Toyota's best car on Colorado's best road proved to be a winner.
Every state in the Union has its own "best driving road." Usually, when media types like us set out to find the best strip of tarmac, it's accompanied by some waffled answer that, unequivocally, the Angeles Crest Highway is the best driving road in America, and *insert 6-figure sports car* is the best car to do it in. That may be true for some, but there's more to it than that.
The car you go on this little hunt in is arguably more important than the road one inevitably finds. Taking a Toyota GR86 up a wide, open, fast piece of road won't be very rewarding because you'll feel you don't have the pace. The opposite is true of your McLarens and Ferraris, where the slower, twistier roads won't be as fun and the high-speed roads will be highly illegal and a little dangerous should you make a mistake. So, there's by no means a perfect answer to this. That said, we might've found it, at least for one car, in one state.
Finding that perfect slice of tarmac, at least in the state of Colorado, required a suitable car. Many of Colorado's "good" roads are dominated by tourists now, and we needed something that would be a sort of "Goldilocks car." A car comfortable enough to soak in views from, yet quick and engaging enough to dispatch miles of tarmac with ease. Thankfully, Toyota's best sports car, the GR86 is the perfect candidate.
You can get mad about it in the comments, but this truly is the best sports car Toyota makes. On a point-by-point scale, the GR86 simply makes fewer mistakes than the Supra while being cheaper, equally practical, and more engaging (barring the new manual Supra, which no one's driven yet).
Moving on. Keys in hand and maps pored over, we'd narrowed down our choices to two candidates. The first, unfortunately, must remain nameless at the request of multitudes of local car nuts. This is one of those "best-kept secret" deals. But if you know which road runs between Evergreen and Idaho Springs over the mountains, you'll know which road we drove. In the other corner, we have the Peak to Peak scenic byway, arguably Colorado's prettiest drive.
Of course, you need rules for this sort of thing, and here they are: We'd rate both roads based on average traffic (of any kind, including cyclists), tarmac quality, and fun factor. That last one is hard to quantify without you having gone with us, but we'll try to paint a word picture to help you understand.
The GR86 is properly old school, which is what made it so good on our unnamed first candidate (the one near the lake on the 14'er). This mountain pass has only two lanes, and we immediately appreciated the tarmac quality on the road near the Echo Mountain ski area (whoops). Like a good race track, it also gave the 86's suspension a workout, with plenty of ducks and dives woven into the ever-climbing tarmac.
This road was a solid blend of open sweepers and tight hairpins, and honestly, everything in between. We used every gear of the GR86's six-speed manual and every available modicum of traction.
Thin Rocky Mountain air proved a slight blight on the GR86's performance though - the downside to natural aspiration. It's worth taking a minute to talk about our companion. It makes who-cares-horsepower and no-one-torque (228 horsepower, 184 lb-ft) when you're talking to power-hungry car dudes who think you need 400 hp minimum to even try and have fun. Neither of those figures matters because the GR86 doesn't feel underpowered for its chassis, even in the Rockies. At only 2,811 lbs, this car feels closer to 270 hp.
While the sea of surrounding rocks and trees played the 86's exhaust back to us, we'd have appreciated some more views on the way up the pass, rather than having to stop and observe on a sketchy turn-off. Still, a total lack of traffic was a good start to our contest.
The weight, or relative lack thereof mentioned above, benefits the way the chassis handles. Turn the wheel and the car tips in gracefully, allowing you to play with the balance between grip and oversteer at a reasonable speed. This is the perfect canyon car simply because you can do anything in this car at a speed that won't kill you. It teaches you how to work with less power than you need, how to get your heel-toes right, and how to feel things.
The 86 was also comfortable. While some might bemoan a lack of adjustable lumbar support, we say that just adds weight. Our Premium-spec model came with a nicer suede interior, but we'd honestly have taken cloth after a few sweaty hours behind the wheel. Still, it held all our bits and pieces, snacks, and camera gear.
The ride saved us on more than one occasion as well, providing just the right blend of compliance and stiffness. You'd be hard-pressed to hate on this car, "low power" or not.
That brings us nicely to our other candidate for Colorado's best road: the Peak to Peak Highway. This road starts in the casino town of Black Hawk and runs more or less to the doorstep of the famous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Frankly, our biggest concern going in was the traffic. People know about this road, and the route is popular with tourists.
Sure, we did hit some traffic, but it was nothing we minded. That's because the Peak to Peak highway is one of the prettiest roads in the country. Around every corner, there's another vista, another valley, another peak. The road does earn its name, and we even had a little staring contest with some local wildlife in Estes.
Enough about the views, which this has in spades over our nameless near-the-14'er-road. Thankfully, the tarmac is smooth here, despite frequent traffic. We feel this road is suited to a faster car, but wringing out the GR86 at altitude was fun. You needed to rev the Boxer engine, and we enjoyed that.
There were also some tight sections that required real focus, letting us load up the GR86's tires through some extremely long hairpins. These are a highlight, letting you feel the car move and struggle at the limit while your neck strains against the Gs. Proper race track stuff at 40 mph. What's not to love?
Parked up at the foot of the Stanley Hotel (which was far too crowded to venture near), we weighed our options. The first, nameless candidate near Echo Mountain was inarguably a better driver's road. But is that what going for a drive is all about? Is it not also about feeling a little small? Appreciating the scale of the world around you while also enjoying yourself and your car? We'd argue yes.
So, the next time you're in Colorado, pick a weekday, set out early to dodge the traffic, and go take a drive on the Peak to Peak highway. It's the best road in Colorado, and the Toyota GR86 is possibly the best car to do it in.