A track car for the road. The Japanese have long excelled at creating cars for keen drivers, and Toyota’s GR86 follows in the footsteps of the legendary Mazda MX-5 Miata. The 86 is another hunkered-down tail-wagger, aimed at giving even a mediocre driver the sense of being supremely talented. It achieves this through a combination of exceptional responsiveness and satisfying – if ultimately unspectacular – performance.

For 2022, Toyota’s limp two-liter gas engine is dropped in favor of a 2.4-liter flat-4 developed by Subaru, who markets this car in rebadged form as the BRZ. This normally aspirated engine doesn’t create an especially evocative soundtrack, but it’ll send manual models past 60 in just over six seconds; automatic versions lose half a second but still deliver strong performance. Another advantage of this new engine is its torque peak arrives at 3,700 rpm, compared to 6,700 in the old unit. The manual transmission is great on a track, but for everyday useability, the auto is a better choice – in ways you might not expect…

Question marks over safety. If you’re going to drive a low-slung coupe in a world populated by tank-like SUVs, you want to feel safe. Unfortunately, the GR86 hasn’t been crash-tested by either NHTSA or IIHS, and there are no results from Europe or Australia which can shed any light on its safety. Worse, manual models inexplicably miss out on automatic emergency braking, which is fitted as standard on all automatic 86s. We’d therefore have to recommend the auto box, which is less satisfying on a track and somewhat negates the point of buying a hunkered-down driver’s car in the first place.

A cabin you’ll tolerate, not love. Toyota market the GR86 as a four-seater, which is only accurate if two of the four people can count their age on their fingers. No adult would enjoy being squashed into the back of this claustrophobic cabin, and the 6.3 cu ft trunk is inadequate for more than a couple’s weekend hand luggage. Nor is the cabin an especially luxurious place to sit, with matte surfaces and hard plastics dominating. A trio of digital gauges is buried below the infotainment screen, with displays that could have come off a 1980s digital watch.

At least standard equipment is fairly generous, with both 86 models receiving an eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring. A digital gauge display and limited-slip rear diff are also standard, while Premium models receive leather and Alcantara trim, an uprated stereo, and bigger wheels with high-end Michelin tires.

Interesting looks, but not a looker. There are hints of other sports cars as you walk around the 86, from the Jaguar F-Type-style headlamps to a rear end which (in the absence of the Premium model’s rather excessive spoiler) has the faintest whiff of Aston Martin to it. Bulbous wheel arches add a sense of purpose, though the side skirts and aforementioned spoiler are more aftermarket than integral. That rakish rear roofline gives a good profile, even though it contributes to the rear seats being an adult-free zone.

Overall, the 86 will cut a dash on your drive or in the office car park. It’s agreeable without being a head-turner, and at least it’s more substantial than Mazda’s MX-5, which feels as if SUVs could drive straight over the top of it. Plus, with base models costing less than $30,000, the 86 offers style on a budget, which is very on-trend here in 2022.

Final thoughts. The GR86 is a likable car, even when you discover that the first part of its name stands for Gazoo Racing, which sounds more like a milkshake than a serious performance vehicle. We could complain about the impractical and plasticky interior or combined fuel economy of just 24 mpg, but such criticisms rather miss the point of this car.

The 86 is aimed at a specific niche – single or cohabiting people who love driving. The punchy new Boxer engine joins superb handling and communicative steering in delivering a delightfully responsive drive, while the 17-inch wheels on base models generate tire-shredding oversteer at fairly manageable speeds. And if you do overcook it, vented disc brakes at all four corners should get you out of trouble. As a beginner’s track car, we can’t think of anything better, but you’ll have to accept a lot of weekday sacrifices before those weekend outings to Laguna Seca make you glad you chose an 86 over a four-door sedan.

Check prices for the 2022 Toyota 86 »