Toyota GT86 review
by Tom Stewart (16 May 2012)
Toyota has gone back to basics with its new and long-awaited GT86. Relative to most other contemporary sports coupés, the GT86 is light, agile and straightforwardly simple, and with a front-mounted two-litre engine feeding 197bhp to the rear wheels, it drives sublimely.
In Toyota's words, "The thinking behind GT86 was to recapture the purity of the classic sports car experience." This meant a compact engine, light weight, low inertia, a low centre of gravity, low drag and a meaningful power-to-weight ratio. And in pursuit of that purity, rather than chase the ultimate in performance figures and lap times, there would be no turbo, no four-wheel drive, minimal intrusion from electronic systems and even workaday Michelin Primacy tyres instead of high-performance rubber.
Before we get behind the wheel, let's have a quick recap of how the GT86 came about. Following Toyota's alliance with Subaru in 2005, the feasibility study for a joint sports car project began in 2006. Working as Team 86, both firms shared responsibility for the car's development and the net result, whether the GT86 or the very similar Subaru BRZ, is a moderately-priced 2+2 hardtop coupé that is a veritable bouillabaisse of hardware, technologies and influences.
The engine is a Subaru flat-four boxer unit fuelled by Toyota's D-4S direct injection system, with power supplied to the rear via either a six-speed manual or paddleshift automatic transmission. Chassis and suspension are also Subaru-derived (MacPherson strut front, double wishbone rear), while Toyota was responsible for the car's basic styling, inside and out.
Toyota and Subaru continued their collaboration through the road and track evaluation stages, working together to refine the car's performance and dynamics, although each was independently responsible for the ultimate driving feel of its own version.
Both models were revealed at the Tokyo show late last year, while production of both commenced in March at Subaru's Gunma factory in Ota-city, Japan. The GT86 is to be launched in the UK at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed in late June, with UK deliveries starting on July 1. Unlike the BRZ, the GT86 will be offered in a single specification in the UK, with on-the-road prices of £24,995 (manual) and £26,495 (auto).
I can't speak for the similarly-priced BRZ as I've not driven one, but as a driver's car the GT86 is an unqualified success in almost every department.
Firstly, it's not at all bad-looking, either inside or out, although this leads me to the first of my three, and only three, criticisms. The overall design and ambience of the interior is good, but the dash ahead of the front-seat passenger falls short due to incongruous design and an ill-fitting passenger airbag cover made from faux carbon-fibre. The tiny rear seats are obviously of little use as seats, but, as in a 911, their backs fold flat and in this case allow access to and from the boot. Although really a 2+0.2, at least there's space for your stuff.
No complaints about the instruments, centre console, switches, and controls, or the highly supportive and comfortable front seats, but the GT86 doesn't really shine until you're on the move, preferably on a sinuous traffic-free back road or a race track, both of which fortunately formed more than a small part of the GT86 press launch.
On back roads the GT86 is pure joy with quick and communicative but not too sensitive steering, powerful full-of-feel braking, a sweet slick-shifting short-throw manual gearchange and ample grip. With a 53:47 front/rear weight distribution it feels poised, nimble and beautifully balanced. There's more than enough power and speed to raise a grin, but not so much that it becomes scary or intimidating. Ham-fisted or very aggressive driving will likely stir the VSC system into action, but its intervention can be mollified by switching to Sport mode, or indeed by turning it off completely.
On the track - in this case the little-known but highly technical and entertaining Parc Motor Castelloli circuit near Barcelona – the GT86 maintains its delicious balance and composure, and it's not difficult to place the car exactly where you want it with impressive accuracy, but on-track it is of course that much easier to reach and surpass the limits of those Primacy tyres. But when you do the GT86 remains forgiving, and it's soon put back on the straight and narrow.
However, on the circuit it takes just a few laps to realise that on one particular uphill section the boxer motor lacks the torque to adequately fill the gap between third and fourth gears - in third it's passed the peak power at 7000rpm and close to the 7400rpm redline, while fourth reveals a brief but slightly frustrating shortage of oomph before it comes fully "on-cam" again.
Also, when the engine is revved hard it sounds, how shall I say, a tad strained and industrial. The motor revs freely, and feels smooth enough, but it's not an aural pleasure, and this is exacerbated by engine sounds being piped in from the engine bay due to noise levels being measured on the outside.
On the motorway the GT86 cruises comfortably at three-figure speeds (km/h or mph), and having swapped from a manual car to an auto it was soon noticed that the engine sounds sweeter and less thrashy with the £1500-more expensive auto box – presumably because the added complexity of the torque converter and other internals soften a percentage of the less appealing elements of noise. Lexus owners will appreciate this difference, while Subaru Impreza owners with mains sewer-sized tailpipes will find both the epitome of serenity.
A fair-to-middling driver would be smoother and faster on a twisting or unfamiliar road with the quick-shifting paddleshift transmission, but experts, purists and gung-ho speed merchants will appreciate the manual's superior performance figures: 0-62 in 7.7 seconds (8.4 auto) with a 140mph max (130 auto). Somewhat surprisingly, the auto version retaliates with better mpg figures: 39.8 combined against 36.2, and with that comes lower CO2 emissions: 164g/km, VED band G (auto), 181g/km, VED band I (manual).
Despite the GT86's impressively sporty and ultra competent handling, the compliant suspension delivers a ride that's comfy, even on less-than-perfect surfaces. Again, Lexus drivers will appreciate this while Scooby WRX owners will think they're riding a magic carpet over warm butter.
Sporty though the GT86 undeniably is, creature comforts such as cruise control, dual-zone climate control, electric windows, Touch & Go satnav with multi-info touchscreen display, Bluetooth with music streaming, a USB port and much more all come as standard, as do safety features including seven airbags and Isofix child-seat mountings.
So, if you yearn for something more visceral than an Audi TT but can't quite stomach the £39k minimum required for a Porsche Cayman, then look no further than the highly capable and entertaining Toyota GT86, or perhaps its Subaru sibling.