The 228 Horsepower Toyota GR 86 Is Not Underpowered. A Legendary Driver Proved It To Me On A Racetrack

It's time for driving enthusiasts to recalibrate their minds, because the new 86 has enough power to be a great car.

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Gif: Toyota

I am convinced that Toyota’s newest sports car, the GR 86, is fast enough. In fact, I’m certain that it is because I was in the passenger’s seat as pro driver and drifter, Ken Gushi, whipped the GR 86 around a track in Texas. If the power output of the new GR 86 doesn’t feel like it’s enough, I hate to break it to you, but the problem is not the car. It’s the driver.

Now that the 228 horsepower Toyota GR 86 and the 400 horsepower Nissan Z are out, people are probably going to make silly statements about the Toyota, because it’s not going to have the power figures to satisfy everyone. It’s a wonderful time to love cars, because we are spoiled for horsepower. It’s great! But all of these ponies have brought many drivers to lose sight of what makes a car fast. It’s not just power, it’s curb weight, chassis tuning, and — critically — the person at the helm.

In the right hands, say, in the hands of a Formula Drift driver, the 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque the GR 86 makes is plenty.

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Full Disclosure: Toyota invited me to its headquarters in Plano, Texas, to get a look at its newest cars and latest tech. Toyota paid for my flight, put me in a nice hotel and even fed me while I attended the event. The company also let me drive some its fast cars around a track, then put me inside of a GR 86 with Ken Gushi to show me how fast that car really is. And also how much of a badass Gushi is.

Image for article titled The 228 Horsepower Toyota GR 86 Is Not Underpowered. A Legendary Driver Proved It To Me On A Racetrack
Photo: Jalopnik / José Rodríguez Jr.
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Toyota brought a bunch of car writers to Eagles Canyon Raceway in Decatur, Texas, some weeks ago so we could experience the GR 86 firsthand. Okay, second hand, I guess, because we didn’t get to drive it (like my colleague Adam did), but we did get to whip around a couple of other cars. We lined up on a sunny Texas morning and Toyota lent us some helmets so we could go around the track safely. Then the company rolled out a smattering of Supras, Lexus LC coupés and convertibles

But there was no GR 86 for us. There was only the one, and Ken Gushi was at the wheel. I think the 86 has been unfairly labeled as underpowered in the past because blasting fast laps around a track simply exceeds the limits of many drivers’s skills. Before I jumped into the car with Ken, I had already driven myself around the course in two different Supras, just to see the difference between an inexperienced driver and a professional.

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There’s driving, and then there’s driving. I did the former, Gushi did the latter.

The experience has made me adamant that the GR 86 is a fast car. It’s more car than many drivers need, and with this generation Toyota has made the chassis stiffer, improving upon what was already a great track car. Add that to the ~10 percent horsepower increase, and the GR 86 moves.

Ken knows the 86 well. As we went around the track, he told me he’s been putting the platform through its paces since its inception. The lap didn’t last long, but I’ll always remember the surprising surge of speed in the straights and the precision Ken drove with around all of the turns. The ~2,850 pound coupe didn’t slide, it didn’t over- or understeer. I was expecting to spin out or pitch so far forward I’d get whiplash. Ken Gushi is a pro drifter; I figured we’d basically lap the whole damn track sideways. I don’t know what I was expecting, really, but what I wasn’t expecting was to come away with the idea that the GR 86 is fast, period.

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No qualifier needed. The GR isn’t “fast for a four-banger,” or “fast for...” anything. It’s quick and planted and its chassis felt rigid. It has great weight distribution, too. It’s just beautifully balanced.

Gushi didn’t make any of the lap overdramatic — more than it already was, of course. I mean, I was still subject to centripetal forces, but it didn’t feel like the car was ever going to go beyond the limits of traction. It just pointed ahead and zipped away.

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I didn’t feel the weight shift uncontrollably fore or aft or in any direction, really. I violently rocked back and forth and side to side, but the car didn’t. Hell, even when Ken pinned it, there wasn’t a dramatic sense that the back end was pushing us. I never felt the torque shove; it just kind of propelled us ahead uniformly. That’s probably because we were able to navigate the turns at such high speeds.

Which is all to say, the GR 86 moves forward with poise. It’s not squirrely, which is something I can’t say about the four-cylinder Supra, sadly. At least, with me (and to be clear: I’m not an experienced track driver) at the wheel, the 2.0 inline-four Supra loves to swing its back end around whether you want it to or not. I’d gladly take the 86 over it, and save myself a bunch of cash.

One of the turns in Eagles Canyon is a tight left-hander with a drop. When I was driving myself, I basically crawled through that turn. When Gushi got there, he showed me how to handle it. The front end of the GR 86 pointed down and left, shedding virtually no speed. The car was sure-footed, turning through lithely.

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When I came back to that same turn in an LC later that day, I did my best impression of Gushi and the GR. Of course, I overcooked the exit and ate a cone that I failed to see as the LC wallowed downwards. I blame myself for not scrubbing enough speed, but mostly for thinking I could treat the turn like Ken did in the GR 86.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It makes perfect sense that the lap with Gushi would be faster than any lap the car journos could have driven regardless of the car. Ah, ah, ah. Not so fast!

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Toyota also let us lap with Scott Pruett behind the wheel of an RC F Track Edition, and with Townsend Bell at the wheel of an IS500 F Sport. Sure, the LC was fucking fast, but it felt like a sled; there was nothing effortless about it.

The IS500 F, on the other hand, was a rollercoaster. It bobbed, weaved and pitched all over the track. It was fast and it was fun, but it wasn’t precise. Compared to those two, the GR 86 is unladen. It’s like a laser beam in comparison. It may have less power than either of the other cars, but it’s not under powered.

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Don’t let anyone tell you the GR 86 is one of those cars that needs more horses, or that this latest generation doesn’t fix the car’s greatest flaw. The GR 86 is doing just fine, if you ask Ken Gushi. And if you ask me. The GR 86 is already fast enough. Nay, it is already fast, period.

Image for article titled The 228 Horsepower Toyota GR 86 Is Not Underpowered. A Legendary Driver Proved It To Me On A Racetrack
Photo: Jalopnik / José Rodríguez Jr.
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Image for article titled The 228 Horsepower Toyota GR 86 Is Not Underpowered. A Legendary Driver Proved It To Me On A Racetrack
Photo: Jalopnik / José Rodríguez Jr.
Image for article titled The 228 Horsepower Toyota GR 86 Is Not Underpowered. A Legendary Driver Proved It To Me On A Racetrack
Photo: Jalopnik / José Rodríguez Jr.