The Toyota GT86 is designed to be a back to basics sports coupe in a similar mould to the Supras, Celicas and MR2s of yesteryear. Developed in conjunction with Subaru (Subaru will offer a near identical version known as the BRZ) this front-engined, rear wheel drive fun box purports to offer the kind of driving kicks most modern cars can only dream of, with good looks, excellent handling and enough power to annoy the dull as ditchwater establishment. We reviewed the £25,995 Toyota GT86 in manual gearbox form.

The Toyota GT86, aka Subaru BRZ is a back to basics sports coupe.
The Toyota GT86, aka Subaru BRZ is a back to basics sports coupe.

Design

It might have a Toyota badge on it, but the GT86 is a real showstopper. It's a good looking coupe that quite rightly attracts attention everywhere it goes. The sharp, pointy nose and powerful-looking snout are complemented by a muscular, intricately-designed rear end and a coupe-like profile that, from some angles resembles the Nissan 370Z.

Our test car is finished in a gorgeous shade of burnt orange that really sets off the clever mixture of curves and sharp angles. The GT86's designers have created a real stunner that is sleek yet muscular in equal measure. If you want a coupe that looks fast then and will appeal to both men and women, young and old, you need look no further.

The GT86's eye-catching design will make you the envy of your friends.
The GT86's eye-catching design will make you the envy of your friends.

Practicality

The GT86 is a 2+2, meaning it has a pair of full size seats in the front and a pair of smaller pews in the back. Up front, it's comfortable with a quite superb driving position. The steering wheel isn't particularly adjustable, but the seats can be positioned any which way so it's easy to get yourself comfortable. Taller drivers will benefit from a low-slung racer-like seating position with the wheel sat almost at right angles. Everything, from the major controls to the pedals is in easy reach and you'll feel as if the car was built around you rather than having to adjust your body to the layout. There aren't many better cars in this regard.

The seats in the rear are fairly pointless. They're best used for carrying luggage, masochists, children or people born without the gift of legs. The boot is fairly large for a car of this type, but the opening is fairly small so getting things in and out will require plenty of bending over and reaching in. That said, the rear seats do fold down to boost storage – it's large enough to pack more than a weekly shop or even some flat pack furniture if you're willing to share the cabin with bits of wardrobe.

The GT86 has a comfortable cabin and a great driving position.
The GT86 has a comfortable cabin and a great driving position.

Performance & Handling

The Toyota GT86 uses a 2-litre 4-cylinder boxer engine that produces 200hp and 205Nm of torque. Those numbers are decent, particularly in a car that weighs 1,238kg, but to unlock those numbers you'll need to wring the engine's proverbial neck. Peak torque and power are only achieved at around 6,500rpm, so you'll have to drop down two or even three gears through the excellent manual gear box, push the accelerator through the floor mat and make yourself a cup of tea while the engine spins up.

There's nothing particularly wrong with having to work a car so hard, some of the finest engines of our generation need to be spanked to extract their full potential, but in the GT86 it seems like an awful lot of work for not quite enough reward. By the time the engine is doing the appropriate number of revs your overtaking opportunity will likely have passed. Perhaps the experience would be more tolerable if the engine and exhaust made a half decent noise, but the whining, grinding din it produces is more embarrassing than rewarding.

If you do encounter a decent stretch of road, the car is quite enjoyable in a straight line. Once you hit the right number of revs a speaker inside the cabin beeps telling you shift up and every gear change is met by a whiff of wheelspin. Likewise, downshifts during hard braking are met with the briefest of lockups, making for an entertaining ride.

Things improve significantly once you encounter a few corners. The GT86 is superbly manoeuvrable, changes direction like a gnat. There is some body roll, but it's entirely predictable and actually helps the driver discover the point at which the tyres will begin to lose traction – and lose traction they will. The car uses the same skinny low rolling resistance Michelin Primacy tyres as the Prius, so throwing the GT86 into a corner will result in a touch of understeer. With the traction control off, it's possible to dial out this understeer by applying plenty of throttle (provided the engine's in that difficult to reach sweet spot).

Once you get the hang of things you can drift the GT86 beautifully through corners, but therein lies the problem. The driving experience when not drifting is so subdued, you'll want to use the rear wheel drive and limited tyre grip to slide the car through every corner and roundabout you encounter, since going sideways is just about the only time the GT86 becomes as entertaining as Toyota claim it is.

The car handles brilliantly but lacks power.
The car handles brilliantly but lacks power.

Economy & Environment

The Toyota GT86 is relatively frugal, returning 44.1mpg while emitting 181g/km. That's not bad for a sports car, but it's not great, either. The Ford Focus ST, which is a far faster (and cheaper) car, gets 50mpg and 169g/km. The Porsche Boxster, which is faster still, will return 44.8mpg and 192g/km. Those who buy the GT86 with the automatic gearbox option can eek out 49.6mpg and 164g/km, but at the expense of performance – the auto box is around half a second slower to 62mph and maxes out at 130mph rather than 140mph. Don't bother.

You'll have to drive it like you stole it before you start having any real fun.

Equipment & Value

You get a good amount of kit for your £25,995. The GT86 comes with dual-zone climate control, push button start, cruise control and a Toyota Touch Multimedia system with Bluetooth connectivity. Those who want satellite navigation will have to splash out on the Touch & Go multimedia system (a £750 option). This integrates navigation, live traffic information, speed camera warnings and a Google-powered point of interest search system. The system also features Google send to car, which lets you conduct Internet searches at home before sending them directly to the car ready for you to set off.

Its rear seats are useless, unless you were born without legs.

Safety

The GT86's tyres don't inspire much confidence at speed, but the car has driver and front passenger airbags, front side airbags, curtain airbags and driver knee airbags to keep you safe in the event of a crash. ABS is standard, as is the stability control system, but you'll want to keep this switched off if you want to extract any of the car's slip-slide appeal.

The Ford Focus ST is a better all-round car, but the GT86's rear wheel drive setup makes it a tempting proposition.

Conclusion

The GT86 isn't the joy machine many claim it is, it simply lacks the power and more importantly the accessible torque to put a smile on your face during normal day to day use. Those that are willing to wring the engine's proverbial neck will enjoy the GT86, particularly when a few corners are encountered, but ultimate enjoyment only comes when the car's safety systems are disengaged and you deliberately break traction. That's fine on a track, but on public roads you'll be riding your luck. Rivals such as the Ford Focus ST are cheaper, faster and ultimately more enjoyable for more of the time.

Key specs

Model tested: Toyota GT86 manual
Engine: 2-litre petrol
Power: 200bhp
Torque: 205Nm
Acceleration: 0-62 in 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 140mph
Economy: 44.1mpg
Emissions: 181g/km CO2
Price: £25,775

Score: