Toyota GT86 – a real driver's car

I lined the Toyota GT86 up at the start of hil. I was a little concerned, but I gently squeezed the throttle. The road was quite narrow and I knew there was a danger of slithering off. I felt elated as I crested the first rise, but apprehensive about the tricky, rising left hander that so often brings such efforts to a halt.

Yes, the Toyota GT86 made it up the hill to our house, in the snow, much to my relief and surprise.

I am not the luckiest person with matching weather to test cars. Had I just had delivery of a Toyota Land Cruiser, I would have been revelling in the weather conditions that fate dealt me. But, the new Toyota GT86 is reported to be one of the most enjoyable affordable sports cars, and the incessant snow flurries seemed determined to ensure I would not be able to put that reputation to the test.

Toyota GT86

My test car was the Toyota GT86 automatic and it is no exaggeration to say I drove it more in the “snow” mode, than in “sport”. According to my wife, my frustration was quite evident!

Those with longer memories will recall that Toyota was not always a manufacturer devoid of sports cars. Between 1971 and 2006 they produced the Toyota Celica sports coupe and its bigger more-purposeful sibling the Toyota Supra. Then there was the Toyota MR2 which lasted a year longer, before Toyota shifted its focus exclusively to more workaday forms of transport.

After a gap that seems longer than the actual five years, Toyota are back in the sports coupé market. Jointly developed with Subaru the new model will be sold as the Toyota GT86 (Scion FR-S in North America) and the Subaru BRZ. The Toyota name apparently recalls the AE86 series from the 1980s.

The designers have avoided the temptation to over-adorn the GT86 and the result is a modern, neatly styled sports coupé. Inside it is also a story of form and function combined with an attractive driver-focussed design. Although it may lack the plushness of the best European designs, it equally avoids the horrid silver plastic look of some Japanese models.

The driving position is classic sports car, with low-slung seats and outstretched legs. Tucked down in the interior, you really do feel involved with the car.

While space in the front is good, a glance over your shoulder confirms that this is very much a 2+2. Yes, those are seats in the back but, with virtually no legroom, they are likely to spend most of their life folded flat to extend load space.

The thinking of the joint design team from Toyota and Subaru is clear. Rather than chasing headline-grabbing performance figures, they have focussed on the attributes that make for a real driver’s car. The aim was to produce a light, nimble design with a good-power-to-weight ratio, usable performance and finely-honed handling. In short, this was to be a car that would be enjoyable and rewarding for the driver.

To that end, the design is the classic sports car layout with the engine at the front driving the rear wheels. To optimise the handling, the centre of gravity is kept low – something that is aided by opting for the light, compact and squat ‘boxer’ configuration of the two-litre Subaru engine.

The figures confirm that the design team were not chasing headline-grabbing figures. The power output is 197 bhp. Acceleration 0-62 mph is 8.2 seconds, just 0.6 seconds down on the manual version. Top speed on the automatic is 130 mph (140 mph on the manual).

Toyota GT86 interior

While the performance of the manual has the edge on the automatic, the positions are switched when it comes to economy. The automatic returns a combined figure of 39.8 mpg, just a little ahead of the manual’s 36.2 mpg. My real-life average hovered around 30 mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions on the automatic are also better at 164 g/km, putting this car in band G for UK road tax (at 181 g/km the manual is in band I).

Even with the limited occasions when the snow receded enough to reveal black tarmac, it is clear that the design team have achieved their objective to create a real driver’s car. This may not the quickest of sports coupés but, at the affordable end of the market, it certainly is one of the most enjoyable.

What contributes most to driver enjoyment in any car is the responsiveness of the controls. But, more than that, on a well-developed car everything works well together as a team.

The Toyota GT86 is such a car. Touch the accelerator and the reaction is immediate, but progressive. The soundtrack is also important in adding to the pleasure and, on the GT86, the engine revs up to 7,400 rpm accompanied by an interesting throaty growl from under the bonnet. Occasionally, however, I did feel that cabin noise levels were a little on the high side, possibly as a result of trying to keep down the weight.

Toyota GT86

All the work to lower the centre of gravity pays off with agile handling that had me yearning for a snow-free summer day and some of my favourite driving roads. The steering is very precise, with near-perfect weighting and great driver feedback.

Even the automatic gearbox feels just right and, despite the shaking heads of some purists, it doesn’t dull the enjoyment. Indeed, it proved so adept at selecting gears, that I found only occasional benefit in choosing to shift gears manually using the steering wheel paddles.

Despite the clarity of the focus on sporting handling, the ride quality is remarkably good, which adds to the general enjoyment..

Although it has been away from the sports car market for six years, Toyota has come back with a car that hits the mark for driver enjoyment and entertainment. Yes, there are plenty of quicker cars out there, but this one provides the all-important entertainment factor that will ensure it is a showroom success.

The price of the Toyota GT86 is £24,995 in manual form or £26,495 for the automatic version that I tested. That strikes me as pretty good value.
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