2017 Toyota GT86 review: Sideways in style

In our 2017 Toyota GT86 review, Ben Griffin spent most of the week going forwards and sideways in the rear-wheel drive sports car. But mainly sideways.

If you wanted to get into drifting, your options were somewhat limited until the Toyota GT86 came along. Either go big and buy something exotic, which you would then have to detach from a lamp post in a week, or get an Japanese sports car, which only works if you still wear hoodies.

The GT86 was the perfect fix. Not only was it moderately affordable, all 197bhp was sent to the rear wheels and the chassis was perfectly tuned for fun, controllable slides. The virtually identical Subaru BRZ could do the same (but no one bought it).

It even looked pretty good – in a Japanese sports car sort of way – and had two ‘seats’ (if you can call them that) for shopping, small animals and anyone with pencils for legs. Motoring journalists loved it, even though a few said it could have been more powerful.

Despite criticism to that effect, there was no power hike for the 2017 GT86 because it was deemed unnecessary. Instead, Toyota focussed on improving body rigidity, introduced a Track Mode for less electronic hand-holding and added a display that shows G-forces and torque curves.

You may have noticed some of the aesthetic changes, too, although we would forgive you if not. The new LED headlights with daytime running lights, lower nose and revised front bumper are minor, but welcome, changes at best.

The back of the car, meanwhile, now has a new full-width rear spoiler that is said to actually improve downforce, although we doubt you would notice its presence on the way to the shops.

There have also been revisions to the MacPherson strut front suspension because Toyota wanted to improve the handling, stability, ride comfort and steering feel. Adjustments to the rear double wishbone setup were made for the same reasons.

You can buy the new GT86 as standard or opt for the GT86 Pro package, which offers the aforementioned rear spoiler, suede dashboard, part-leather and part-Alcantara upholstery, revised bodykit and heated front seats on top of a modest level of equipment.

“Perhaps the biggest dividing point of the 2017 GT 86 it is powerful enough?”There latest version is the Orange Edition and it is worth a look (unless you dislike bright orange cars) because it boasts a few neat extras that elevate it above the current car – and without hiking up the price.

All of Toyota’s effort should add up to a more honed, sharper offering. But just how sharp is the 2017 Toyota GT86 and is it still as recommendable for those who want a fun car given the competition? Toyota lent Recombu Cars a car to find out.

2017 Toyota GT86 review: Handling & performance

A mixture of skinny-ish Continental tyres and 197bhp make it easy to drift the newest GT86, which means nothing has really changed in that sense. You can be a pro and do it using a variety of techniques, but the deliberately accessible and sizable handbrake works.

The balance of the GT86 remains 47:53, which is a little off perfect but Toyota originally did this to help with initiating a slide and give the car a certain feel. It is little details such as this that make the GT86 feel playful.

A small steering wheel provides oodles of feedback, as do the rear wheels when they start to break away, and the feeling of agility and overall composure helps edge you on. It is, however, never snappy, which makes it harder to crash. 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds is fast and slow at the same time.

Though it revs nearly as highly as a Honda S2000, the urgency to get there is slower. Its 2.0-litre’s linear delivery is smooth, flat and devoid of a kick, even though peak torque of 151lb/ft (205Nm) kicks in at 6,400rpm.

“Grip levels are great, not exceptional, but then grippier rubbers would make it harder to initiate a slide.”Perhaps the biggest dividing point of the GT86 is whether it is powerful enough? Well, the answer isn’t yes or no, but rather where you use it. On winding roads you will be having too much fun to notice. In urban conditions it will struggle more to get the blood flowing.

Grip levels are great, not exceptional, but then grippier rubbers would make it harder to initiate a slide. For road use it will do you proud in the corners, especially as the Torsen limited-slip differential lets you be heavy with the throttle coming out of a corner.

Down low, the 2017 GT86’s boy racer grumble is a tad juvenile, but then the same can be said for wanting to burn rubber. As it heads towards the redline things improve dramatically, with the noise transforming from obnoxious to thrilling.

