Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
APR 10th 2017
The Goodwood Test: Toyota GT86
Why GT86? It’s neither a Grand Tourer nor a car from the halcyon days of the late 1980s, so why did Toyota decide to affix that moniker to its new 2+2 sports-coupe? For the answer we must delve into the company’s history, back into the aforementioned decade, and then all the way back to the ‘60s, why? Because in 1967 Toyota launched the 2000GT – and revolutionised the world’s view of cars from Japan. Until the 2000GT Europe looked upon the Japanese output as dull-but-worthily-practical, often imitating the output of the rest of the world without ever setting anyone’s hair on fire. The 2000GT showed the naysayers that Japan did have a soul, that it was time to take the cars of the Far East seriously. Today a 2000GT can fetch as much as $1,200,000 at auction, so when it wanted a name with heritage attaching ‘GT’ to the new car was a no-brainer. Toyota then drew more inspiration from its heritage – with the new car set to trade on its light weight and fun handling ability it was logical to look to the AE86, a car which used those characteristics to become a legend in the drifting arena, to finish off the name. And so, after a few iterations through different concept forms, the Toyota GT86 was born.
The new GT86 is definitely a facelift rather than a new design but, unlike a lot of facelifts in the 21st century that seem to barely breathe on the exterior of the car, the Toyota’s update has made a noticeable difference. At the front the ‘mouth’ is now much more aggressive, putting more distinction between the GT86 and its Subaru BRZ brother. The grille has widened, swallowing up the area that previously held the fog lights, which have migrated further outboard and now sit behind three strakes just in front of the front wheel arches. The headlights have also stretched, piercing more into the nose of the little Toyota, and giving it a more purposeful look. Whether it’s a better look will be subjective; it’s definitely a more fussy design, but that brings a new aggression, that may have lacked in the original design.
At the rear, the overall look stays the same, but Toyota have pressed the delete button on the small rear wing. We reckon it makes the back look more coherent and, unlike the front, less fussy. The boot lid gently rises from the rear window to complete a curve that begins in the shape of the rear wheel arches. Beyond that, only the lights have noticeably changed, again for the better. Inside the GT86 looks largely the same, but there’s some more alcantara and the addition of digital readouts on the dash, bringing some much-needed mod-cons to an interior that originally lacked tech.
Very little has happened since the old car, which anyone who has driven it will be pleased to hear. The thrummy 197bhp ‘boxer’ four-pot is best used at the higher end of its rev range, and thanks to some new tuning sounds much better inside the cabin. Some may argue that the GT86 could do with a little more power, but it’s not vital. Again the Toyota sits on skinny rubber, meaning the playful chassis and suspension setup can get the rear of the car working with no need for a larger powerplant. The joy of the GT86 is its ability to float around, with a sharp front and a controllable rear it wraps itself around you and makes you feel truly part of the action. Toyota say they’ve made changes to the steering and shocks to sharpen the experience up, but given how much of a joy the GT86 already was you’d be hard pushed to sense the changes. That steering remains a nicely weighted system, translating the information received through the firm-but-not-too-firm suspension well.
The Toyota GT86 is never going to beat the likes of a BMW M240i away from the line – but that’s not the point of the car. The GT86 allows you to feel like a hero at speeds that aren’t going to cause your licence to quiver, add in just a little too much throttle at a roundabout and you can head off on a journey of easily controlled powerslides. Throw it into one of West Sussex’s many brilliant country lanes and you can balance the car on the limit without having to push it to the point where you want to slow down. The GT86 still harnesses the essence of what a small sportscar should be about – but now it looks more like it. Now, about removing those rear seats…
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