was pleased to report that those problems were history. With 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque (30 lb-ft more than before), the GR86 had newfound performance chops and a much better gearbox and clutch.
For the 10th year anniversary, Toyota dropped a Solar Shift (orange) Special Edition GR86 of which there are only 20 allotted for Canada. Maybe it’s a good thing because it is by far the most expensive version of the car and it doesn’t exactly come with any more performance or power.
So what’s different about the SE?
There’s the customary limited edition and numbered badge visible when you open the driver’s side door. The orange paint is exclusive to the SE, and it’s a bright, luscious shade that suits the car. There are black decals on the rear C-pillar, a black duckbill spoiler, and 18-inch forged black wheels. Inside, there’s orange stitching and orange trim on the front seats, and 10th
anniversary badging on the doors. But the best upgrade is a performance exhaust with black chrome tips that looks and sounds much better than stock.
It’s the first thing you hear when you ignite the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder. Toyota’s right in not turbocharging the GR86. With more torque hitting lower in the rev range, power comes on quickly and linearly. Throttle response is instant, and there’s a throaty growl from the new pipes that makes you want to keep your foot in it.
The GR86 is a quick car, not a fast car, and that might be one of the best things about it. It means you can use the car everywhere and full-throttle blasts won’t get your car impounded. Even if you’re just going somewhere mundane, the drive never will be.
It’s a really small car, apparent when you walk up to it. But it’s wide and low and looks exotic with classic rear-wheel drive proportions, voluptuous rear fenders, and that super cool rear spoiler. It’s not as small as a Miata, a car it frequently gets compared to, but it’s in the ballpark.
It’s actually quite practical, however. The rear seats will fit kids in booster seats, there’s a glove box, and door pockets, and the trunk has enough space for weekend luggage or a week’s worth of groceries.
Inside, there’s nothing you don’t need. Everything is focused on driving. The seating position is perfect, the steering wheel is the right size, the gear shifter is inches away from your right hand, and all the buttons for the climate control and stereo are big and easy to use. There’s a great digital gauge cluster, which also has a track mode display. Track mode loosens the hold of the stability control system allowing for a bit more drifty action.
I’ve compared the tactility of the steering and overall driving feel of the GR86 to a Porsche
and that still holds true. It’s a joy to drive at any time and gives you unlimited confidence. It’s honestly better than most of the sports cars I’ve ever driven including the ones in Toyota’s own lineup. When you drive it, it becomes an extension of yourself. It’s more of a wearable than a car. And you really can’t get that feeling anywhere else today and certainly not for its sub-40 K price tag.
There aren’t many downsides to living with the GR86. It does ride very stiffly and the performance exhaust has a drone that you can’t turn off (the non-SE GRs don’t have this issue) but these can also be considered virtues depending on your preferences. If you don't need the passenger space, it could be a great daily driver.
Is the 10th-anniversary special edition worth it? If you’re a hardcore GR86 fan with an Initial D ringtone on your phone then maybe, but for the rest of us looking for a great sports car the base GR86, or even the Premium trim, will perform exactly the same. And you can always get an aftermarket exhaust.
The Toyota GR86 is part of Toyota’s commitment to keeping fun cars alive. But it’s so much more than that. It’s everything that we’ve ever loved about the best sports cars combined into a small and affordable package. It’s not just good, it’s a revelation.
2023 Toyota GR86 10th Anniversary Special Edition MT
- 2+2 passenger, 2 door compact sports car
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
2.4-L inline-4; Power: 228 hp @7000 rpm; 184 lb-ft @3700 rpm
: 6-speed manual
: (Premium Gasoline in L/100 km):11.9 city; 8.7 highway; 10.5 combined
: 177 litres
$ 39,950 (MSRP); $41,938 including freight and PDI
WEBSITE: Toyota Canada