The enthusiastic noise is a by-product of a lack of sound deadening, the introduction of which would have pushed the GT86 over 1,300kg and killed some of the drama.

Speaking of weight, Toyota was keen to keep it as low as possible. This is why, for instance, there is no frame around the rear-view mirror to save weight. Every gram counts in the GT86.

There is a harshness to the ride that reminds us of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, although the GT86 is smoother. But it very rarely grates on your nerves, making it a fairly good companion for longer, more tedious journeys.

What works?

A reminder that character usually outweighs brute horsepower.

What doesn’t?

Pulling away quietly is more difficult than it should be.

2017 Toyota GT86: The practical stuff

Should you wish to go shopping in the 2017 Toyota GT86, you will be better off than you think. The boot is rather flat and can hold a somewhat measly 237 litres, but add in the rear seat space and you are closer to what you get in a rival Audi TT.

As we said earlier, the rear seats are woefully inadequate for anyone with legs. Children will be fine and so will the family quadruped (unless you have a great dane), but everything else will end up complaining incessantly.

Being in the front is a vastly more pleasant experience because of the huggy, comfortable seats and ample head and leg room. You also get the lowest hop point of any Toyota, meaning you are nice and close to the road and as involved as possible.

In some ways, the overall aesthetic of the Toyota GT86 interior is a pleasing mixture of cheap and cheerful and well-thought fine-tuning. The door cards, for instance, are padded so your limbs are protected when sideways G-forces are at play.

At first glance, the design and size of the wheel reminded us of a Caterham Seven 160. That is a compliment because the somewhat stripped-out nature of the GT86 and mixture of relatively cheap materials suits the fact it is a driver’s car, not some soulless, heavy wannabe.

Just a few bugbears do raise their head from time to time. Pulling away, for instance, requires needlessly high revs if you wish to avoid stalling. We have driven hundreds of cars but few caused us to worry about this in such a way.

We also found it quite hard to get into and the somewhat limited visibility can make the odd manoeuvre more difficult than it needs to be, but then some of the best sports cars make you work for it.

Being naturally aspirated is rewarded in the fuel economy stakes. Even with the pedal buried, we never saw the GT86’s fuel economy drop below 14mpg. In normal use, we saw as much as 40mpg and our average when the car went back was around 29mpg.

General running costs should be low, too, as the CO2 emissions level is a respectable 180g/km and it sneaks in way below the £40,000 threshold that would see it cost another £310 a year for five years.

What works?

We can count on one hand the number of cars at this price point that are about as fun to drive.

What doesn’t?

If horsepower per pound matters to you, go elsewhere.

Toyota GT86: What are the alternatives?

Cars around the £30,000 are numerous, but opting for rear-wheel drive cuts them down dramatically. A little bit more money could get you a Focus RS, but the BMW M140i is more playful and always feeds power to the rear wheels.

You could also consider a Mazda MX-5 for a similarly capable drive, but it is less tail-happy and the image people have of it is less favourable.

For those who want to shun comfort and practicality entirely, the 80hp Caterham Seven 160 is even more exciting and likes going sideways. Cheaper, too, but you will see why when you get into it.

2017 Toyota GT86 review: Should I buy one, then?

There are plenty of cars that are faster and some, like the Focus RS, can do a good Drifty McDriftface impression, but very few are as entertaining and accessible. Newbie or not, you can enjoy a cheeky slide without a subsequent call to your insurer. And A&E.

Some petrolheads will dismiss the 2017 GT86 because you can get a lot more bang for your buck elsewhere and the 0-62mph time is a constant reminder. That is, however, your loss because it is a masterclass in involvement and balance.

Look past the somewhat plasticy interior and sometimes unsavoury engine note and you can have a car that is refreshingly addictive for relatively few pounds. And with a newer version set to arrive in 2018 or 2019, there is enough time left to enjoy it without wishing you had waited.

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