What is it?
The Toyota GT86 is the firm's near-perfect recipe for an affordable, uncomplicated sports two-seater, a car in the Mazda MX-5 mould except for the roof. But in corporate terms, it’s much more important than a mere fun car. The GT86 is the flagship for a complete change in the way Toyota does things, a strong signal from its recently installed president, Akio Toyoda, that his company wants to build enjoyable, involving cars, rather than the reliable, dour machines for which it has lately become famous. It wants relive days when the MR2, Celica and Supra lifted the image of the whole range.
However, Toyota’s new rear-wheel-drive coupe could never have been built without the involvement of Subaru, who provide some of the know-how, the factory and the 2.0 litre flat-four that allows the GT86 its low nose (and therefore its compact dimensions and low centre of gravity). Subaru is launching its own near-identical model, called BRZ, made on the same production lines to improve economies of scale and allow the car to be sold at the comparatively affordable entry price of £24,995, or £1500 more if you want to substitute a six-speed automatic for the six-speed manual. Toyota wants to sell 2000 cars this year after the car hits showrooms at the beginning of July, and plans to do 5000 a year thereafter.
What is it like?
In a word, brilliant. From the first, the GT86 is simplicity itself to drive, coping with typical British suburban bumps quite well even though the suspension is obviously sporty in intent. The body feels rigid and well-made, the car rides flat, and the suspension is commendably quiet. When you get going on the open road, the damping provides terrific body control and the cornering grip is excellent.
There is a delicacy balance and an easy adjustability in its rear-drive chassis simply not available from front- or four-wheel drive. The GT86 can change direction with cat-like speed and grace. The steering is firmer than you’d find in a saloon of this size, but sharp and beautifully informative. The easy-changing gearbox suits the whole mix perfectly.
Around town, the flat-four engine doesn’t feel like something with an advertised power of 197bhp, though it’s flexible and you’ll always enjoy the flat-four Subaru throb. To get the best from it you must use revs: keep the needle between 5000 and the 7500rpm redline and the GT86 goes very well indeed. The 0-62mph sprint time is 7.6sec, brisk enough, and you can get to 140mph flat out. Best of all, the ’86 always feels a responsive, willing car on Britain’s challenging and variable open roads.
The Toyota is barely a hand-span longer than a typical supermini so its well-equipped interior has the snug, low-roof, tailored feel of a much more expensive GT. The trim materials don’t really live up to that — they lean more to mass-market durability than bespoke quality — but the GT86 cabin is still a very pleasant place to be with sporty dials and nicely arrayed switchgear.
Should I buy one?
What’s stopping you? Only the paucity of rear room, probably, if you have a family. If that’s not an issue, you’ll enjoy every mile you drive. Even more comforting is the fact that this is still an affordable Toyota so dealer support, residuals and reliability can be expected to be first class.
The usual uncertainties of sports-car ownership are missing, yet the GT86’s fun qualities are unaffected. Now, what’s your trade-in worth?
Toyota GT86 2.0l manual
Price: £24,995; 0-62mph: 7.6sec; Top speed: 140mph; Economy: 36.2mpg (combined); CO2: 181g/km; Kerb weight: 1240kg; Engine: 4cyl horizontally opposed, 1998cc, petrol; Power: 197bhp at 7000rpm; Torque: 151lb ft at 6400-6600rpm; Gearbox: 6-speed manual