It doesn’t come as a surprise that Toyota expects to sell more GR86 coupes fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission than with the standard six-speed. Similar to how not all music lovers like to dance, not all driving enthusiasts prefer to shift their own gears, especially in today’s hyperautomated world. While we say it’s never too late to learn the three-pedal tango that a stick shift requires, buyers who do spend the $1500 for the GR86’s autobox will still get an excellent rear-wheel-drive coupe that recently won a 10Best award (alongside its mechanical twin, the Subaru BRZ). The catch is that they’ll be giving up both some driver involvement and some straight-line speed.
Every GR86 features a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter flat-four that sends 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. That’s 28 horses and 33 pound-feet more than its predecessor’s 2.0-liter flat-four made when paired with the automatic. The GR86’s new engine is a revelation thanks to how that power is deployed. The first-generation car’s infamous midrange torque valley has been vanquished, with peak torque now arriving at 3700 rpm instead of 5400, which helps make right-foot inputs feel more responsive. Winding the new 2.4-liter up to its 7500-rpm redline is a joyful experience, and while the accompanying soundtrack isn’t exactly a serenade to internal combustion, its tone is richer than before. To handle the engine’s added power, the six-speed automatic receives an updated torque converter and additional clutch discs.
If there’s a reason to dog the automatic GR86, it’s that it’s not as quick as the manual car. Our 2862-pound test car sprinted to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 14.7 seconds at 97 mph. Both times are 0.7 second behind the 24-pound-lighter manual version we recently tested, which means the gap between the manual and automatic in the sprint to 60 mph has been cut in half for this latest generation. The automatic’s times are also 1.5 and 1.2 seconds, respectively, quicker than what we got from a self-shifting 2017 model. We’ll argue that there’s no substitute for the rewarding choreography of clutching and shifting your own gears, but the automatic GR86’s steering-wheel-mounted paddles do prompt snappy ratio swaps, and the transmission won’t automatically upshift at the engine’s redline if you put it in manual mode.
Regardless of its gearbox, the GR86’s goodness is most evident when the pavement turns curvy. This coupe’s high-fidelity steering offers terrific feedback, which helps its driver confidently probe the limits of adhesion (0.95 g on our test car’s 18-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires). Likewise, a firm brake pedal makes for reassuring 153-foot stops from 70 mph. Stopping from 100 mph brought out the brake fade, however, just like we experienced on track in a GR86 at our most recent Lightning Lap. Reinforcements to the latest GR86’s front and rear subframes lend it a more refined, solid-feeling ride that is appropriately taut but not flinty or harsh. Most important, the GR86 remains effortlessly easy to exploit as both a willing cohort for seasoned drivers and a tool for teaching car control to novices.
Despite its excellent man/machine connection, the GR86 does have some minor flaws. The interior design and material quality are better than the outgoing 86’s, but this working environment is still more functional than fashionable. And the back seats remain pretty laughable, even for modestly sized humans. Interior noise at 70 mph is a tiring 76 decibels, too, which matches that of the manual. Our other gripes border on nitpicks, but we did wish for additional lumbar support in the driver’s seat, and the ease with which your elbow can accidentally open the center-console lid is annoying.
Overall, the automatic GR86 proves that this is still a riot of a car to drive even with only two pedals. What’s more, opt for the slushbox and you’ll get an extra cubby in the center console for storing phones and the like, plus model-exclusive adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. The EPA also prefers the automatic version, labeling it with a 25-mpg combined estimate versus the manual’s 22 mpg. Along with the $2600 Premium bundle (summer tires, blind-spot monitoring, heated front seats, and a larger rear spoiler) and a few other options, our test car amounted to a $33,507 ask—a solid value for a stellar driver’s car, even for those not keen on fancy footwork.
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