While still of minority interest in Ireland, the Toyota GT86 has found 170,000 homes worldwide already, so to keep it fresh there's a 2017MY update. The most obvious changes have been aesthetic inside and out and though Toyota also tells us there are mechanical changes, we might have to wait until later in the year to assess those in more detail...
In the Metal:
I always expect the Toyota GT86 to be bigger in 'real life' than it is, but it's quite a tiny car. That's part of its appeal of course, as it's compact enough to use on small roads. The remit for the GT86 hasn't changed, Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada's vision being that of a lithe, simple sports coupe for those that truly love driving. Hence, it weighs only about 1,250kg depending on specification. Tada-san also decreed that any changes to the bodywork for the 2017MY update should contribute to the driving experience. The result was new bumpers front and rear with detail design changes to aid air flow and management, along with a more prominent rear spoiler to enhance stability at speed. On the more prosaic end of things, there are new LED headlights, new 17-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels and revised rear lights featuring LED technology and a more distinctive signature. None of this changes the core shape of the GT86; it's just more contemporary in its detailing.
Drivers of the current Toyota GT86 will immediately notice the changes in the new car's interior, but the rest of us may need a little help spotting them. The most important is arguably the adoption of an all-new steering wheel. It's a three-spoke leather-rimmed item as before, but it's a little smaller in diameter, a little lighter and has a reshaped rim, plus buttons for the infotainment. Behind that there's a whole new instrument pack, including a 4.2-inch colour TFT display that, along with the usual trip computer information, can display G-force, power and torque curves, a stopwatch and lap times. Another tech upgrade comes in the form of a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system that can be specified with satnav. Our test cars featured lovely Alcantara and leather upholstery, while all cars get upgraded trim materials here and there in the cabin.
As you might have guessed from the photographs, our test drive of the 2017MY Toyota GT86 wasn't a run-of-the-mill event. In fact, we travelled to Finland to the Arctic Driving Centre (ADC) to put it through its paces on a closed test facility and then out on the snowy public roads. So, yes, Toyota says it has enhanced the car's dynamics, but, even though I've spent plenty of time in the old car, I can't honestly tell you how they compare.
For the record, the changes are at a very detailed level, including tweaking the front springs in the MacPherson suspension, altering the Showa dampers in the same to enhance 'handling and stability'. The damping force has also been reduced, which should mean it's a little more comfortable. At the back, the new dampers are employed in the double wishbone suspension, as well, the spring rates are altered and there's a thicker anti-roll bar. Helping that suspension work better is an overall increase in torsional rigidity thanks to extra reinforcement in several key areas.
No changes have been made to the engine, which may surprise some. It's the same gruff 2.0-litre flat-four as before, with 200hp and a very modest 205Nm of torque to play with. You have to try really hard to extract all of that effectively, which is why the GT86 won't be for everyone. Underlining that is the adoption of a new Track mode for the traction control and stability control systems (TRC and VSC respectively in Toyota speak). It's designed to give the driver freer rein on the limit of grip without having to completely disable the system. It probably works better on tarmac than ice, in truth, certainly from a more experienced driver's point of view. On ice, it was effective at keeping things neat and tidy, but due to the low grip levels (even on studded Nokian snow tyres), it also was very quick to intervene, while it was possible to push the car much further with the TRC and VSC all turned off. Naturally, most GT86 owners will never experience such conditions.
And while we can't really tell you how the alterations feel on a normal road just yet, the ADC facility did enable us to push the chassis to the absolute limit at relatively low speeds - and complete safety. It really emphasised the inherent balance in the GT86's chassis, as all participants quickly got the hang of drifting on snow and ice on different types of test tracks. The most illuminating was a long slalom, where it was completely natural to quickly transition from side-to-side in a controlled drift down the line of cones. Remarkably few were hit thanks to the predictability of the rear axle's movement.
What you get for your Money:
The 2017 Toyota GT86 will cost €41,995 and it's available to order now. The automatic version is €43,100. There will be one well-equipped specification, but even so, the GT86 is likely to remain a niche seller, useful for raising the profile of the Toyota brand.
When the new Toyota GT86 does arrive in Ireland shortly we don't expect it to be wildly different to the pre-facelift car. That means a lot of fun for those that love driving for the sake of it. As before, the majority of new car buyers don't fall into that category, but this car is not for them. In essence, if you liked the little Japanese coupe before, you're going to like the new one even more.