I took a route home with lots of curvy roads. Here are my impressions:
- The car is much more lightly sprung than I expected, especially when compared to the 350z. It also has noticeably more body roll than the aforementioned Nissan, for example if you jerk the steering wheel back and forth.
- In spite of this, I absolutely love the way the car turns in: you point the nose, and it almost leaps into the corner. From a pure suspension engineering wizardry standpoint, it reminds me of my brother's old Acura RSX Type-S, but with the "rotating around your spine" rear-drive sensation of the 350z. Handling is the strongest suit of this car, and it's not even close.
- I knew the car would feel agile, but it was the overall grip threshold which surprised me. The OEM tires on this car are not good, but even then I took a moderately tight back-road segment going nearly 100 mph, and the car wasn't anywhere near its limit. I think my 350z, even with its much superior tires, would have been crying "uncle" there, at that speed.
- This is only the second electric steering rack I've ever used. The first was on a rental car, and it was so terrible I felt more like I was aiming the car than steering it. The GR86's is much better than that. In fact, it's almost as communicative as the hydraulic rack in the 350z. The feel is light, sort of like in my wife's 2014 WRX. I like the tiny steering wheel: the small radius feels very driver-centric in its design.
- The brakes are terrible. They feel like they are off of an economy car. The 350z's brakes feel twice as strong, which is incredible considering they have an addition 500 pounds of curb weight to stop. If I wind up keeping this GR86, I will buy a much, much larger brake kit for it: the stock ones are borderline unacceptable.
- On another negative note, I am not a fan of the throttle at all. It feels very vague, mushy, and imprecise. It's like it doesn't cue power delivery to the engine along a linear curve or something. I can't make heads nor tails of it. Maybe I'll get used to it, but it feels out of place in a performance car, compared to both my "physical cable" 350z throttle and the drive-by-wire in the WRX.
- I didn't want to push the engine too hard during the break-in period, but I was surprised at how flat the torque curve felt compared to what I was expecting. I didn't go past 4500 rpm, but eyeballing things the car is very comparable to the 350z in terms of acceleration, if not a smidgen quicker. It doesn't have the "beefy" feedback that the 3.5 liter V6 has, obviously, but simply in numbers terms it's a deceptively quick car.
- Boxer engines are notorious for not producing very pleasant sounds, and the unit in this car proves that point. There is virtually no exhaust note to speak of, and other than some tire road noise the cabin is very quiet even during acceleration. Engine noise is one of this car's weakest points.
- The gearbox is solid: kind of notchy feeling. Not as good as the one in the 350z, but better than the one in the WRX. Like the WRX, the clutch action is very light. It's not very good at communicating its catch point, and I find the thing to be a little vague in general. The clutch is merely serviceable.
- The car has a "track button", which I played around with quite a bit. I couldn't quite tell what it was doing: I swear the suspension felt a little tighter, or the handling had subtly changed in some tough-to-define way. The car just felt "sharper", but I don't know how much of that was placebo. I think the engine note was different as well: maybe the "track mode" pipes in fake noise through the speakers or something. I'll need to do some reading about that. One thing is for sure does is change the digital gauge cluster layout. The horizontal RPM format reminds me of the Corvette ZR1 from the 3DO's "The Need for Speed".
- The car's interior is pretty spartan, with odd-looking large circular vents next to the driver and passenger doors. I did get the touch screen hooked up to my phone via Apple CarPlay. I'm so used to looking at my phone in the cup holder for the sat nav map that I had to keep reminding myself: it's on the dashboard in this car! It was really neat firing up Apple Music, and having my entire album library accessible in the car.
- Why the heck do cars have the silly "push button" starters these days? I'd rather just have a key. In this car, the button cycles between off, accessory, and power. If you depress the clutch and brake pedals and then press the button, it starts the engine. The doors unlock themselves when you put your hands on the handles, if you have the fob nearby. Lots of bizarre and totally unnecessary gadgetry and complexity.
- People weren't kidding then they told me the back seats were small. 2+2, indeed. I had my son climb in behind me, my wife went in the other back seat, and my daughter sat in the passenger chair. It was hilarious, like a little clown car. Oddly, the passenger-side rear seat has no seat belt! It has the portion which gets snapped into, but the belt itself is absent. I've emailed my sales manager buddy about that. The car also didn't come with floor mats somehow. Talk about cost-cutting.
Overall, I give the 2023 GR86 a "B" so far. This versus the "C+" of the 350z, and the "A-" of the WRX.
The GR86 feels like a budget car: I'm not generally a huge fan of four-cylinder engines and the way they feel-- the inclusion of one in this vehicle in particular is part of what provides that "budget" sensation. The lousy brakes and merely serviceable gearbox plus clutch, both of which remind me of my brother's Honda Civic, contribute to the economy car, "they were trying to control costs" impression. The fact that I didn't get floor mats or even four seat belts doesn't help matters. Shrinkflation is alive and well.
But that suspension... it is pure magic. And the car looks like a million bucks too. I'll continue to write more about it as I continue to drive it over time. I'm going to have my wife take it into town this week as well, to get her impressions.