Toyota GR86 - long-term review - Report No:4 2023 | Top Gear
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Tuesday 26th September
Long-term review

Toyota GR86 - long-term review

£29,995 / £30,960 / £295pcm
Published: 08 Sep 2023

Want to spend less time on motorways? Try a sports car

The GR86 is forcing me to have fun. Not in that tedious 'hurrah let's have the best night ev-ar' New Year's Eve kinda way. It’s coercing me into enjoying driving. Manipulating my life to make the most of every journey. And it’s got an incredibly cunning method to achieve all this: being a bit crap at motorways.

I live a stone’s throw from the A1 – the Great North Road. A north-south artery of England since medieval times, and today the longest numbered road in the country. It’s a vital, veteran link in Britain’s patchy transport infrastructure. I also probably owe it quite a lot of rent, since it’s my second home.

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I dread to think how many hours I must spend zipping up and down it every year. But if I’m going to London, to the Top Gear office, then I need the A1. Any of the four nearest airports? The A1. Even just getting to the other end of the small town in which I live is faster and easier if I join the A1, head southbound for two junctions, then take the exit and loop back into the town centre.

The A1 is not where the GR86 feels happiest. The A1 wasn’t on Gazoo Racing’s development hotlist. On a wide-open dual carriageway, the Eighty-Six’s diminutive size isn’t an advantage. At least twice in the last couple of months, a lorry has indicated right then wandered into the outside lane, jerking left again as the driver’s double-checked their mirror and spotted a little white Toyota scrambling onto the verge.

That’s not the GR86’s fault, in fairness. But even when it’s not playing real-life Whack-A-Mole with HGVs, motorways are not its comfort zone. At a 75mph cruise, the engine is buzzing away at a restless 3,000rpm. It’s not very economical (34mpg at best, I’ve found). The tinny radio gives you a headache, attempting to shout over the wind noise and engine din.

It’s got some go in hand, at last. So when the ever-present dawdling middle lane hogger finally pulls over, you can surge past in sixth. Not with any great swagger or whoosh, but it’s useful when you’re feeling lazy, your ears are ringing and there’s 100 miles of dreary motorway still to go.

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Or is there? See, the GR86 has changed the way I drive. It’s reset my alarm clock and revamped my routine. Thanks to living with this car, I spend less time on The Bloody Motorway.

This isn’t a car for pleasing motorists. It’s one for entertaining drivers. 

Given the car is so out of sorts there, I go out of my way – literally – to avoid it. Instead of sleepwalking onto the carriageway on autopilot, a mile from my house, I go right past it, through the next village and cross-country, on the B-roads and back lanes. GR86 country.

While my morning coffee gets to work on my bloodstream, the car wakes up as well. The gearshift gets less sticky as the oil warms through. The engine revs a little more sweetly after ten minutes or so of building temperature. Somehow, a day feels like a productive one when you’ve already pinned two overtakes on fellow early risers before the morning dew has run off the bonnet.

If this car wasn’t so entertaining and gratifying on ‘slow roads’ – and so grating on stampeding super-highways – then I wouldn’t be elongating my journeys. When I ran the Audi S3 earlier this year, it never really occurred to me to commute via the twisties, because the S3 didn’t have a sense of humour.

And that’s what happens if you buy a refined car instead of a proper sports car. I’d have longer in bed, and get where I’m going faster. Because that’s what matters, when you’re a motorist. But this isn’t a car for pleasing motorists. It’s one for entertaining drivers.

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