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Peter Atkinson

Ghosts of Celica in Toyota's souped-up sports car

The new GR86 sports coupe is Toyota's spiritual successor to the much-loved Celica. (HANDOUT/TOYOTA IMAGES)

It's been 36 years since Toyota last produced a new version of its iconic Celica sports car - but you could be forgiven for thinking it's back on the road.

Not identical to the shapely Celica but an altogether more modern, hard-edged version of the much-loved two-door hatchback.

But when up close, it's not a Celica at all, despite the Toyota badges.

It's the latest version of Toyota's spiritual successor to the Celica - the GR86.

It might sound like foreign territory for some, but drivers of a certain age will no doubt get a sentimental smile when they think about the original model, a car that served the market for 36 years before it disappeared.

Its loss came during those sad, gloomy times when Toyota stopped building beautiful, fun-to-drive machines and replaced them in its dealerships with reliable, but boring, family transport.

Fitting, then, a wonderful new Toyota era that has given us cars such as the stylish new Camry, the BMW-sourced Supra and brilliant rallying versions of the Corolla and Yaris, that it should bring back the spirit of the Celica, as well.

Well, sort of.

The 86 arrived as a belated replacement for the Celica a dozen years ago - but it's only now, in its third edition, that it has fully returned to the compelling recipe that blends good looks with equally impressive performance.

Toyota GR86
The GR86 blends good looks with more impressive performance than earlier models. (HANDOUT/TOYOTA IMAGES)

It's a cool story. The GR86 (first called the GT86) was built in partnership with fellow Japanese marque Subaru, which named it the BRZ.

It was aimed at turning those classic sports-car traits - front engine, rear-drive with enough handling and acceleration to make it fun, without ever being threatening. The only car that compares in recent years is Mazda's timeless MX-5 - the only vehicle that goes head to head with the Celica and the GR/BRZ.

Originally there was a truce between Toyota and Subaru, with the latter avoiding the temptation and public urging to add one of its amazing turbocharged, four-cylinder drivetrains from its rallying brand.

Instead, Toyota has gradually fed more "go" for the 86, most notably in this new model. A two-litre engine has been superceded by a 2.4-litre, horizontally opposed mill - a salute to the "Boxer' engines provided by Subaru.

And what a difference a few kilowatts can make.

Now blessed with 174kw and 250Nmm, the 86 will reach the speed limit in 6.3 seconds - not earth-shattering but sufficiently quick to be an absolute barrel of fun.

Toyota has never officially acknowledged it, but this is a Toyota Celica for Generation X (although they probably won't buy one because that's simply not the way they roll).

Never mind because there are more than enough grey nomads for whom the 86 is a slice of nostalgia.

Like the Celica, the 86 in its early days looked every inch the performance car but mostly was a sheep in wolf's clothing, offering similar performance to other Toyota sedans and wagons of the time.

But this reimagination has added a harder edge to the already nimble and supremely capable 86, partly through the additional power and secondly because with your rear end so close to the ground, it feels to be travelling considerably quicker than it is.

Nothing wrong with that - it sticks to the road like, well, peanut butter to a blanket along with a raw, unrefined feel.

Now, thanks to this "sexy at 60" Toyota range, it has gained enough additional power to make this new car a little weapon.

That thrummy, earthy four-cylinder engine (shared with Toyota as part of their agreement) has added a substantial 22kW and 38Nm over the two-litre kit it replaces. That's well over 20 per cent which is a welcome boost for any car.

Oh, yes. The GR. It stands for Gazoo Racing as the high-performance arm of the Japanese giant - and is the laboratory for Toyota's growing batch of performance machines (once the province of Holden Special Vehicles Down Under).

Some might remember the previous performance studio, known as Toyota Racing Development or TRD for short (not very attractive and you definitely don't want to get any of that on your blanket).

If you were trying to recall, there is a "Great Gazoo" already in the market - the little bubble-headed genius who made the odd cameo appearance on The Flintstones.

Rest assured, this one is quicker and smarter.

One more thing. The GT tested will cost $43,240 (same price for six-speed manual or six-speed auto). The GTS retails for $45,390 which, quite simply, is the steal of a lifetime.



Surprisingly so for a car that's no bigger than a smallish hatchback. This one has two doors, virtually useless rear seats and about 237 litres which, Toyota says, is enough space to cram in four spare tyres if you're taking the GR for some track work. The car has five different stability control gradients.


It will reach the speed limit in 6.3 seconds (manual version). That might seem a bit light on, but one drive, preferably on a twisty piece road, is all it would take to convert you.


Consumption is a slightly thirsty 8.7L/100km for the auto, almost a second more thirsty in manual form.


It's an absolute bargain at $43,240 in the tested GT model

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