The Toyota GR86 is an affordable sports car that's almost peerless when it comes to bang-for-your-buck fun.

When the Toyota GR86 first hit shelves ten years ago – then called the 86 in Australia and GT86 in Europe – it garnered such an impressive amount of praise from the media that you’d have thought it was the second coming of Christ.

Australia’s premier motoring publication, Wheels, announced it as being better than a Porsche Cayman on the cover of their June 2012 magazine. TopGear magazine took it a step further, declaring the GT86 the winner of its inaugural ‘Speed Week’ group test where it beat the likes of the 991-series Porsche 911 and even the McLaren MP4-12C supercar. Even Jeremy Clarkson, who is often too honest for his own good, proclaimed that the GT86 was the best car of 2012.

Now, a decade on, there’s an all-new one. Can it fill the shoes of its successor? Hint: Yes, it can.

Those with a keen eye may notice that the lurid Solar Orange paint scheme on our car isn’t an available colour option for the regular GR86 range, and that’s because the car we’re testing is the limited-run GR86 10th Anniversary Edition. Restricted to just 86 examples locally, the GR86 10th Anniversary Edition costs $46,700 plus on-roads for both the manual or automatic, an increase of $1390 over the range-topping GTS. At least, it would be if you could buy one, which you can’t. They’re all sold.

It matters not, though, because unless your heart is set on purchasing an orange GR86, prospective buyers will be pleased to know that the 10th Anniversary Edition is otherwise virtually identical to the flagship GTS – and its twin under the skin, Subaru BRZ S. That means it comes with 18-inch black alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights, heated front seats, aluminium pedals, an 8.0-inch multimedia display, a 7.0-inch multi-information instrument cluster display, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

The GR86 10th Anniversary Edition also comes with unique, orange contrast stitching that appears throughout the cabin, some naff 10th Anniversary orange embroidery, and black instrument panel moulding.

Despite, the smatterings of orange and of suede, the 10th Anniversary Edition’s interior is actually a bit uninspiring. Much of the switch gear is plastic, the substandard six-speaker sound system transforms music into a muddy and unbalanced mess, and the 8.0-inch centre screen is agreeable in size but loaded with rather dreary infotainment software – plus, you’ll still need to plug your phone in to bring up Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead. Then there’s the indicator stalk which is downright infuriating. It re-centres immediately after a direction is signalled, and I often found myself unintentionally indicating in the opposite direction in an attempt to to switch it off as it requires truly the lightest of touches to do so.

That said, the heated sports seats are a delight to sit in – the oddly angled headrests notwithstanding. The compromised rear seats do have ISOFIX mounting points, but you would have to be a sadist to seat anyone bigger than an infant back there. Boot space is a usable 237 litres, and the spare tyre thankfully no longer takes up most of it, although that’s primarily because it no longer has one.

The steering wheel, while a bit of an eyesore to look at, is perfectly sized. The 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster is clear and features some cracking graphics, including a horizontal rev counter when the car is slotted into Track mode.

However, judging the GR86 for its interior really misses the point – this thing is all about the experience from behind the wheel, not what the wheel looks like or how the materials around it feel.

The GR86 never pretends to be anything other than a sports car, and you get the sense that it wants to be driven at ten-tenths constantly. This is largely because the GR86’s 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine begs to be flogged, with its peak power of 174kW not arriving until 7000rpm. Thankfully, unlike the previous car, you don’t have to be bouncing off the 7500rpm rev-limiter to make it up anything steeper than a small driveway because its 250Nm of torque is accessible from 3700rpm.

Critics may bemoan the naturally-aspirated GR86’s relative lack of power compared to turbocharged hot hatch rivals. Yet, the GR86 still manages the 0-100km/h sprint in a brisk 6.3 seconds when equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission as my tester was, although a 6-speed torque-converter automatic is also available which adds another half a second to that.

Speaking of transmissions, the GR86’s DIY box is far from the slickest of units. The process of shifting gears feels less like cocking a shotgun and more like rowing a spoon through a bucket of granite. The clutch pedal, too, is far from ideal and doesn’t depress progressively.

Point the GR86 down a twisty road, though, and all that falls away.

The GR86 tries hard to be taken seriously as a proper grown-up sports car, but it’s not grown up at all – it’s a proper rascal. Sure, it’s now wearing a pair of big boy boots – grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, no less – but it hasn’t been smothered in grip. Power oversteer may be out of the question, but sideways antics are but a steering flick away.

The wizards at Toyota’s GAZOO Racing division have blessed the GR86 with truly delicious steering feel. The tiller offers up such a delectable stream of information that it’s almost like reading braille for the road; you’re aware of everything the GR86’s front end is up to.

It’s not just the steering that the GR86 nails, as its chassis is another engineering marvel. Driving it feels like injecting Red Bull straight into your bloodstream: it gives you wings. The GR86 doesn’t so much as drive as it does dance down a road, its front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension breathing in time with the tarmac.

Understeer is not in the GR86’s vernacular. Pile on seemingly unbelievable amounts of lock and the front end simply sticks. It’s a deeply confidence-inspiring car, much like donning a pair of Superman slacks.

The brakes are disappointing, however, and lack bite until you apply enough force to give you a hernia, so it’s sorely missing the old 86’s available Brembo stoppers. You won’t have any trouble with these brakes when simply pootling around town, but press on, and you may find they lack initial stopping conviction. That’s more than a little unsettling when you consider that the GR86 hasn’t been crash-tested by ANCAP. The manual-equipped GR86 also misses out on a big suite of safety systems, including autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist. Mind you, Subaru is adding its EyeSight safety system to the manual BRZ, so it may well come for the GR86 as well.

Toyota claims the GR86 will sip 9.5L/100km of 98RON premium unleaded fuel on average, and after 1076km of testing we came within a tenth of that, averaging 9.6L/100km.

Ten years on, the GR86 remains an enticing ownership proposition. It’s backed by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, but if you service it at a dealership you’ll also get an extra two years’ coverage on the engine and drivetrain. Speaking of, servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km, with the first five services capped to just $300 a pop.

With the latest generation of the GR86, Toyota set out to create an “affordable and exciting sports car” that builds on the legend of the original. To this end, they nailed it. Sure, there are bugbears (the uninspiring brakes and utilitarian interior, to name a few) but as a car to drive, the GR86 is all but peerless.

2023 Toyota GR86 10th Anniversary Edition Manual List Price: $46,700
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 9/10
    Ride & Handling - 9/10
  • 6.5/10
    Tech & Features - 6.5/10
  • 7/10
    Practicality - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Roughty 4-cylinder engine, superb steering, enthralling chassis, affordable servicing and solid warranty
Cons: Cheap interior, brakes lack bite, clutch and shifter feel is suboptimal, no ANCAP rating and missing key safety tech

In a nutshell: The original Toyota GT86 was a thrilling sports car that didn’t cost the world to own. The new GR86 is more of the same, except better in every conceivable way – price increases aside, although inflation is somewhat to blame there. Ignore the score on this one as it hardly paints the full picture; the GR86 is actually fab.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for one week. All fuel costs were covered by Toyota.

Noah Charalambous
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