You might imagine it would be tough for a panel of judges to agree to give an award to a new car that only one of them has actually driven. But when that car is the successor to the brilliantly entertaining Toyota GT86, when that one judge is entirely convinced of its claim and when there’s so little dissent in the virtual meeting room and so much nodding and anticipatory grinning going on, you know what? It’s not that hard.
The Toyota GR86 is our Best Fun Car of 2022 on the strength of some road driving and plenty of fast lapping at the Parcmotor Castellolí circuit in Spain (which is blessed with plenty of enticing, sweeping, third-gear bends, as it happens). We will drive finished production cars on the European press launch later this month and get right-hand drivers in the UK later in the summer.
But we already know that they will be brilliant: just a little faster, grippier and more purposeful than the hilariously indulgent GT86 but still an invitation to powerslide that not even a Trappist monk could decline.
It will be available in the UK from £29,995, which is almost £5000 less than the very cheapest Audi TT and about the same as you might pay for a Ford Puma ST.
That’s not a bad driver’s car, considering that it operates in the crossover class, but if you want undiluted driving entertainment, it shouldn’t even be part of the same discussion. The GR86 uses a bigger-bore flat-four boxer engine than the GT86, with displacement having risen from just 2.0 to 2.4 litres. It revs to higher crank speeds and produces 232bhp at 7000rpm. But the 20% gain it makes on torque, made to feel larger still by accessibility at lower revs, is the more transformative factor as regards how much quicker the GR86 feels, on both road and track, than the GT86 did.
Plenty feels nicely familiar about the new sports car, though: the really low-slung driving position and the low bonnet up ahead, which speaks so clearly of low-carried major masses and the dynamic gains they bring. The controls are mediumheavy and feel honestly mechanical. The gearshift needs a good stiff prod home into each ratio and the atmo engine still needs work and revs to give up its best.
But it sounds wonderfully angry and raw when it does that, and it always responds so crisply and revs so freely – so much so that you never want to be anywhere but beyond 4000rpm. The tragedy is that the GR86 won’t be around for long. While its predecessor had a good long eightyear run, it will bow out after just two or three as European laws tighten their grip on safety and emissions.
So if you want a really enticing and usable sports car at a great price, now really is the time. There will probably always be a way to cater for wealthy enthusiasts, after all, but the rest of us have to gather our rosebuds while we may.