It's been an age since Toyota had a decently sporty car in its line-up, so the GT86 is long overdue. Its rev-happy boxer engine and rear-wheel drive layout ensure that it's like nothing else on the market. Can it live up to the considerable hype?
In the Metal:
Each to their own when it comes to aesthetics, but we'd not describe the GT86 as a looker. It's undoubtedly striking and very interesting, but the rear end is fussy and the front a little, well, weak. The slim tyres don't help matters, though read on and you'll find that we do support their fitment. Despite all this, we do think the GT86 is a very cool car and there's nothing like it on the road - other than the Subaru version of course. Mind you, the detailing is sublime with the car's motif on the wings and even on the (86mm diameter...) twin tailpipes.
The interior won't split opinion as readily. It's neat and compact. The seating position is pleasurably low-slung (lower even than a Cayman's apparently) and the driving position is spot on. A simple tactile three-spoke steering wheel is complemented by the perfectly sized gearchange knob and lever. All surfaces are textured, adding a quality feel, though some of the plastics sound hollow if you tap them.
The seats are suitably supportive in all the right places, though if you're larger than average it's worth trying them out for size, as they're quite narrow. Medium-sized adults can be accommodated in the rear seats if the front occupants slide forward as far as they can (and they're not too tall themselves), while the boot swallows a useful enough 243 litres of luggage - and the rear seats fold down to fit in more.
Let's address the relative lack of torque from the engine first. Some people will not gel with the GT86 because of this, especially if they're used to a turbocharged or supercharged car already, but we'd urge those to give it time. It's only really an issue when you're on an unfamiliar road where you end up in a higher gear than is ideal - especially on an uphill section. It also means it's trickier to overtake slower traffic on short stretches of road. The engine is at its best when singing at over 5,000rpm, where it makes a suitably sporting noise - even if it is a little coarse at times. Keep it on the boil and the GT86 feels seriously fast.
Indeed, Toyota's new coupé seems to improve the harder you drive it. There's no slack in the steering at all, the brake pedal is firm and easy to modulate even under heavy braking and the linkage to the six-speed manual has a wonderfully mechanical feel to it. The compact nature of the car makes it easy to maximise its performance - even on minor roads - and it always feels nimble and light.
Turn-in is highly impressive. Understeer is non-existent unless you're very silly with your entry speed into a corner. Back off in that situation and the rear quickly comes into play. In default mode the electronics swiftly rein it back in, but even with stability control turned off it's a remarkably forgiving chassis, allowing the driver to indulge in sliding the car around without any real fear that it's going to spit you off into the undergrowth.
Modestly-proportioned and treaded tyres have a lot to do with this adjustability. Outright lap times may be bettered with wider rubber, but the aim of this car is fun. To that end the GT86 moves underneath you a lot, yet it's inherently well-balanced and stable. The only time you miss wider rubber (in the dry in any case) is under heavy braking. Although it floats over bumps nonchalantly there's no body roll, pitch or dive.
The GT86 has been endowed with a very special chassis. It's unashamedly targeted at real driving enthusiasts and enjoyment of it is accessible on the public road at regular speeds. What a gem.
What you get for your Money:
Updated on 28 May 2012, when Toyota Ireland revealed pricing and specification: a single, well-equipped specification is offered, so choose from one of the seven paint colours and whether you want a manual or automatic gearbox and that's it really. Despite the back-to-basics philosophy for the car, it includes dual-zone climate control, cruise control, 17-inch alloys, a touch-screen infotainment system and Bluetooth. Leather seats are worth paying for, though the core seat is identical.
Somewhat surprisingly, the automatic version is more frugal and has a lower emissions rating and lower annual road tax. In the manual car we averaged over 26mpg (10.5 litres/100km) over the course of nearly 160 kilometres on a very twisty (and deserted) mountain road.
Hence there's no price penalty for the automatic. Both versions cost â¬39,895.
Tetsuya Tada, the GT86's Chief Engineer, was adamant from the outset of the project that the car would not have turbocharging, but there's no doubt that the chassis could handle a lot more power. Toyota remains coy about how this will be achieved, but we did hear talk of a supercharger kit that adds 50hp. No doubt it'll significantly beef up the torque curve too. Fingers crossed it makes it to Ireland.
For the record, the automatic gearbox robs the GT86 of some of its appeal, but the chassis still shines through. It's a conventional transmission with a torque converter, though paddles behind the steering wheel allow you to override the calibration and it features gratuitous throttle blips.
From nowhere Toyota has launched one of the most exciting cars of the year. Its name draws heavily on an illustrious past and it manages to live up to that promise with a chassis that is every petrol-head's dream. It sits somewhere between the Lotus Elise and the Porsche Cayman. No doubt there will be more powerful versions in time, but for now we're content with how brilliant the GT86 is in its basic state.