Open Road: Toyota GR 86 by Mark Arcenal
The ILLEST founder and car culture OG dissects the cult-favorite Toyota sports coup.
For car enthusiasts, driving is about more than just the technical specifics. Open Road explores not just what these cars do, but what they mean. Whether it’s an old, new, or exotic model, HYPEBAE is looking beyond the stats to unpack the simple pleasures of automotive.
For this edition of Open Road we tapped ILLEST. founder and car culture OG Mark Arcenal to experience the latest Toyota sports coupe.
When you think of the Toyota GR86, you have to look back to its predecessors: first, the debut of the AE86 in 1984. Back then, the trend was FF cars – front-engine, front-wheel drive – so when the AE86 came out, it became an instant hit to motorsports enthusiasts. The 4A-GE, all-aluminum, 1.6L, 16-valve, twin-cam engine paired with rear-wheel drive train and a limited slip differential helped propel this car to cult status, winning everything from rally to circuit to drifting events.
Then in 2009, Toyota announced it would resurrect the spirit of the AE86 and called it the FT86 Concept. About two years after the concept came out, the highly anticipated FR86 – as the Scion FR-S – was released, and I was fortunate to get one of the first allocations here in the states. I noticed the feeling I got from the drive hadn’t changed much from old to new. It felt raw, looked terrific, and everyone saw the potential. Like its older brother, you knew modifying it just a little could catapult it to how you envisioned your perfect car.
12 years later, the GR86 is announced. I only had high expectations because of the car’s pedigree. I can tell you this, Toyota didn’t disappoint. The car was everything I had expected and more. Having only seen it in photos, you don’t see all the little details that make this particular car special – up close, the aero and shape of the vehicle flow well. While some higher-end sports cars have dead-end vents, the GR86 has functional ones that channel air from the front to back, stabilizing the car to the ground.
I’ve always felt the emotion and thrill of driving are lacking in today’s newer cars. Everything you see on the freeway looks the same, probably because big corporations are transitioning to a more electrified vehicle world. Driving the GR on the street however felt refreshing. Powered by a 2.4L horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, the new car makes 228 horsepower, 23 hp more than the outgoing model’s 2.0-liter – the GR 86 now packs quite a punch. The windows are a perfect size, the steering wheel feels great, and the sports seats have bolsters that hug your body. In the end, this car was practically begging you to take it on the track.
The 86 will always be a cult favorite. It’s the underdog. It’s not the fastest, but it’s a car you learn to master and control like one of your body parts. It’s one of the best drivers cars out there.
- Contributing Editor
- Mark Arcenal