Tested: 2023 Toyota GR 86

Despite its rampant local sales successes, I find Toyota to be a peculiar and unpredictable brand. From pioneering hybrids to ignoring the EV craze, or using smaller companies to badge-engineer new products for them… it’s all jolly confusing to someone who isn’t a member of their planning committee.

That’s a huge assumption on my part, by the way. That the Toyota Motor Corporation actually has a product planning committee; or strategy. Or something. Because when the previous / first generation 86 appeared, it did so with the helpful hands of Subaru. Same for the fifth generation Supra, thanks to BMW.

And now there’s a whole raft of rebadged Suzukis claiming to be Japan’s finest. Those are straight copy-and-paste jobs, whereas the two aforementioned sports cars were collaborative efforts where Toyota left most of the dirty work to the other party. And, unlike the Z4pra, the GR/86 looks identical to its Subaru twin.

It’s my humble opinion that both generations of the two-door ’86 Toyota are extremely attractive. Some observers argue against a nose that’s too long and/or too flat, but that gives this 2+2 seater its distinctive shape which – kudos to Toyota or Subaru – they managed to retain and improve with this second generation.

I think it’s a very handsome machine.

The interior is less flamboyant and shows sombre dark hues with sensible controls. Some switchgear has a bit of design flair like the row of climate buttons at the junction of dashboard and central tunnel, or a set of silver drive setting buttons near the gear lever. The part-configurable digital gauge cluster was also a winner with most of our team members.

Other items are straight out of Toyota’s parts bin, like the (front) seat heater switches, oddly placed starter button, cruise control, wiper and indicator stalk. Don’t fix what ain’t broken, we guess. I was delighted to find a newer (Subaru?) version of their touch-screen infotainment system… with volume and select knobs.

This media screen may lack the modernity of rival products but it follows Toyota’s mantra of being slightly underwhelming until you get used to its simple functionality. With a quick nod of approval to the sporty front chairs, I do need to caution anyone who thinks they can get a whole family into this car. It really is more of a weekend toy.

Having typed that, my grade-RR child was absolutely smitten with the cosy rear quarters and I’ve heard thee most amazing tale of a Namibian family who had to swap a fully-laden bakkie for a first-gen 86. How they managed to get 2.5 people with luggage and a few sausage dogs into this compact sports car is beyond me!


Which brings me to the weird duality of a Toyota GR/86. It certainly looks and feels sporty, no thanks to its extremely low and rather firm ride, slung-back driving position and well-placed pedals, a wonderfully direct steering mechanism and a six-speed manual gearbox whose lever is crisp and short in its actions. But it isn’t super sporty: 0-100km/h supposedly takes 6.4 seconds.

Which brings us to the engine – a Subaru-derived 2-litre Boxer (flat) naturally-breathing petrol 4-cylinder – that can thank the recent trend of turbo downsizing. First of all, having a four pot in a sporty vehicle is no longer sniggered at and secondly, the linear rev-happiness of this motor is a tornado of fresh air in a dull grey soup of mid-range turbo torque.


You can’t just coast around a town corner in third (or heaven forbid, fourth) and plant your foot in anticipation of sixteen cog changes and the turbocharger’s eventual but uncouth kick. Nope. You need to gear back to second, plant your right set of toes and witness how the motor builds a beautifully flat plateau of rumbling Boxer power climaxing at 174kW.

If you want to get a bit naughty, as is the intended nature of this drifter’s delight, gear back to first or try a wider bend at higher speeds. We absolutely insist that you only try this in the safety of a private road or race track as the uninitiated may struggle to catch this car’s snappy over-steer. A rainy day will certainly help any practise attempts.

More notes I made during my short time behind the multi-function wheel include the pleasing amount of torque (up to 250Nm) from this unassisted power plant. At least near sea level, there’s sufficient forward momentum in the mid-range because most people (myself included) don’t really want to drive around their neighbourhood at 7,500rpm.

Speaking of which, when I finally got the chance to wind the grumbling motor up to its indicated redline, it retaliated by harshly bouncing off the rev-limiter for a split second. This is not only due to its amazingly quick increase in revolutions but the fact that Subaru/Toyota set the fuel cut-off pretty much on the red-line; instead of a few rpm’s further, like most other manufacturers do.

It briefly happened once more while merging onto a highway and got me monologuing why they would’ve done that. Why didn’t they set the red-line at 7,000 or 7,250rpm and leave a small margin of error for not-so rapid shifters? In fact, looking at this engine’s power curve, it takes a steep southward journey just after the magic 7k line.

When I handed over the keys to my colleagues, I cautioned both of them about this peculiar phenomenon, and despite their utmost care, they both discovered it first-hand. In fact, this is where my review takes an unwanted turn because a few days later we had a knocking Toyota GR86 engine video on our WhatsApp work group.

Knocking, in this context, is the metallic hammering noise an engine makes at idle. Often called a “bottom-end knock”, in this case it would be a “middle-end knock” because it signals catastrophic damage to the main connections of a motor’s internals. We even sent the clip to a few petrol-head friends and they all confirmed: yup, rod / crank / bearing knock.

Although over-revving (and hitting the limiter) is a definite culprit for this occurrence, it only happens after ruthless repetition of this abuse; not a handful. Because I’ve done this to every single one of my own cars, mostly by accident, and certainly more often than this 9,500km vehicle experienced during our custodianship.

Nope. What we had here was a broken Suyota engine. At least we thought so, because the very next morning that noise disappeared, only to return again briefly during our journey to the nearest Toyota dealership. Where, after a short inspection, a broken alternator (and tensioner pulley) was diagnosed as the noisy culprit.

So there you have it. Our time with this silver Toyota GR86 was cut short because a part of the engine blew up. Is Subaru to blame? Yeah, probably. Also, later that day we got borderline harassed by the dealership because we forgot to pay for a cup of coffee. Yup, you read that right. They hounded us for a few Rand while in possession of our brand-new busted Toyota…

At this point I can also confirm that this is only the fourth press vehicle (of about 1,060) that’s broken down on us… and 100% of them were Asian. Not British, not Italian, not even American. The new Toyota GR86 costs around R756,000 and happily comes with a 3-year/100,000km warranty!

Coffees at own cost though…

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