What is it?
The Toyota GT86, an almost-identical twin to the Subaru BRZ and the car hyped as on everyday drift hero. With a £24,995 price tag, it’s something of a bargain beside an Audi TT or VW Scirocco, but less so when you consider its performance disparity with some far cheaper hot hatchbacks.
Nevertheless, the GT86 is that now-rare concoction, a simple, affordable, rear-drive coupe designed for pure driving amusement without being burdened by excessive technology – a sort of faster, sharper Mazda MX-5 with marginal rear seats and a fixed roof (though a GT86 Convertible arrives in due course). It uses Subaru-flavoured componentry, specifically a 1998cc flat-four engine and a platform derived from that of the just-launched new Impreza, but the idea of a front engine and rear-wheel drive is a welcome return to what used to work so well.
Toyota and Subaru’s joint project has a wonderful simplicity about it and a noble set of aims - create a lightweight, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive car with a revvy normally aspirated engine and endow it with a chassis that’s big on balance and adjustability and couldn’t care too much about lateral G.
There's 197bhp at 7000rpm on offer here, but the fact that the 151lb ft torque peak arrives at 6400rpm tells you much about how this engine is going to feel; there’s very little low-down or mid-range push and you have to rev the engine hard to get anywhere fast. The noise it makes in conjunction with this is rather thrashy, too. Gearbox options are a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic; the latter blunts the GT86’s performance and appeal considerably and should only be selected if absolutely necessary.
Suspension is by struts at the front, double wishbones at the back, there's a Torsen limited-slip differential and – cue flash of techno-anxiety – the power steering is electric. Weight distribution is slightly rear-biased, total weight is 1190kg and the centre of gravity is said to be lower than a Porsche Cayman's.
What's it like to drive?
The low-slung driving position is superb and the six-speed manual gearbox is terrific, all the more satisfying thanks to perfectly positioned pedals. Then there’s the meaty, direct steering and the obvious sense that the centre of gravity is about 6in below the seat base.
Much has been made of this car’s emphasis on fun, and there’s no doubting it’s a malleable and enjoyable car on road and track. However, the engine isn’t nice when extended to the red line, but more critical is the lack of torque (just 151lb ft), which makes access to oversteer – one of the car’s big selling points if you believed all of its hype – a high-commitment affair. The energy-saving Michelin Primacy tyres allow plenty of sideways fun on track, but unsurprisingly they’re not as progressive as a high-performance tyre, so you don’t get the grip you need through high-speed corners and under extreme braking. And in the wet they slip beyond their limits very suddenly. Those new to rear-wheel drive ought to think twice when their finger hovers over the ESP off button in slimy conditions…
That’s frustrating because you can feel the chassis and engineering behind it is genuinely brilliant – the structure is really rigid, the steering is sharp and accurate, the brakes strong, and the modest mass and low centre of gravity give it exceptional balance and agility. With another 50bhp, 50lb ft and a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports not only would pace be quicker, but it would likely be no less enjoyable or accessible a car.
Overall, though, the Toyota GT86 is a welcome and worthy addition to the two-door market. It might not be quite the bargain hero we were led to expect, but it’s a tactile and satisfying car and while hot hatchbacks make it look overpriced, it offers an exotic, low-slung driving position and a grown-up rear-drive driving experience that they can’t.
How does it compare?
It makes a VW Scirocco seem synthetic and a Peugeot RCZ anaesthetised, though the GT86’s dated looking interior and comparative lack of luxury and refinement pegs it behind them if it’s merely a good looking, feel-good coupe you’re after. On driving experience alone, the GT86 is best compared to a Mazda MX-5 or Ford Fiesta ST. Both are considerably cheaper, but the Toyota has an appeal of its own that’s only helped by its relatively small sales numbers that ensure some exclusivity. The Subaru BRZ – which is identically priced – is rarer still, though…
Anything else I need to know?
It's a 2+2, but the rear space will only fit small adults and is better thought of as space for child seats for your kids. It's also the first front-engined, rear-drive, flat-four sports car since the 1950s Jowett Jupiter. Tell that to your mates at the pub. (On second thoughts, don't.)
While there’s rumours of 250bhp-plus turbocharged variants further down the line, for now you can spend another £6500 on the Toyota GT86 TRD, with bigger alloy wheels, proper sports tyres, a rortier exhaust and a collection of mild styling and aerodynamic enhancements.