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The joy of GT86 - Toyota GT86

What the GT86 lacks in terms of raw power it more than makes up for with its artfully balanced chassis and accurate steering. The overall package will appeal to the sports enthusiast on a budget, writes Anthony ffrench-Constant

So absolutely has the company hung its hat on the environmentally- conscientious peg of fuel-sipping hybrid drive technology of late that, until the arrival of this new, sporting 2+2, the fastest accelerating production Toyota was… Ta…daaah; the Land Cruiser V8.

Mercifully, and not before time, the long awaited GT86 changes all that. But only just… Because, drawing on a long heritage of front engine, rear-wheel drive sports cars that includes the beautiful, late 60s 2000GT (the top of which was only lopped off in You Only Live Twice so that Sean Connery could actually fit on board) and the somewhat lumpen but easily and eagerly customised Corolla AE86, the world’s most compact four-seater sports car is, in truth, not that quick.

The GT86 is a joint project between Subaru and Toyota. Its engine bay plays host to the former’s legendarily gruff 2.0 litre boxer engine (more usually associated with turbocharged, blue and gold Imprezas sporting commercial airliner wing sections on the boot and exhaust pipes of a diameter you could holiday in), fettled by the latter to produce 197bhp and 151lb ft of torque without recourse to the complexities and expense of super- or turbocharging.

The upshot is a 0-62mph dash despatched in a fairly modest 7.7 seconds, and a top speed of some 137mph. Even on paper, that rates as satisfactory rather than jaw-snapping.

Outright performance, however, is not the point here. The GT86 spent its entire gestation inhaling Weightwatchers protein drinks rather than chips, and weighs in at just 1239kg. With nearly 200bhp on tap, this constitutes a fairly healthy power-toweight ratio. Lob in a centre of gravity lower than a Porsche Cayman and a chassis sweetly balanced in favour of fuss-free tailout antics, and what we have here is a potentially great recipe for this car’s averred sole aim in life; fun – even in the hands of a rank amateur. At £24,995, relatively affordable fun to boot…

Reflecting a desire to uncrumple laurels rested on a tad too long albeit, in rolling out a pristine 2000GT at the GT86 launch proceedings Toyota were, perhaps, somewhat guilty of pulling the trigger before the pistol cleared its holster. Because, though elegant enough, the new car can’t hold a candle to that from which it clearly derives diverse styling cues; the 2000GT being so pretty it simply makes you want to burst out cheering.

On board, all is deliberately chthonic, swathes of unremitting darkness sending a clear message of intent: Don’t distract me; I’m busy driving the nuts off this thing. At one level, this approach works admirably, especially since the driving position is entirely first class in every respect. I would, however, relish a slightly larger, more crisply detailed instrument binnacle, and a little more, um, levity in the switchgear presentation.

There’s absolutely nothing for the passenger seat popsy you’re trying to impress to do but simply cling on – with which she’ll struggle because there’s no grab handle above the door. And, as is the norm with anything billed ‘2+2’, there’s absolutely nowhere for rear passengers equipped with real legs to put them.

On the road, the driver is immediately, and moderately well seduced by that artfully balanced chassis, a short throw (if somewhat nuggety) six-speed gear shift and nicely weighted, accurate steering.

The engine, however, somehow disappoints. Most of the available power and torque doesn’t arrive until the revs approach the top of the 7000+ rpm scale, overtaking never quite feels the darting, minnow-dodging-jaws-of-pike manoeuvre we automatically associate with anything dubbed ‘sportscar’, and the engine note never truly pleases, merely increases in volume – abetted, at full throttle, by something called a ‘sound creator’ which effectively pipes the din directly into the cabin. At one level, then, the GT86 delivers absolutely on its promise, with beautiful composure, balance and accuracy belying the need to pour monstrous gouts of power through the rear wheels to extract entertainment. Especially since Toyota has equipped the car with the same relatively skinny rubber as that with which the puritanical Prius is shod.

Ironically, though, it’s the GT86’s very lack of power, or, to put it more precisely, low end torque, that makes the car a somewhat less wholesome proposition for its target market – amateur enthusiasts who haven’t got a fortune to spend on their thrills – than intended.

And that’s because the chassis is so good you have to be going at a pretty serious lick to extract the traction control off, tail-out drifting fun available. Track performance, though undeniably rather a hoot in the new Toyota, is largely irrelevant, because you have the full width of the road at your disposal and know that nothing’s going to be coming the other way. On the road, you don’t, which restricts drifting diversions to corners you can see through and, occasionally, hedgerows you can’t.

Sadly, the GT86’s lack of torque means that, in second gear corners such as the irresistible hairpin, there’s barely enough low down grunt to budge a surprisingly sticky back end. In third gear corners, meanwhile, you’ll be going at quite a lick, making efforts to hang the tail out a somewhat daunting prospect for the potentially ham-fisted amateur at whom this car is so squarely aimed.

Heartened by the enduring enthusiasm still shown in Japan for customising the irredeemably boxy Corolla AE86 within an inch of its life (where ‘drifting’ is the preferred night time pursuit of many spared an evening of karaoke with the boss and a missed train home, and rear wheel drive is an essential ingredient of same), Toyota has deliberately left the GT86 receptive to all manner of customer fettling.

Whether this will include the ability to strap super- or turbocharging accessories to the engine block is uncertain. Whether Toyota (or, indeed, Subaru with its sister ship BRZ) will do that themselves is also uncertain. Either way, we must hope so. I do understand that this car absolutely isn’t all about power. But boy, could it use a dollop more.

Bizarrely, then, what we have here a is very fine sports car indeed, actually shackled by the quality of its own dynamic abilities: Amateurs will want more grunt to extract traction-free entertainment at lower, less daunting speeds, the more talented will want more grunt because… Well, they always do.

TOYOTA GT86 TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

PRICE: £24,995
ENGINE
: 1998cc boxer, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6600rpm TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE
: 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds, top speed 137mph, average fuel consumption 40.9mpg, CO2 emissions 160g/km
WEIGHT/MADE FROM:
1239kg/steel
DIMENSIONS
(L/W/H in mm): 4240/1775/1285
ON SALE IN THE UK
: Now
STANDARD SPECIFICATION:
Alcantara sports seats with leather bolsters, automatic air-conditioning, smart entry, HID headlamps, rain, headlamp and parking sensors, touch-screen multimedia system with Bluetooth and MP3

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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