A decade ago, a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota spawned badge-engineered versions of the same joyous sports car: the BRZ from the former, and the FR-S from the latter’s sub-brand, Scion.
Graciously, the FR-S survived Scion’s demise, cycling through a couple different designations before landing on the GR86 we know today. To commemorate its time on the market, the 2023 Toyota GR86 10th Anniversary Special Edition builds on the top Premium trim by adding 18-inch black wheels, a black rear spoiler, cat-back sport exhaust system, and searing Solar Shift orange paint. Like its exterior hue, this car is exclusive, with just 20 examples available across Canada.
Following its 2022 freshening, the GR86 comes at us with a bold grille and Porsche-like headlights. It’s a pleasing shape overall – long snout and fastback tail – kicked up several notches here thanks to the 10th Anniversary’s unique paint, contrasting black stripes on the C-pillars, and black wheels and ducktail spoiler. Out back, the exhaust gets dual black chrome tips. This little orange 2+2 is so adorable you just want to hug it.
Regardless of trim, the GR86 when equipped with its manual transmission isn’t exactly bristling with driver aids and safety systems. There’s a back-up camera, which was mandated by the federal government on all new vehicles, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the expected stability and traction control systems. Opting for the automatic transmission nets forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam control.
Nobody will be buying this car for practicality, but the GR86 does have a pair of vestigial back perches that can hold a baby seat or a couple of very small people. The same isn’t true of the Toyota Supra, Mazda MX-5, or Nissan Z. At 178 L, the trunk is modest, but there’s a pass-through for long items. The door pockets will accommodate a water bottle each, and there’s a decent covered cubby between the seats.
There’s no tech overkill in this car. It’s largely an analogue experience, which is refreshing and user-friendly. Climate controls are made up of a trio of rotary knobs and a row of toggles. Rocker switches on the console access seat heat and stability control settings. Next to those is a good old-fashioned emergency brake lever.
The eight-inch touchscreen has a simple menu structure and is flanked by shortcut buttons and knobs for volume and tuning. An array of thumb buttons on each spoke of the steering wheel can be used to access audio, phone, and screen menu functions. The seats are six-way manually adjustable for the driver and four-way for the passenger.
As this 10th Anniversary package is based on the top Premium trim, it gets keyless entry, cruise control, and the upgraded eight-inch infotainment screen with an eight-speaker stereo, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections, subscription-based satellite radio, and a three-year trial of Toyota’s connected services suite. OK, so the audio sounds a little lousy, but with all the engine and road noise in the cabin it’s a bit of a moot point anyway.
Last year’s redo finally gave the GR86 the power it was calling out for since its launch. The old 2.0L flat four-cylinder was ditched for a 2.4L unit that makes 23 extra hp and, more importantly, 30 more lb-ft of torque that arrive much earlier in the rev range (3,700 rpm). The totals now ring in at 228 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque.
As the GR86 only weighs 1,277 kg (2,815 lb), this perky little mill with the gruff voice and an eagerness to rev imbues the two-door with surprising pace. Throttle response is instant, showing a nice swell of torque from 3,000 rpm. Factor in the short gearing of the close ratio six-speed and the GR86 is always ready to scoot, even at highway speeds in top gear.
The manual cloth sports seats with the orange stripes get high marks for comfort. They also provide impressive lateral support when cornering. Beyond that, this highly focused featherweight delivers the expected stiff sports car ride along with plenty of engine and road noise. The GR86’s ride is not crude or punishing, but it does transmit every bit of road info one needs for a spirited drive. On the highway at a 120-km/h cruise, the engine spins away at a busy 3,200 rpm.
Driving Feel: 9.5/10
The Toyota GR86 is a dynamic revelation – a high-water mark that pays homage to the elemental driving experience of a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive sports car. The chassis is brilliant, and when tucked into that snug driver’s bucket, one feels like an extension of the car. The driving position is perfect – the small diameter wheel and stubby short-throw shifter are right where you want them. The metal pedals are perfectly set up for easy heel-and-toe action, and the clutch and shifter work in harmony. Actually, everything works in harmony. This is a car that feels instantly familiar, comfortable, and imminently exploitable.
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires provide fantastic grip, yet the rear ones are happy to relinquish it when provoked into a bit of oversteer, especially when track mode is selected. The GR86 rotates at your hip point, and there’s not an ounce of dynamic mystery here; it telegraphs what’s going on at all times. There seems to be just the right amount of power. It’s not a stupid fast car, hence its virtues can be enjoyed at relatively legal speeds. If Porsche were to make an affordable front engine rear-drive sports car, it would surely drive like this.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The Toyota GR86 requires premium fuel, with its official numbers being 11.1 L/100 km in the city, 7.7 on the highway, and 9.6 combined. A week of highway motoring interspersed with the occasional back road thrashing netted an average of 9.7 L/100 km.
With an as-tested price of $41,910, the 2023 Toyota GR86 10th Anniversary Special Edition is the most you can pay for a manual example of Toyota’s little sports car. The automatic transmission adds $2,400. And with only 20 coming to Canada (of 860 total produced), snagging one gets entry into a very exclusive club. The good news is the base model, from $31,490 before freight and taxes, delivers the same experience, albeit on 17-inch wheels. The 2023 Mazda MX-5 starts at $33,900 before freight and taxes.
The Toyota GR86 (along with its Subaru BRZ twin) is a love letter to the sports car enthusiast. Light, simple, and tuned to what is close to dynamic perfection, this little 2+2 is pure joy. As your only car? Well, it’s a commitment, but it’s doable if you don’t expect to be carrying more than one passenger and a few overnight bags. The GR86 10th Anniversary Special Edition adds some spice to this delectable recipe, and will be a win for the lucky 20 Canadians who snag them.
|Peak Horsepower||228 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||184 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||11.1 / 7.7 / 9.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||178 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Toyota GR86 10th Anniversary SE MT|
|Price as Tested||$41,910|