Toyota’s rear-wheel-drive sports car stable has been empty since production of the Celica, AE86 Corolla, Supra and venerable MR2 ceased. Thankfully, that’s about to change with the debut of the highly anticipated GT86.
There’s good reason to be excited about this car. Born from an alliance with Subaru (which is offering a near-identical version called the BRZ) the GT86 is the successor to the great Toyota sports cars of the past -- namely the Sports 800 and the sublime 2000GT. These driver-focussed cars laid the groundwork for the GT86, and now, after a long gestation period, it’s about to arrive on our shores.
To find out if the GT86 was worthy of all the hype, we flew out to test it in sunny Spain, and put the £25,000 2+2 seat sports car through its paces on twisty regional roads as well as a closed track.
First revealed as the FT-86 concept at the 2009 Tokyo motor show, the GT86 has remained sufficiently faithful to its show car precursor. A large front air dam mounted low to the ground reaffirms the car’s sporty intentions whilst cooling the engine, and the tips of its front wings protrude before the surface sweeps over the bonnet, allowing the driver to see the corners of the car. The historic 2000GT was used as a reference in the design as well, with the GT86’s side window shape echoing that of its 1967 forebear.
It's not just a pretty face. The car is designed using a concept Toyota has dubbed ‘aero-sandwiching’, which essentially means it's pushed by air from the top, bottom and both sides, all of which stabilises it with no negative impact on drag. In fact, the GT86 returns an impressive 0.27 drag coefficient, meaning it's slipperier through the air than a Porsche Cayman.
Inside, the driver-focused cockpit isn’t overcrowded with unnecessary elements -- its simplicity clearly communicates its sports car ambitions. The seat is mounted 7mm lower than that of a Porsche Boxster, amplifying the sensation of being at one with the car; and the simple gauge cluster is also reminiscent of the German roadster, with a central tachometer taking pride of place.
Though there are some aesthetic elements that appear unresolved -- such as the intersection of the panels at the base of the A-pillar -- it’s easy to glaze over these shortcomings the moment you get a turn behind the wheel.
The GT86’s seats are comfortable and supportive, and there is sufficient room in the front for six-foot tall occupants. Headroom is more than adequate thanks to its ‘pagoda’-style roof, but we certainly wouldn’t want to travel in the back seat on long journeys. These are best reserved for (very) small children or occasional use, provided the front occupants are short enough to move their seats far forward.
Toyota claims the GT86 is the most compact four-seat sports car available today, which is great when you’re chucking it around corners but less so if you want to bring home a new bookcase from Ikea. Its 243-litre boot has 49-litres less space than that of the Volkswagen Scirocco and is a full 66-litres smaller than the Peugeot RCZ’s, its chief competitors.
Performance & handling
The GT86 is powered by a 2-litre, naturally-aspirated flat four boxer motor sourced from Subaru. The unit produces 197bhp, or nearly 100bhp per litre. As the GT86 weighs in at only 1,238kg, that’s not a bad ratio; the only downside is that the engine’s 205Nm of torque kicks in from 6400rpm, just 1100 clicks short of its 7500rpm redline, so you'll need to keep it screaming to extract the best performance.
This left us yearning for a bit more power lower in the range, particularly when attempting to overtake. A turbocharger could have rectified this deficiency, but Toyota (and Subaru engineers) wanted to keep the driving experience ‘authentic’ and the overall weight down.
To judge the GT86 based on the above numbers would be missing the point; this car’s not about straight-line performance. It really comes alive in the corners. Its low centre of gravity, communicative chassis, well weighted steering, near-perfect (53 front/47 rear) weight distribution and finely tuned suspension combine to make cornering blissful.
With the traction control off (there are two settings, one which shuts it off completely and another that minimises its interference), the GT86 is quite happy to swing its tail out in a perfectly composed manner. And when called upon, the brake pedal offers a progressive feel - though we thought it was a touch soft.
As a driving machine, the GT86 is all about thrills. It’s meant to evoke the seat-of your-pants feel of sports cars from a bygone era, cars that were simple, expressive, and fun. And it does.
Economy & environment
Though you’re not likely to drive it economically, the GT86’s consumption per grin factor is notable. The 2-litre powerplant returns an impressive 36mpg in the combined cycle, and even if you thrash it about you’re unlikely to dip below the mid-20s. When paired with the automatic transmission -- a six-speed unit sourced from Toyota’s luxury nameplate, Lexus -- the fuel economy further improves.
The GT86’s CO2emissions are also worthy of note: the manual emits 181g/km and the automatic spews out a scant 164g/km, occupying a space in VED Bands I and G, respectively. Let’s hope you’ve got freedom when choosing your next company car.
Equipment & value
On sale in the UK from July, the GT86 will be available in just one specification. It features all the creature comforts one would expect in a modern day sports car. It includes dual-zone climate control, smart entry and push-button start, and Toyota Touch, which includes touchscreen control for audio and information along with Bluetooth connectivity. Overall it’s suitably kitted out for a car at this price point.
For those who want to indulge, Toyota’s Touch & Go system -- which adds satellite navigation, advanced Bluetooth (with music streaming from your mobile) and Google Local Search -- is available for £750. Leather seats with Alcantara inserts can also be specified for an additional £1600 (heated front seats are also on offer), and the automatic transmission will tack on £1,500 to the price of a manual car.
If you’re going to be lurching this car around some twisty bits and testing the adhesion limits of its narrow, 215/45R17 tyres (the same size shoes fitted to a Prius), you’ll probably be pleased to know that almost every safety feature on offer to date is fitted as standard on the GT86. This includes front side airbags; a driver’s knee airbag; curtain airbags; active front headrests; ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and Brake Assist; as well as the aforementioned VSC+ with traction control. And if you’re bringing the little one, it’s also got Isofix points in the back.
The GT86 is proving its sports car credentials, having just celebrated a double class win at the 40th ADAC 24 Hours Nürburgring race. It’s a very well balanced sports car that, though a bit lacking in low-range grunt, makes up for it in spades with its cornering fun factor. The similarly-equipped Peugeot RCZ and Volkswagen Scirocco don’t come close to matching the GT86’s brilliant driving experience, and they’ll cost you a few quid more.
So if you’re after an authentic, spirited drive that will have you looking for the long way home on the twistiest B-roads, the GT86 ticks all the boxes. It’ll leave you with a grin that’s hard to wipe off your face, and a little bit of change in your pocket.
Model tested: Toyota GT86 manual
Engine: 1,998cc four-cylinder boxer
Power: 197bhp @ 7000
Torque: 205Nm @ 6400-6600
Acceleration: 0-62 in 7.7 seconds (manual) / 8.4 (automatic)
Top speed: 140mph (manual) / 130 (automatic)
Economy: 36.2mpg (manual) / 39.8 (automatic)
Emissions: 181g/km CO2 (manual) / 164g/km (automatic)