Toyota GT86 Coupe (2012 - ) expert review
Toyota's sports boasts surprisingly little power, but promises an engaging driving experience to rival Mazda's MX-5 RF and the Audi TT
Interested in buying Toyota GT86?
The GT86 certainly looks the part, with a low and sleek shape underpinned by an aggressive front bumper, a bodykit and twin exhausts. Two grades are available - standard and Pro - and most of the differences are inside. The standard car runs 17-inch alloys, LED headlights and front fog lights, while the Pro model adds a rear boot spoiler.
Toyota makes no bones about the fact this interior was designed by drivers, for drivers. To this end its focus is on function, with a perfect, low driving position and a steering wheel that can extend nice and close to the driver. Look deeper, though, and the quality of materials is rather disappointing, and some of the features feel added on, such as the phone microphone bodged onto the top of the steering column. The infotainment screen is not one of the best on the market, and feels dated and fiddly to use, and some of the LCD displays – for the air conditioning temperature, for example – are starting to look positively old-fashioned.
Practicality isn’t a buzzword in sports cars, but the GT86 does offer a decent concession to everyday use. Those front seats not only lock you in place, but offer impressive comfort. We happily emptied the tank of fuel in one day with no whiff of back ache. Toyota calls the GT86 a 2+2, but in truth, the rear seats are all but useless. There’s very little legroom and even short adults will find themselves having to duck down to fit underneath the ceiling and the rear screen. The boot measures 237 litres, beating the two-seater Mazda MX-5 RF by a long shot but falling short of the space offered by the Audi TT and offering far less luggage-lugging potential than most hot hatches; something to consider if you’re moving across from one. The rear seats fold down flat, but due to the small size of the boot aperture, don’t count on carrying anything too massive.
Ride and handling
The GT86 is a sports car that’s not built around outright pace or power; it’s about how it makes you feel, and consequently its handling is its strong suit. The low centre of gravity and some decidedly non-performance tyres work well in its favour; you don’t need to be risking your license to really feel involved in the way the GT86 flicks between corners with poise and stability. That said, if you’re looking for outright speed from your sports car, you’ll wish Toyota had fitted some grippier tyres; an Audi TT, for example, will get along any given road much quicker than the Toyota. In an age where many cars have overassisted steering and can feel insulated from outside world, Toyota has created a machine that sends messages through the steering wheel and seats, and makes you feel part of the road that you’re driving on. It’s great fun. The ride is consequently firm to keep things in control through the bends, but it’s pliant enough to maintain comfort. You’ll want to slow for speed bumps, but you won’t be shaken to pieces on longer journeys.
The performance of the GT86 will divide opinion. With 197bhp, it has considerably less grunt than most modern hot hatches - which offer upwards of 300bhp – and that power is concentrated at the top end of the rev range. Some will argue that revving the engine hard is half the fun of a sports car, and there is definitely lots of satisfaction to be gained from thrashing the engine mercilessly. However, others will be of the opinion that, because you have to work the engine so hard the whole time – lots of revs are needed just to make gentle progress – driving the car normally just takes too much effort. Which camp you fall into will be up to you. The 2.0-litre engine uses horizontally opposed cylinders – known as a ‘boxer’ – to create a distinctive, hard-edged engine note. The six-speed manual is our pick of the gearboxes, as it’s got a short, slick and meaty throw and adds to the driving enjoyment. The automatic is OK, but not particularly quick to respond if you’re using the wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Compared with cars like the Mazda MX-5 RF, the GT86 is slightly more expensive to buy, but it’s cheaper than Audi’s TT. Being a relatively performance-focused petrol engine, the official combined fuel economy isn’t stellar at 36.2 mpg, although our experience suggests that’s a fairly achievable figure. Even so, that’s a figure below both the TT and the Mazda. CO2 emissions from the GT86 are 180g/km, which is high compared with the figures claimed by the competition. The residual value of the car should be reasonable, and servicing costs shouldn’t be too high, either.
The GT86 isn’t listed on Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, but Toyota as a brand has a stellar reputation for reliability and sits right at the top of the manufacturer standings. Our owner reviews suggest very good experiences on the whole, although there have been complaints of minor oil leaks and rattling from interior trim. Generally, though, we expect the GT86 to be fairly bulletproof, and Toyota offers a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty if anything does go wrong.
The GT86 hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP – Europe’s vehicle safety testing organisation – but the mechanically-identical Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S have been tested in the US by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and scored well. Seven airbags are included in all models, but there’s no automatic emergency braking, even as an option. The GT86’s electronic stability control system can be turned fully off, which will be attractive for those that want to explore the limits on a track. For those with kids, there are Isofix child seat points in both back seats.
Although there are just two trim levels, equipment levels are reasonable, with all cars boasting sat-nav, aluminium pedals, dual-zone air-conditioning and cruise control, as well as DAB radio and Bluetooth. The Pro model has extra suede bits in the interior and heated front seats, but that’s about it, and we’re not convinced that it’s worth the extra outlay.
You want a car that’s engaging and fun to drive, dynamically impressive and doesn’t cost the earth. The GT86 is a real-world sports car, one that you don’t need to thrash beyond legal speeds in order to get a thrill. Find the right roads, focus on the driving and forget about the slightly sub-par cabin, and you’ll have a blast.