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Toyota GT86 coupe (2012 – ) expert review

By Andy Goodwin, 11th May 2012

The verdict

The Toyota GT86 marks a return to sports models for the manufacturer best known for its economical family cars. Designed to be as low as possible, it’s a hoot to drive, despite being not that quick in a straight line.

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Expert rating:

4.2

Pros

  • Exploitable handling balance
  • Affordable, but still a bit special
  • Toyota ease of ownership

Cons

  • Lack of rear legroom
  • Average fuel economy
  • Some low-rent interior materials

Full Review

1. Exterior

The first thing you notice about the Toyota GT86 is its shin grazing height and sleek design. Form follows function here, its low-slung body allows it to cut cleanly through the air, while its rear wing (complete with side canard fins), ‘pagoda’ roof and flat undertray aid stability and downforce at higher speeds. No part of its ‘boxer’ flat-four engine sits higher than your knee, allowing the bonnet to plunge forwards. But, raised front wings still let you see the nose of the GT86 from behind the wheel for accurate road positioning. The GT86 pays tribute to the classic Toyota Sports 800, 2000GT and Corolla AE86 models, but with a highly modern twist.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

Toyota makes no bones about the fact this interior was designed by drivers, for drivers. To this end it is supremely functional, with a perfect driving position, straightforward ergonomics and racey dials. Look deeper and the quality of materials can’t quite match the likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco. But this is a car aimed squarely at driving pleasure, and to that end there are some clever touches. Padded centre console and door inlays prevent bruised knees during high-G cornering; you get Toyota’s smallest ever steering wheel and the alcantara covered sports seats are a work of art. The dashboard is even designed with a strip down the middle which reflects in the windscreen to show you exactly where the middle of the car is – pub trivia of the highest order.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

Those front seats (honed after hours of hooning at the Nurburgring) not only lock you in place, but offer impressive comfort. We happily emptied the tank of fuel in one day with not a whiff of back ache. Toyota calls the GT86 a 2+2, and its rear seats offer little legroom. It’s possible to squeeze three adults in – with the front passenger sited further forwards – but it’s a better fit for kids. The boot measures 243 litres, beating the two-seater Mazda MX-5 by a long shot. But, it could be a  hurdle for customers swapping from a hot hatch, which has both a larger and wider opening boot. The compact nature of the GT86 makes it a breeze to drive around town, in traffic or park up in congested NCPs.

Our rating: 3

4. Ride and handling

This is where it’s at according to chief designer Tetsuya Tada, and us too, now we’ve driven the GT86 on road and track. You see, this is not just a new car; it’s a bit of a revolution. Why? Because it won’t lap a track as fast as many of its competitors and because it has been graced with tyres designed for the Toyota Prius Hybrid. “FUN!”, not winning statistics, made it to the top of the Toyota ‘To Do’ list, and the GT86 is better for it. Those tyres are meant to lose grip at sane speeds, because then you can be exposed to the wonderful poise and balance this Toyota can display. The steering is brilliantly direct, the gearshift a wrist-flick which snaps home the next cog so fast it feels a bit rude and the brakes have more subtle feel than a brail pavement. A standard Mazda MX-5 now feels a bit roly-poly in comparison, while most hot hatches are rendered MPV-like. A GT86 driver’s hips are 70mm lower than they would be in a Porsche Cayman. Speed freaks will still prefer the front-wheel drive Renaultsport Megane 265 for its uncanny ability to lap a track faster than most dedicated sports cars, but we find it less tactile than the slower, rear-wheel drive GT-86.

Our rating: 5

5. Performance

Tetsuya Tada insisted non-turbo power was essential to the driving precision of the GT86, offering the most responsive throttle response. Its 2.0-litre Subaru co-developed motor has 197bhp and gets the 1,240kg six-speed manual model to 62mph in 7.7 seconds (auto 8.4 seconds). This is enough to keep pace with the Mazda MX-5, but has spawned much debate for its power defecit in a world filled with potent turbo hatches and coupes. It’s true the GT86 is no fireball, but it’s hardly slow either and the power is matched well to its humble tyres. Only mountain climbs and lines of slow moving traffic made us want for more torque. String a sequence of straights and corners together, keeping the rev needle between 4,000rpm and its 7,400rpm redline, and it’s a blast.

Our rating: 4

6. Running costs

In a break from the norm, the automatic is both less thirsty (39.8mpg versus 36.2mpg) and less polluting (164 versus 181 g/km of CO2) than the six-speed manual car. Coincidentally (or perhaps not?) the 2-litre Mazda MX-5 also averages the same 36.2mpg and emits 181g/km of CO2, but with only 158bhp, while the Scirocco 2.0 TSI manual manages 38.2mpg and 172g/km of CO2. Predicted residual values are just under 50 per cent retained value after three years or 60,000 miles.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

There was a time when buying a sports car was a bit risky as far as reliability was concerned. But a sports car co-developed by Toyota and Subaru? That sounds like a safe way to have fun. It comes with a full five-year/100,000 mile warranty for extra piece of mind.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

Most noteworthy is the car’s VSC+ electronic stability programme, which can be left fully on, switched into ‘VSC Sport’ mode or turned fully off. Its intervention is well-judged, making the car safe and stable in day-to-day driving and allowing a few degrees of sideways slip in ‘VSC Sport’ mode to allow you to explore the GT86 at its limits of grip. A skilled hand can turn it off on track to enjoy the GT86 in extremis without an electronic safety net. Driver, driver’s knee, front passenger and side airbags are all fitted as standard.

Our rating: 5

9. Equipment

The GT86 is well-equipped, with only a few extras available. You get cruise control, dual-zone air-con, leather steering wheel and gear lever trim, keyless start and a touchscreen audio interface as standard. Either Black leather and black alcantara or black leather and red alcantara seats, steering wheel and trim inserts are available for £1,600. Toyota’s Touch&Go sat-nav costs £750 extra and the six-speed automatic gearbox is £1,500. Racing stripe decals will be offered for a few hundred quid, and in 2013, Toyota dealerships will offer TRD (think Toyota’s version of AMG) styling and performance parts for the first time, allowing you to personalise your car further.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

Because you love driving. It’s heartening that the Toyota designers and engineers we met were so obviously passionate about this car. After taking a spin, we were too.

Our rating: 5

Expert review 4.2stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality3
  • Ride and handling5
  • Performance4
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety5
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?5

Those tyres are meant to lose grip at sane speeds, because then you can be exposed to the wonderful poise and balance this Toyota can display