Matt Hubbard reviews the Toyota GT86
The Toyota GT86 has been around since 2012. When it was first launched it was lauded as the definitive cheap sports car. 18 months later and it still is.
That motoring journalists love the car is no surprise. It's light (1,200kg), is a classic coupe shape with a naturally aspirated engine, slick 6-speed gearbox and goes round corners with a deft touch.
It's also quick with a 0-60 time of 7.6 seconds, although you could could buy a few cars with faster acceleration for the same price.
The interior is neither bling nor luxurious, instead it's functional and good looking with some nice touches and is pretty comfortable even on a long journey.
All of the above summarise the GT86 on the surface. It looks good, it feels good and it's nice to drive. So what makes it so special?
Many things. Lets start with the engine. It isn't particularly powerful, although being a boxer (flat-4) it is characterful, it revs to 7,500rpm and max power comes in at 7,000rpm. The downside of being naturally aspirated and revvy is that the 151 lb ft of max torque comes in at 6,400rpm whereas a turbocharged car would bring a hefty punch of torque lower down the rev range.
The lack of torque means that you need to strangle the engine to make it work. 1st gear is dealt with quickly and then we're into 2nd which carries on to 60mph. Just like in the 2.7 litre Porsche Cayman with its flat-6 engine it feels like you're in 2nd for a long time.
This isn't a criticism, it's just a different way of going about things. The engine is free revving and the gearbox is slick.
The next thing to consider is where the engine is located - way down in the engine bay.
Open the bonnet of most cars with an inline or V configuration and the top of the engine is right at the top, just under the bonnet. Not so in the GT86. The engine is way down in the depths of the bay, around 10 inches below the bonnet.
This gives the Toyota GT86 the lowest centre of gravity of any production road car. That means it has a head start in the handling stakes over almost anything else.
There are several hot hatches that cost around the same as the GT86 but they are front wheel drive and the Toyota is rear wheel drive. The hot hatches are also all powered by an inline-4 engine and are based on lofty hatchbacks.
Being a coupe the GT86 is already ahead of the competition, having rear wheel drive and such a low centre of gravity and it murders it.
Then we come to the interior. Like any car the GT86 has a steering wheel, seats and pedals. Unlike some cars it has a gear lever and a handbrake.
You sit in the seat, not on it. It's comfortable but this comes from great design rather than springy cushions. Lotus pulls off a similar trick - make it the right shape and keep it supportive and the driver is more comfortable than on a seat with soft cushioning and massive adjustability.
The GT86's seats also have thigh, waist and shoulder support. This makes you feel snug. The proximity of the wheel, handbrake and gearstick add to the effect.
You feel sat in it, with controls in just the right place, and fully in control of the car. This might seem a simple thing to do but it isn't. Some cars get seating position very wrong.
The rest of the interior isn't half bad either. The plastics are fine and you get leather patches in the places you are likely to touch.
The test car was fitted with Toyota's Touch and Go, a £750 option, which gives inbuilt satnav, Bluetooth and Aux-in, a rear view camera and an upgraded sound system. The satnav is great, the stereo sounds fine if a little tinny and the Bluetooth works perfectly. I couldn't find DAB radio though which is a big omission in this day and age.
The rear seats are tiny but they're handy for storing things in the cabin, and we did manage to squeeze a 12 year old in it for a short-ish journey.
Driving the GT86 is where everything comes together. It's an absolute hoot.
The great driving position, low centre of gravity, revvy engine, rear wheel drive and lovely gearbox make for one of the best cars to drive, to take by the scruff of its neck and just go for it.
Being light and not particularly powerful mean you can explore its limits on normal roads rather than racetracks. But it is deceptively fast. The ride is composed and the chassis soaks up all but the most low speed, harsh surfaces. Pressing on and you'll find yourself travelling faster than you thought.
Drop a cog or two and overtaking is straightforward.
Corners become challenges. The front wheels grip but the rears slip if at the limit - yet that envelope of limit is a huge one. Initial loss of grip is only temporary. The car's electronics and brilliant chassis ensure you never go beyond just a small slide.
It is a very flattering car to drive.
Long distance motorway cruises are better than expected for a sports coupe. I spent 8 hours driving in the GT86 one day around a horrible M4 and M25 and various A-roads in 30°C temperature.
I felt fresh, the sound system was fine, the cupholders take a large bottle of water, the air-conditioning was super-chilled, it had cruise control for those section of motorway where we actually did a constant speed, and it returned 36mpg. At 50 litres the fuel tank is pretty tiny though.
The Toyota GT86 is more than the sum of its parts. It has an added element of je ne sais quoi and that is enough to make it feel more than a little bit special. It is a fantastic car.
Price - £25,110 (£27,996 as tested)
Engine - 2.0 petrol, flat-4
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-60mph - 7.6 seconds
Top Speed - 140mph
Power - 197bhp
Torque - 151lb ft
Economy - 36.2mpg
CO2 - 181g/km
Kerb weight - 1,202kg
By Matt Hubbard