Months before its official Australian release, Toyota previews its new-generation GR86 coupe at Sydney Motorsport Park with a handful of hot track laps in a GTS automatic
If saving the best for last really is a thing, then the delayed arrival of the new-generation Toyota GR86 coupe in Australia (it now gets ‘GR’ in front of its name, unlike its ‘86’ predecessor), could be the competitive advantage this car needs to eclipse its Subaru BRZ twin both in terms of sales and sports-car dynamics … if you believe the hype.
Destined to arrive in “late Q3 or early Q4” – meaning a release date September/October this year – the Australian GR86 line-up is yet to be confirmed by Toyota, or any specific details for our market. The only thing announced by Toyota Australia so far is the continuation of the GR86 race series until 2026 – leaving the solitary black GR86 automatic road car we’re allowed to ‘preview’ as the sole purveyor of what’s to come.
The delay for the GR86’s arrival has been put down to focusing on its suspension tune to differentiate it from its Subaru BRZ twin, though given the new BRZ’s dynamic excellence, any differences are likely to be more about driving flavour than speed.
You could also rightly speculate that the GR86 will closely follow the BRZ’s pricing, with the manual GR86 GT likely to jump at least $5000 in price to around $37K, with the GTS auto at the other end likely to do the same – topping out at around $44K.
With the previous model, the Toyota’s chassis was set up to offer more oversteer, whereas the BRZ leaned towards neutrality – attempting to replicate an element of the planted feel of AWD Subarus in a rear-drive coupe.
Based on our extensive experience in the new BRZ, the second-gen car’s dynamics offer both higher limits than the previous model, as well as more progressive responses, greater handling fluidity and improved suspension suppleness. And many of those traits are clearly evident in the new GR86 as well – at least in the two short laps we were restricted to around Sydney Motorsport Park’s main Gardner GP circuit in an unregistered black GR86 auto.
Subaru also launched the new BRZ at Sydney Motorsport Park (back in February), but instead used the wet skidpan and the (also rained-soaked) south ‘Amaroo’ circuit – making a direct dynamic comparison near-impossible.
But from what I can tell so far, the GR86’s grip on identical 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres is equally as impressive – spritzed with a similar bias towards oversteer as the previous model. Only a proper back-to-back drive will reveal the true dynamic differences but for now, the GR86’s progressive, throttle-steerable handling and its ability to step its tail out while still under the reins of full-ESC remains hugely admirable for an affordable sports coupe.
It was also interesting to note the six-speed auto’s max-attack track performance. I left it in Drive (with Sport mode engaged) and didn’t touch the wheel paddles, and the GR86 auto did a terrific job holding the right gear and channelling the new 174kW/250Nm 2.4-litre flat four’s newfound mid-range muscle.
Admittedly, it only has six ratios to play with so it’s hardly spoilt for choice, yet there’s definitely the calibration smarts and performance punch to make the two-pedal GR86 just as capable on a track as the six-speed manual. Unfortunately, two laps wasn’t enough to challenge its brakes.
As for the flat four’s synthesised induction sound, it’s less abrasive than the previous model’s piped-to-the-firewall version, but I’m still not entirely sure it has enough boxer throb to convey the gutsy new engine’s horizontally opposed DNA.
Back at the pits, a thorough static investigation revealed the visual changes that set the GR86 apart – even though Toyota couldn’t provide help in that department. A different (and arguably more handsome) front bumper air intake is the main styling change for the GR86 compared to the BRZ, followed by the badgework (there’s more of it, with red colouring). Otherwise, they’re dead ringers for each other – including all the lighting and the entire rear bumper design.
Even the dark-coloured, multi-spoke 18-inch alloys are shared – at least on this top-spec GTS version – with Toyota alluding to the fact that the entry-level GR86 GT is likely to also feature these alloys in Australia. Only time will tell.
Inside, however, the GR86 GTS has more personality than a BRZ. While Toyota Oz wouldn’t confirm that our black-on-black automatic with red-accented cabin was in fact a GTS, its suede-effect upholstery with red striping and front seat heating certainly point towards its top-billing status. In Subaru’s model hierarchy, it’s those two features that set the top BRZ Coupe S apart from its lesser Coupe sibling.
What sets the GR86 cabin apart, though, is its striking red carpet. Likely to be an option when the car goes on sale here in around six months’ time, the red carpet harks back to the definitive French hot hatch of the 1980s – the Peugeot 205 GTi – yet doesn’t look out of place in the relatively plasticky GR86/BRZ cabin. And it’s supported by red GR badging and wheel stitching, all of which add some much-needed colour to this pleasant but far-from-plush interior.
As for the rest of the cabin, it’s pure BRZ – right down to the tech-loaded audio unit (without the speaker quality to match) and multi-screen digital instrument pack.
Based on global demand for the new-generation Toyota GR86 coupe and its Subaru BRZ twin, the imminent launch of the GR86 in Australia will be highly awaited, and for good reason. This is a comprehensively made-over and re-engineered sports coupe offering not only a wealth of detail improvements but also a 50-percent-stiffer body, even more capable dynamics and far more engaging performance.
With an expected asking price of less than $45K for the top model, the Toyota GR86 will be one of the greatest sports-car bargains in modern history – again, just like its Subaru BRZ twin. But when it comes down to it, we reckon the allure of red carpet might just tip the enthusiast balance in favour of the Toyota – perhaps even more so than its purported chassis finessing.
Sharing its platform and hard points with the previous generation BRZ, you could be fooled into thinking Subaru’s ‘new’ BRZ is merely an update. But you’d be wrong
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