It’s been nine years since a brilliant sports car collaboration between Subaru and Toyota first hit the streets, and the second-generation 2022 86 is finally on its way to Toyota dealers across the country. A combination of low power, low frills, and an 8-year run made the previous FRS / BRZ / 86 seem pretty long in the tooth by the end of it. The totally-redesigned second-gen model makes no attempt to fix what wasn’t broken about the first, and the result is a car that looks and feels very familiar to enthusiasts who’ve experienced one of the only affordable sports cars on the market this decade.
There is one thing about the 2022 Toyota coupe that’s a significant change – the name. That’s because the new model is not the lowly 86 – it is instead the mighty GR 86, broadcasting to the world just who, exactly, is behind this revamped sports car. That would be Toyota Gazoo Racing, the championship-winning race car team. The team that went 1-2-3 at Rallye Deutschland, won four consecutive races at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and earned Toyota’s first overall win at Dakar has put their engineering talent and passion for the thrill of driving behind performance versions of the Supra and now the 86.
So, what has the famous Gazoo Racing team done to take the 86 to the next level in 2022?
A Little Bore Goes a Long Way
The most significant changes for the 2022 GR 86 are all in the powertrain. The outgoing model was always viewed as underpowered, with only 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, but even worse was the significant torque dip between 3000 and 5000 rpm that took a little something out of every gear. With various adjustments and tweaks, Gazoo Racing made their take on the 86 more powerful, with more torque and no torque dip to speak of.
How did they do it? It starts with the cylinder bore, which is up from 86 to 94 mm and leads to a 20% increase in displacement. GR also re-tuned the D-4S dual injection technology to be more aggressive, with the use of direct injection enabling a 12.5:1 compression ratio for another boost. The sum outcome is a 2.4L boxer engine that puts out up to 228 hp, 11% more than the outgoing model, and a 20% higher peak torque of 184 lb-ft. Then they changed up the intake manifold, optimizing the port diameter and length to deliver a more linear torque curve.
Comparing the torque curves for the 2020 and 2022 models illustrates the difference on paper. The full second shaved off the 0-60 time of either transmission – the manual can now hit 6.1 seconds – and a quarter-mile time that isn’t even close is the proof on the pavement.
Tuning the Tuner
While 228 hp is never going to power a car to drag strip glory, it is plenty to make the 2,800-lb coupe a zippy ride. What this platform is really about is the handling, the navigation of twisty roads and curvy tracks, and the responsiveness and sensation of feedback that makes every spirited drive a joy. The rear-wheel drive powertrain helps enable a 53:47 weight distribution, and the aluminum hood, roof, and front fender panels augment the effect of the boxer engine by dropping the center of gravity ever so slightly. The result is basically identical performance to the outgoing model, despite higher mass and a higher roofline – and with 0.96 g of grip score for the outgoing 2020 model, that’s a great thing!
Keeping the fantastic character of the last 86 wasn’t nearly as easy as swapping in some aluminum panels. The entire chassis is a blend of aluminum, hot-stamped steel, and high-strength steel components strategically dispersed to optimize handling and control while keeping weight down. The use of structural adhesives reduces weight, and numerous design tweaks increase the stiffness of the frame. Think of an internal diagonal frame structure replacing the honeycomb that previously supported the hood or diagonal cross members in the front that reduce lateral bending by supporting the joints between the Macpherson strut suspension and the frame.
Your First Sports Car
Toyota has positioned the GR 86 to be the most accessible sports car on the market, and that means a lot more than just having a low sticker price and tight chassis. The Gazoo team has managed to balance the suspension perfectly in between the stiffness you need to manage the weight on the track and the softness you want to cruise on normal roads. The electronic power steering system, although quick and responsive with a 2.5 turn end-to-end length, easily manages both straight-line cruising and spirited track drifting. The Premium trim in particular, with its Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, offers more grip than its predecessor – and the result is a ride that can be safely thrown into oversteer with aggressive throttle inputs while providing a comfortable and balanced roadway experience.
A sports car that has tolerable or even comfortable road handling is nice but not unique. What’s special about the GR 86 is that daily driving is a part of its DNA. Drivers do not keep it in a garage for special track days but can instead rely on it as their primary vehicle. Rear seats, though small and uncomfortable, at least provide an option for interior storage or child transport (good luck finding that on a Miata). The updated 8” infotainment system is easy to use, and the optional automatic transmission brings with it driver assistance features that might help less experienced drivers avoid making mistakes.
That’s not to say the manual is hard to live with either. Changes for 2022 include new bearings and a lower viscosity oil that smooths out its operation, and a carbon synchronizer has been added to specifically improve the way the transmission shifts into 4th gear. Those little tweaks will be especially noticeable on the track – and don’t think that your daily driver GR 86 isn’t still destined for track time. Even if track days are not a normal part of your summer plans, Toyota has you covered with a performance driving class and a full year’s membership to the National Auto Sport Association credited to every GR 86 driver! Considering the investment one makes in a car, and the risk one takes by putting it into extreme conditions, it’s understandable that a driver might not want to dive in on their own, but even that barrier to entry has been removed by the 2022 Toyota GR 86.
How Does it Compare?
The affordable sports car segment is small – competition for the GR 86 is pretty much limited to the Miata, the BRZ, and the old 86. It’s safe to say that it’s a step up from its predecessor – the styling is function forward, the power and torque delivery is better in every way, and the creature comfort upgrades are all welcome. One could argue that they prefer the slightly-modded look of the original or that the new Premium trim’s tires are a little too grippy for easy drifting, but these complaints are easily solved. The outgoing model was imperfect, and Gazoo Racing seems to have improved on every flaw for 2022.
Competing against the Miata is a different story. The practicality comparison is a lights-out win for the GR 86 thanks to the Toyota actually having rear seats, but the smaller Mazda is as nimble and quick as they come. The ND2 (post-2018) Miata got a large power upgrade to 181 hp and maintained torque around 150 lb-ft; for the 2,200 lb roadster, that’s more than enough. However, in a straight line, a Throttle House drag race showed that the ND2 Miata RF was just a tiny smidge slower to a quarter-mile against the GR 86 – ultimately, the Toyota’s higher output won out over the Mazda’s diminutive size. At the very least, you can’t say that the Mazda is a flat-out better performer than the GR 86, and that’s a big step up.
Then there’s the new BRZ. Of course, it’s basically the same car as the GR 86, so having a favorite should come down almost entirely to style, but for 2022 there are a couple of actual performance tweaks that Toyota reserved for the GR 86. The knuckle, which is the critical joint between the wheel and the suspension, is stronger on the GR 86, and the front anti-roll bar is stiffer to reduce body roll, amping up the sportiness of the car. A different set of coil springs to stiffen the ride just a little more completes the adjustment. What that means is that in a spirited test drive, one should find the BRZ to be a little more comfortable on rough surfaces but a little less composed in quick turns – and if you’re the kind of person who would notice the difference, well, you’ll probably prefer the GR 86.
It’s GR Time
Unmistakable as an 86, but with refreshed and functional styling that is obviously tied to the Supra, Toyota’s second-gen entry-level sports car brings with it something new. The star of the Gazoo Racing team has risen fast and traveled far, and now they’re making their mark on the affordable sports car segment with the 2022 GR 86. With a simple, function-first design inside and out and one of the healthiest aftermarkets in the industry, the GR 86 makes a fantastic first sports car, a fun daily driver, and an incredible project car. With more power, a better torque curve, and dozens of chassis optimizations, the GR engineering team has taken a coupe with good value and turned it into gold.