When: January 2012
Where: Jarama, Spain
What: 2012 Toyota GT 86
Occasion: International first drive - track test
Overall rating: 5/5
Brilliant in its simplicity the Toyota GT 86 is everything we want in a sporting car.
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder boxer
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: Two-door coupé
Rivals: MINI Cooper S Works Coupé, Mazda MX-5, Audi TT
CO2 emissions: 160g/km (Band D, €481 per annum)*
Combined economy: 40mpg (7.0 litres/100km)*
Top speed: 225km/h*
0-100km/h: 7.0 seconds*
Power: 200hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 6,600rpm
In the Metal:
Simple, but not without some appeal, the Toyota GT 86 isn't an arresting head-turning machine in the way of an Audi TT or MINI Coupé, but that's arguably part of its appeal. There are some neat details but you have to be looking for them. For instance, the badges on the front wings are cool, the piston emblems demonstrating the enthusiast nature of the car. It's a simple shape, neatly styled.
That simplicity is carried over to the interior. There's little fussiness or extrovert style, the GT 86's cabin rather workmanlike, but the work here is driving and it's nicely set up for that. You sit low, the gearstick high and easily reached and the steering wheel perfectly positioned with simple instrumentation behind. No cut-off wheel silliness or fiddly buttons. Indeed, the interior is a demonstration in restraint from electronic gimmickry, further underlining the purist ethos of the GT 86.
From the moment you press the start button and hear the joint Subaru/Toyota developed 2.0-litre boxer engine catch and settle to a characteristic horizontally opposed beat it's clear the GT 86 is going to be good. There's some vibration through the gearstick and it slots into gear with the mechanical feel that'll be familiar to you if you've ever driven an Impreza. It's immediately clear that the GT 86 isn't about speed through engine performance, as the 200hp the 2.0-litre unit develops is rather modest these days. Brisk rather than startling, the flat-four does prove eager and rev-happy. Both its peak power and torque are delivered high up the rev range, so it feels fairly ordinary until there's over 5,000rpm on the rev-counter.
That the engine is situated low and far back in the chassis and drives the rear wheels is the most important thing. What it lacks in outright pace it more than makes up for cornering ability. The steering, electrically assisted, is beautifully weighted and accurate, its immediate response and the car's eagerness to go exactly where you want it quite remarkable. There's feel through the rim too, Toyota's engineers managing to imbue the steering with the sort of delicacy and information that no other firm has yet managed with an electrically assisted system.
The steering is key to the overall experience, it allowing you to feel the car's limits and react when necessary to any movement beneath you. And the GT 86 likes to move around. There's plenty of grip for normal driving, but up the pace and provoke it and the GT 86 is hugely adjustable. Neutral at first, you can turn off the traction and stability systems with real confidence thanks to the detailed feedback you get from the chassis. Do so and the GT 86 can be cornered with as much or as little corrective lock as you like, its limits easily read and once outside them easily controlled. The brakes are mighty, too.
What you get for your Money:
Toyota has yet to put a number on the windscreen, but if the rumoured mid-late-€30k mark is to be believed then it's worth every cent. You could spend as much on a hot hatch, after all. Some might deride the GT 86 for the lack of torque-vectoring, G-meter rating and electronic assistance that's usually the norm in Japanese performance cars, but that's to entirely miss the point.
Toyota brought along a GT 86 automatic to the launch too. It's a torque convertor auto rather than a dual-clutch system. Sure, it robs the GT 86 of a good chunk of its appeal, but it's not so bad to rule it out altogether. Performance figures for both the manual and auto cars have yet to be released, but that matters little. It's quick enough, the whole point of its being more focused on how it drives rather than how fast it drives and it does so really quite brilliantly.
We'd have one. Which is about as big a compliment as we can give the GT 86. It embodies everything that's right about sporting cars. Low weight, rear-drive, low centre of gravity, a manual transmission, ample performance, sensible levels of grip and steering that's rich in information. We've been excited about this car for a while now, and we're even more so after driving it. Fantastic.