In a world of hot-hatches, crossover SUV’s and dual cab utes, Toyota is building exciting, front engine rear drive sports cars, like the 2023 GR86 GTS, and motoring enthusiasts the world over are happier for it.
When news broke that Toyota and Subaru were set to launch an updated version of the 86 and BRZ, this writer was a little “so what” about it because the model didn’t really do too much to win the heart of this Jay-Dee-Emm fan. It just wasn’t enough for my liking.
The engine was boring and flat (no pun intended), the suspension was too soft and observing so many automatic models with shipping-crane style wings and droning exhausts, just made me sick really.
The 2023 Toyota GR86 GTS changed a lot of that. First impressions last, and it’s fair to say there isn’t a bad angle to the new model. Ours was adorned in White Liquid paint, with satin black wheels; very Touge special.
That’s especially so when combined with its two-tone red and black interior. There are six other exterior colours to choose from and the red interior is optional, but if yours truly were buying one, it’d be in this exact combination.
The revised design starts up front with larger eyes, housing adaptive LED headlights and an attractive Aston-Martin-esque mesh grille. Side on it harks back to the original, albeit more refined and dynamic even at a standstill.
A long but low bonnet line is perhaps the only thing we’d change on side profile. The shark-gill vent on the front quarter extends to the rear axle via lovely, purposeful looking side-skirts and leads to an up-swept rear end.
This houses two rather large and thankfully, functional exhaust tips. The drama doesn’t stop there. Opening the long driver’s door reveals the aforementioned red and black interior colour scheme.
It’s not going to be for everyone, and the red-carpet floor mats were already showing wear and staining – but this writer was enamoured. The GTS variant also gets Ultrasuede bucket seats, which are supportive in all the right places.
The material itself is simply grippy, which holds one in place through the bends. The seating position is good too. I would’ve enjoyed sitting an inch or so lower but that’s purely personal preference.
The steering wheel is positioned well and is in fact smaller than the last model. Covered in leather with red stitching, it’s a great tiller to touch and use. A leather covered gearshift to manipulate six forward gears lands well in hand also.
Overall, the cabin feels very cossetted, as a sports car should, but never felt small or lacking in space. We were even able to squeeze two youngsters in the beautifully sculped rear seats, even if it was only for a short school run.
It abounds with soft touch materials, including microsuede atop the instrument binnacle and upper edges of the door cards. These may not age well without appropriate maintenance, but they sure look and feel fantastic.
The centre bin lid needs some thought though. It houses the only USB port and with our penchant for Apple CarPlay, the twin lids simply kept opening as the release is where one’s elbow naturally sits. A minor but annoying inconvenience.
The soul of this car though remains quite analogue and old school, but that doesn’t mean there is any shortage of tech. It starts with an 8.0-inch infotainment display that is also supplemented with a 7.0-inch instrument display.
The latter changes with differing driving modes, including display of a lap timer and g-force meter, which I’m sure would’ve been fun had we been able test the GR86 on a racetrack.
The GTS variant takes the safety equipment found in the GR86 GT and adds blind spot monitoring, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. The latter was helpful on a few occasions given the large C-pillar which impeded vision at times.
How it drives depends on where you’re driving and what your intentions are. One thing that disappointed was the clutch. It lacks feel and seems too highly sprung. This makes around-town pottering hard – and that’s embarrassing to write.
Taking off or even shifting gears would see the GR86 lurching and bouncing around as if yours truly should’ve had L plates on. More motivation from the right foot would almost always solve this.
As a consequence, that would see a larger than necessary ride of the clutch or loss of traction. It’s just undignified really. On a good bit of road and driving above seven tenths though, everything comes together and all those low-speed foibles drift into the rear view.
Make no mistake, the GR86 GTS is made to drive, and drive spiritedly. The steering ratio is short, but the front end never feels too darty, thanks to a bespoke Toyota-specific suspension tune.
The sticky 215/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber surely contributes here, which makes picking and following a line delightfully enjoyable. Turn-in is flat and the chassis rotates wonderfully, with no real fear of losing the rear-end unless provoked.
The drivetrain is the heart of any sports car. The GR86 GTS can be had in an auto, but if you can drive a manual, please, make the sensible choice. The ratio’s within the 6-speed manual are short, while shifting is precise and tight with a satisfying snick as gears engage.
This writer is probably one of the few that’s never been enthralled by a boxer engine unless it had six cylinders, but was pleasantly surprised with the rev-happy nature of the GR86 engine, which is now a 2.4-litre, delivering 174kW and 250Nm.
It’s tractable at low speed but will rev happily right out and beyond 7000rpm, providing adequate punch to make the most of the chassis, if you’re happy to keep the engine singing.
Despite all these positives, the GR86 GTS is fundamentally let down by one key factor – noise. Ripping up a mountain road in a beautifully balanced car comes with a soundtrack; someone missed that memo clearly.
It has an augmented sound controller that plays through the audio system higher in the rev range, but it just feels fake and we couldn’t work out how to turn it off. As a purist, this was a real downer for what is an otherwise brilliant driver’s car.
When it starts at $45,390 plus on-road costs though, everything becomes a little more palatable. If that’s not enough, there’s a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty and $300 capped price servicing for up to 5-years or 75,000km.
Not so long ago many Japanese manufacturers followed Toyota’s strategic shift away from performance vehicles. Hopefully they will lead everyone back into making inspiring driving cars like this one in the future.
Our test vehicle was provided by Toyota Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Toyota GR86 GTS, contact your local Toyota dealer. Pictures courtesy of Andrew E Hempsall.