THERE’S a choice of just one when your thoughts turn to the Toyota GT86, the Japanese manufacturer’s first sports coupe for yonks.
And to be honest, if you want a light and highly involving car that can take corners better than Robin van Persie, you don’t need much more of a choice.
Toyota has something of an enviable reputation when it comes to sports cars. I can remember a trip to Cyprus many years ago to sample the then new Celica, and then an equally involving visit to Portugal years later as the MR2 made its first appearance. And who can forget the 2000GT that starred all those years ago in the hands of 007 in You Only Live Twice?
Ironic then that the GT86 – while it has them all in its bloodline – draws on neither for its raison d’être. But it does tip its hat towards the Corolla AE86 of the 1980s, a rear drive machine that became something of a cult hero for the way it shifted.
Launched in July, GT86 was conceived from the outset to be a pure driver’s car, with low weight, a low centre of gravity and responsive, rewarding handling as design and engineering priorities.
It sure looks the part. The view forward from behind the wheel is all bulgy arches and wide bonnet and through the mirrors its sculpted flared arches and a realisation you’re closer to the road surface than usual.
The 2+2 coupe has a front-mounted, free-revving 2.0-litre ‘boxer’ engine driving the rear wheels. Toyota purposely specified standard tyres – the same as those used on Prius – rather than performance rubber, ensuring drivers can fully exploit the GT86’s handling potential.
And it’s good to know great performance doesn’t come with a prohibitive price tag: the ‘range’ starts at £24,995 for the manual, the automatic at £26,495, with just one equipment grade.
With a front-mounted engine and rear wheel drive, the light, low and nimble GT86 has that classic sports car set-up. And to hammer home that driver’s car feel, it comes with a limited slip differential as standard.
Externally the GT86 is all flowing lines and intricate detail, a fine example of a well-sculpted design – note the rear spoiler, chrome-finished dual exhaust tailpipes and a signature “T”-mesh grille. That T motif is mirrored in the shape of the rear foglight, set centrally between the tailpipes.
Seven exterior colours are available to draw admiring glances – our test car did when we parked it up at Top Gear Live – and there are optional side, roof and bonnet decals available in black or silver to add an extra subtle touch to the appearance, depending of course on which colour you’ve chosen in the first place.
The GT86 badge is a small detail just forward of the base of the A-pillars, depicting four drifting tyres within the number 86, set between two horizontal “boxer” pistons.
The 2+2 (the +2 actually being space for creatures god hasn’t created yet) kind of highlights the fact the cockpit is designed around the driver – you really wouldn’t want to be sitting behind him or her. There are superbly comfortable and supportive sports seats, aluminium pedals and contrasting red stitching around the black leather trimmed steering wheel, gear knob and parking brake. Black cloth upholstery is standard, but you can opt for black leather and Alcantara, or black leather with red Alcantara.
There’s very little body roll and very quick steering gives the GT86 that well balanced cornering on rails feel, and driving with the window down you can hear the rear tyres doing all the work and searching for grip as the Toyota pulls out of a slow corner. The Subaru developed flat four Boxer engine, with its distinctive note under load, helps here by giving the car a lower centre of gravity than rivals.
There’s little doubt the GT86 is enormous fun to drive, probably more so in the manual rather than the auto version we sampled, serving up your full daily quota of thrills. If you were brought up on oversteering cars, this could be the nostalgia trip you were waiting for.
And undoubtedly, another winner for Toyota.
FASTFACTS: Toyota GT86; £26,495; 1998cc T4 cylinder horizontally opposed (Boxer), DOHC, 16 valve; Six speed automatic; 197bhp@7000rpm, 205Nm@6400-6600rpm; Top speed 130mph, 0-62 8.4 secs; Co2: 164g/km; Fuel: urban 29.4, extra urban 49.6, combined 39.8; Will it fit the garage? 4240/1775/1285 (l/w/h); Five year/100,000 mile warranty.