Toyota GT86 Review: Smile Inducer
by Sue Baker
A badge visible from space is a pretty dramatic claim for a car, but that’s what Toyota has done with its GT86 sports car.
Please excuse the silly smile plastered across my face. Blame this week’s test car, which is responsible for the immovable grin of recent days. It is a Toyota, but unlike any other. It’s the smile-inducing GT86, the 2+2 seater sports car that is the petrolhead’s pinnacle of the range.
It was originally developed in collaboration with another Japanese car maker, Subaru, whose range features the equally sexy sister model BRZ. Both cars are built in the same Subaru factory at Ota, to the north-west of Tokyo. Both cast a halo of sporty sophistication over otherwise sensibly straight-laced brands.
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The GT86 first arrived in the UK in 2012, and quickly gained a reputation as a great drive with fine handling. Earlier this year it underwent a modest facelift to tweak the styling, giving it a wider grille and LED lights front and rear. The cabin was also refreshed with upgraded materials and a bit more of a luxury feel.
Donuts from space
Evident throughout the car is the distinctive ’86’ logo that is its badge of honour. Toyota is so keen on it that the logo appears in six places in and out of the car – on the steering wheel, both front floor mats, boot-lid, and etched into both headlights.
As if all that weren’t enough, Toyota decided that it should also be visible from space. So it has just commissioned Fredric Aasbo, a Formula Drift World Champion, to ‘paint’ a series of scorched tyre-rubber donuts on a circular pad to replicate the 86 badge.
The highly skilled, but also smoky and undoubtedly pong-y deed was enacted on the skid pan at the motor industry’s high security test track at Millbrook in Bedfordshire.
There is a compellingly watchable video on YouTube showing how it was done. Precision planning was needed to coordinate the precise time of the tyre-smoking deed with the passage of an orbiting Pleaides satellite, recording it from space 500 miles up above the earth. As a marketing tool for the car, this is a lot more imaginative than a bill-board.
So what is the GT86 like to drive? Heavenly, if you have a taste for traditional sports car handling. It’s a proper driver-pleaser with the engine at the front and rear-wheel-drive. It is tactile good fun to drive, like a playful cat with a bit of a bite.
Yes, it has fangs. You need to treat it respectfully on the road: it has a tendency to hang out its tail if you attack a corner a bit too enthusiastically. On a cross-country trip late on a rain-washed night last week, I had to tread carefully and feed in the power judiciously. When you’re in a hurry and the road’s wet, you don’t want to risk it snapping back at you.
It’s not a high-performer. The two-litre, 197 bhp Boxer engine delivers a pretty decent amount of power and a 0-62 mph acceleration time below eight seconds, but it’s no ball of fire. Actually, it doesn’t need to be, because it’s pretty decently quick enough to have fun without jeopardising your licence.
Agility not practicality
Like any sports car, the GT86 isn’t that practical. It’s a 2+2 seater, but you need to be a contortionist with minimal legs to manage a trip in the back. Those rear seats are quite tight, even for children.
The boot is shallow, and has only a modest 237 litres capacity. That’s enough for weekend luggage, but not much more. This is a selfish car for a keen driver, or a couple – one of whom doesn’t mind hanging on tight to a grab handle while the driver has a great time behind the wheel.
There’s so much to like about this car. Its agility over a twisty road is enlivening. It has a low centre of gravity, so it feels leeched to the ground. It weighs just under 1.7 tonnes, so it has a very good power-to-weight ratio. It is firm-bodied, grippy and engaging.
Drawbacks? It’s a sports car, and the ride is firm. Find a rutted back road, and it will rattle your fillings a bit. Not outrageously though, and you kind of feel it’s worth putting up with for the amount of enjoyment you’re having.
Then there’s the fuel consumption. Mid-30s mpg on the combined cycle is low by the standards of most cars, and a figure in the upper 20s is more realistic in normal driving. So with a 50-litre fuel tank you find yourself diving into a filling station quite often.
Those are worth tolerating for the energising way it behaves. It is also keenly priced for the kind of car it is. Drive it, and the GT86 feels like a bit of a bargain for the money. That’s enough to induce a smile, if it weren’t already there because of just how much fun this car is.
Toyota GT86 Stats Review
Model tested: GT86 2.0L Manual Coupe
Top speed: 140 mph
0-62 mph: 7.7 secs
Economy: 36.2 mpg
CO2: 180 g/km
Images: Sue Baker
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