The GT86 is the result of an agreement between Toyota and Subaru, which sells almost exactly the same car called the BRZ. (In North America it's also branded as a Scion.) Subaru supplies the engine, a 2-litre petrol unit in that company's favourite "boxer" layout, with two cylinders sprouting from each side of the crankcase.
It's a sports coupe, the first car of this type that Toyota has brought to market since the Celica. Six models are available, though the choices are limited to trim level and whether you want a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox.
Straightline speed was never the point of the GT86. The engine's 197bhp maximum output is adequate, giving the car a 140mph top speed and a 0-62mph time of 7.8 seconds with the manual transmission. The automatic gearbox adds £1,000 to the price and knocks 10mph off the top speed but brings the 0-62mph time down to 7.1 seconds.
The problem with the engine is that you have to rev it hard to get any decent work out of it. Full power isn't achieved until 7,000rpm, and in performance driving there's no point in letting it drop below 2,500 because nothing of any interest will happen and you'll have to drop down a gear or two.
Screaming along in the GT86 is quite fun, but you can't do that very often, and there just isn't enough mid-range grunt to permit quick motoring in a more socially acceptable manner.
Ride and Handling
With a sharper front end the GT86 would be able to accelerate effectively out of corners far more readily than it does now
There are two schools of thought here. Most reviewers love driving the GT86, apparently on the basis that they can turn in on the brakes and, by applying a bootful of throttle too early, exit the corner sideways. If you like that sort of thing, fine. If, on the other hand, you actually want to get round the corner quickly, you're going to have to concentrate. The turn-in is good, but thanks to the very soft front suspension the nose starts to lean over a long way. Once it's finally settled, the chassis will accept as much power as the engine can throw at it, but if you hit the pedal too early you're going to get a lot of understeer. With a sharper front end the GT86 would be able to accelerate effectively out of corners far more readily than it does now. So it depends on what floats your boat. For a bit of drama and excitement, and ignoring the fact that much less apparently sporty cars will probably leave you for dead as the road straightens up, it's fine, but to be a real driver's car the GT86 badly needs a suspension re-think.
Interior and Equipment
The name recalls the AE86 Toyotas, popular hot hatches of the 1980s which were, and in some places still are, very successful in several forms of motorsport.
The front of the GT86's cabin is far roomier than the shape of the car might suggest, though the rear is so cramped that you might as well think of this as s two-seater. Luggage room is understandably limited at 237 litres - some city cars, with the exception of Toyota's own Aygo, have more space, but if you're that interested in practicality you probably won't be interested in the GT86 anyway. Originally there was just one specification, but Toyota has added three more. The entry model is called the Primo, which costs £22,495 and seems to have been devised in an attempt to keep up with Subaru in a GT86/BRZ pricing arms race, is mechanically identical to all the others and comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, traction control, front foglights, Bluetooth and MP3 connectivity, aluminium pedals and a leather-rimmed steering wheel. The Primo does not, however, have the LED daytime running lights, cruise control, keyless entry and start or rear spoiler of the £2,000 more expensive second-from-bottom model (simply known as GT86), and its air-conditioning is manual rather than dual-zone climate control. Two further models are both priced from £27,495. The Giallo, available exclusively in GT Yellow metallic paint, has heated front seats and leather upholstery. The Aero has neither of these but does come with 18-inch wheels and a bodykit which includes a larger rear spoiler than is fitted to any of the others.
The automatic versions also have the lowest CO2 emissions of 164g/km
The best official fuel economy is achieved by the automatic cars, which are rated at 39.8mpg compared with 36.2mpg for the manuals. Unusually, it's quite easy to beat those figures (we had no problem exceeding 50mpg in an automatic on a flowing A-road) but naturally that's not going to happen if you start using high revs. The automatic versions also have the lowest CO2 emissions of 164g/km, which means annual Vehicle Excise Duty payments of £180. Equivalent figures are 192g/km and £265 for the manual Aero and 181g/km and £225 for the other manual-transmission cars.
It all comes down to whether or not you like the handling. If so, you'll probably enjoy the GT86 very much. It's certainly a smart-looking car and has a lot going for it, but unless Toyota comes up with a more flexible engine and sorts out the front suspension we'd rather have a Mazda MX-5 instead.