What is it?
Perhaps more than anything, what the new Toyota GT86 demonstrates is that what car enthusiasts think still matters – because if it didn’t, Toyota would never have built this brilliant car in the first place.
When the board sat down to discuss the project at the beginning of 2007, the idea would have been dismissed in a heartbeat had the opposite been the case. Instead, though, Toyota decided there and then to exact an image makeover in order to appeal to a younger kind of customer – and the GT86 was designated to spearhead that renaissance.
The result is now almost upon us. We’ve driven the car in prototype form twice already and declared it to be bursting with potential. And here, again, we drive it in its virtually finished specification, ahead of its scheduled UK on-sale date of June.
Being an enthusiast, you’ll already know that the car is a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota, and that it has a 2.0-litre boxer engine beneath the bonnet, with 197bhp and 151lb ft on tap. You’ll know, too, that the car is rear-wheel drive, has a six-speed manual or semi-automatic gearbox, and that it weighs a mere 1220kg.
What’s it like?
But what you might not realise is how perfectly these elements gel to deliver a driving experience that is addictive, to put it mildly. Because, after all, nothing can prepare you for just how pure the GT86 is to drive; how sweetly it steers, how well balanced its chassis is near the limit, how crisply its brakes respond, or how incisive it feels when snapping from one direction to another.
Not that the GT86 is in any way vicious or aggressive in its reactions. Quite the opposite, in fact, and that’s a feeling that arrives the moment you climb aboard – and discover a cabin that’s been tailored almost exclusively towards the driver. The driving position is nigh-on perfect, the seat, wheel, dials, pedals and gearlever being so intuitively located that it takes but seconds to feel right at home in the GT86.
Press the button to fire it up and, instantly, you’re greeted by the inimitable thrum of that boxer engine, which responds beautifully to a ‘wap’ on the throttle. Select first and the lever moves with a mechanical precision that’s rare, if not unique in a production Toyota, and as you move away you become aware that the ride is firm but controlled – with just the right amount of compliance; not too stiff but not too soft. And even at 20mph you can tell that the steering feels rather delicious, too.
The first surprise comes when you open the throttle fully to discover that, while reasonable, the amount of acceleration on offer isn’t actually that startling. Toyota claims a fairly modest 0-62mph time of 7.7sec with a top speed of just 137mph. The second surprise arrives when you realise that this matters not one iota, because the moment you aim the GT 86 at some corners, the chassis comes alive, the penny drops and the full significance of what Toyota has achieved with this car becomes apparent.
And at that precise moment, you may even begin to believe that the car you are sitting in could be one of the most important machines of the past 10 years. Because on one level the GT 86 is simply a great little car to drive, one with such a fantastic level of chassis composure that it actually encourages the driver to play around with it where circumstances permit. And that’s a bright enough realisation in itself.