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Long-term review

Toyota GR86 - long-term review

£29,995 / £30,960 / £295pcm
Published: 11 Jan 2024

Is the Toyota GR86 the best £30k sports car (new or used)?

How much sports car can you buy for £30,000? Forgive the sloppy rounding: the official RRP of a GR86 is now £32,495, but when Top Gear first drove one it was £29,995 and in our collective hive mind it’s the archetypical ‘thirty grand sports car’.

Thing is, as we’re all too aware of by now, Cars Are Expensive. We now live in a world where Britain’s cheapest car is beyond £13,000, not the six or seven grand we sort of think it is. A Honda Civic Type R is fifty. A BMW M3 is eighty. And you’ll struggle to find a Porsche 911 or Range Rover for under six figures. 

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Just how much sports car can you buy for thirty grand, then? Well if you’re after something brand-new there’s the GR86. Except you can’t buy one of those, as Toyota’s UK allocation is sold out. At the time of writing, there are a few being touted online for between £30,000 and £37,000.

So then, it’s the Mazda MX-5. Old now – it’s been on sale since 2015 – but prices for a sweet 1.5-litre start at a very reasonable £25,845. Not an outrageous sum for a lightweight, pocket-sized drop-top with a world-class gearshift and Apple CarPlay. Ferrari wants thousands for CarPlay. But there’s a sense of ‘hasn’t everyone who wanted one of those bought it by now?' about the MX-5 / Miata. 

Caterham? Yep, you can get into the chirrupy Seven 170 for a number beginning with ‘2’, or the (more) retro Super Seven with its pontoon front wheelarches for less than £30,500. And if you want distilled motoring purity, that’s excellent. But if you want to stay dry, or married, then it’s not. 

And that’s your lot. There are no other low-slung rear-wheel drive cars built for fun first and foremost for this sort of money. Boxsters, Z4s and S2000s left this ballpark long ago. SLKs were never there. There’s no Subaru BRZ or Nissan Zed-car loophole on these shores. 

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Naturally, things get a lot spicier when you explore how much pre-owned sports car can be yours for thirty grand. I know, I know: finance this, warranty that. It’s not fair. But times are hard and pickings are slim. Beyond all that’s mentioned above, you’d had to have a heart of stone not to be tempted by a Lotus Elise or BMW Z4M Coupe with change from £20k. A handy £10k of running costs budget there. 

Delve into the nether regions of the online car supermarkets and there are Ford Mustangs, BMW M2s and Porsche 911s for less than thirty grand. All with their own loud internet detractors, lists of definitely-going-to-break timebomb components and wrinkles around the edges. But it’s undeniably tempting. 

One moment you’re appreciating Toyota’s Ferrari-beating centre of gravity and 1,200kg kerbweight. The next, you’re wondering exactly how much of a chocolate teapot a 2001 996 Turbo S with 118,000 miles might be. It can’t be that bad, can it? If it’s driven halfway to the moon? Right? Oooh, look. An Aston Martin V8 Vantage. And a V10 BMW M6. When has either of those ever gone wrong? 

I’ll break character at this point and clarify that I’m a wuss. A complete imagination vacuum. When I decided my life savings were better spent on a sports car full of anecdotes and memories than a first house deposit, I did the obvious, sensible thing and bought a Porsche. No, not a 911. A 2013 Cayman, with not many options, and respectable miles. All mine for just under twenty-nine grand. Gulp. 

Purely by coincidence, the spec matches up well with the Toyota’s: white bodywork, black wheels, black interior. Manual gearboxes both. And heated seats. DAB radio. Check. 

But there’s no doubt the Toyota is the better kitted out car. It has CarPlay, which wasn’t invented in 2013. It offers twice the USB sockets. Automatic dual-zone climate control instead of manual air-con. A reversing camera. Pretty much the only modern convenience my Cayman has that the Toyota doesn’t is an electric parking brake. And I prefer the Toyota’s proper lever every time. 

The Toyota uses fractionally less fuel, averaging about 31mpg. The Porsche sips on the motorway but manages high twenties most of the time. But thanks to a bigger tank, I have to fill it less often. 

But enough with the sundry practicalities. For thirty grand, what’s the better buy? Well the Toyota is currently depreciation-proof. In the last six months the Toyota hasn’t shown a single warning light. The Porsche has two on, last I checked.

And as a drive? The Cayman makes the more expensive, musical noise. The gearshift is slicker and I love its mid-engined balance. But as much as it pains me to admit it, on a bog-standard run to the shops or commute to the office, the GR86 is better at making a roundabout or a slip-road fun. Narrower tyres, narrower overall, and the friendliest balance you could hope to meet in a sports car. 

Easier to manage than a Caterham, a Zed, an MX-5 – the lot. Where the Cayman is all serious poise, balance and adroit composure, the GR86 makes me smile. 

It's incredibly rare that a new car tops its closest brand-new rivals, but also the juicier used options. But with the GR86, I think Toyota pulled it off. You simply can’t enjoy driving more, more of the time, for less.

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