Given the much-vaunted Toyota GT86’s rediscovery of old skool dynamics, we just had to have a go in one. After all, the way old cars drive – fizzing with feel and involvement – is one of the primary reasons why we’re so addicted to them. Well, that and the smell of Swarfega…
Named with a nod and a wink toward the darling of drifters and Gran Turismo-ists, the AE86 Corolla GT, was a car that wasn’t really lauded in the British motoring media of the Eighties. So is it really worthy of this retrospective canonisation and reincarnation?
Anyway, moving on and as soon as we examined the GT86’s (aka FT86) specification we found that the oft-given reasons for its retro driving thrills – its low kerb weight and small tyre footprint – were somewhat inaccurate.
Admittedly the GT86’s mass of 2734lb (24 2/5 cwt) is lighter than many of 2012’s tubby offerings, but that is a bit like me boasting I have the physique of a racing snake and then, in infinitesimal print writing ‘when compared to Vanessa Feltz glued to a hungry hippo’.
It is lighter than the master of girth, the VW Scirocco (2862lb; 25½ cwt) by 128lb, or one small adult; but when compared to my daily MkI Focus – which weighs in at 2520lb or 22½ cwt, the Focus is 214lb, or one well-built 6ft+ chap, lighter than the GT86.
As for the notion that the GT86’s tyres are narrow or its 215/45R17 contact patch ‘small’, it is slighter of foot than the Scirocco 2.0TSI (235/40R18) but again, my dear old scruffilicious Ford is the greater automotive twinkle-toes with its 195/55R15s.
No, if there is any witchcraft going on with the GT86’s tyres, which it shares with the Prius, it is in the tyres’ lower rolling resistance than that normally specified for a performance machine.
Indeed, if anything, these comparative figures serve to illustrate what a lardy over-tyred lump the modern motor car has become.
Pedantic finger wagging over, the GT86 is a great slice of fun and a welcome rebellion by Toyota against the anaesthetised tedium of the grip ’n’ grunt brigade. To achieve driving nirvana, you certainly have to earn it with this rear-drive coupé – yet such is the joy of hard toil.
At the heart of this Subaru-Toyota co-production is a ‘square’ 2-litre flat-four (86 x 86mm) which realises 197bhp at 7000rpm and just 151lb.ft of torque between 6400-6600rpm; featuring twin injectors – both direct and conventional port injection – the demarcation of which is dictated by engine speed. Plus it also makes use of a sound generator which, even when the engine is extended to its 7400rpm redline, creates little pleasing aural entertainment. If only it approached the Alfasud boxer’s ability to make your face ache from excessive goofy grinning.
Scything through meandering roads and spanking the gearchange light/buzzer, this 2+2 coupé is as invigorating and amusing as witnessing a lump of ginger being surreptitiously shoved up a curmudgeonly cynic’s bottom. All the control surfaces are well weighted, if a little on the light side, but the electronic throttle in particular must be highlighted for its praiseworthy mapping which gives both an initially crisp response and its subsequent linear progressive delivery of go.
In short, it’s one of the best ‘cable-less’ systems I’ve encountered and is delightfully free from the usual militant hesitation from which fly-by-wire throttles are prone to suffer. Especially when strapped to some gutless eco-chugger, which can feel like whipping a two-stroke which is hooked up to the flywheel of the SS Great Britain.
The six-speed short-throw gearbox has a good spread of ratios, is quick, precise, and reminds me of the unit in the late RX-8 R3; making it a joy to keep the boxer on cam and, debatably, one of the most pleasurable things you can do with your left hand without endangering your eyesight.
Good though the drivetrain is – which includes an approachable Torsen limited-slip diff – and the three-mode VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) that was first aired in the Lexus ISF (on, off and ‘have some fun’ with extended lateral acceleration and yaw parameters) the GT86 is really all about its chassis.
Its ride-handling compromise is nigh on faultless; and even its 13:1 ratio EPAS steering does a decent job of emulating a competent HPAS system (though it still lags behind Frontline’s excellent LE50).
Sharp turn in has been cultivated by engineering a very low centre of gravity (a mere cat’s whisker over 18 inches) and a front/rear weight distribution of 53/47. Not content with the Subaru-made boxer’s favourable lowness, it features repositioned MacPherson strut mounts and an aluminium bonnet. Also, if the noise of the heavy fat-dropped rain was anything to go by, the gauge of the steel roof along with miserly insulation, must surely contribute too.
I found the driving position eminently adjustable and most comfortable, with the only issue being the position of the high-level rear brake lamp (in the rear-view mirror it hovered in the corner of your vision, like a tail-gating Audi). The coupé boot is borderline adequate, but I’ll stop there before I send us all to sleep.
Design, fit and finish? I’m not going to comment at length given that I have been perplexed for a good number of years by the motor industry’s current peculiar fetish for fussy clutter… Suffice to say, that it was fine – if a little gaudy and booyakasha – but then its primary market is more likely to be US frat boys than an English chap.
Poised, balanced and flowing with just enough body roll – it’s easy to see what all the fuss has been about – but I would love another drive on dry roads free from rotting leaves and mud. Damn this Hampshire rain! Yet even in these tricky conditions, the GT86 remains approachable and faithful with its superbly adjustable rear. You just dial in the yaw to delight in awe.
After all that, I couldn’t help but feel that Mazda must really be kicking themselves given all the credos that has come Toyota’s way. If only they had marketed an MX-5 ‘MGB GT-a-like’, they would have beaten their rivals to the crunch decades ago. Ho-hum.
So it’s a matter of welcoming Toyota back into the warm light of petrol-hedonism from the overcast chill of sensible motoring. Personally, I’d like a bit more sportivo music from its engine with more mid-range torque – oh for a supercharger (as long as that grovellingly low CoG is preserved) – and its steering could really do without power assistance to maximise the feel and positivity from its rack and pinion set-up, too.
Good though the GT86 is, I admire it more for what it represents: the potential for a new beginning, based on quality of feedback not quantity of G-force. Toyota – in the past so crushingly sensible – has effectively thrown the gauntlet at the feet of its competitors. Coming from one of the world’s largest motor manufacturers though, the challenge will not be a case of ‘who dares follow?’ but ‘who dares not?’
Tech Spec: Toyota GT86
- Body front-engined 2+2 fixed-head coupé
- Engine 1998cc, 16-valve, petrol four-cylinder ‘boxer’
- Transmission RWD, six-speed manual gearbox (auto available), LSD
- 0-62mph 7.7 secs
- Top speed 140mph
- Max power 197bhp @ 7000rpm
- Max torque 151lb.ft @ 6400-6600rpm
- Fuel consumption 36.2mpg (claimed combined)
- C02 emissions 181g/km
- Price from £24,995 (£27,795 as tested)
The Truth & Nothing But…
+ Fun, poised and connected. Near old skool pleasure in a modern 2+2 package
– Boxer needs more mid-range torque and some singing lessons
∴ Toyota tears up the performance rulebook and brings rear-drive fun back to the mainstream