On 20 May 2011, CAR was allowed behind the wheel of a Toyota FT-86 development mule to get our own driving impressions and to give feedback to Toyota’s engineers during a secretive test session in Germany. Now, as the car is about to be unveiled at the 2011 Tokyo motor show - badged GT86 - it’s time to reveal all.
This was a pre-production GT86, but to read a CAR Magazine review of the final productionToyota GT86, click here.
Where does the Toyota FT-86 name come from?
‘FT’ means Future Toyota, and is a label given to Toyota concept cars. The ‘86’ plays on the Toyota Corolla GT Coupe, the 1.6-litre DOHC, rear-wheel drive coupe that enthusiasts refer to by its AE86 chassis-code. The implication, then, is that the FT-86 is a 21st century AE86. Ditto the GT86 production iteration.
The FT-86 tag will be dropped for production. At the time of our drive, there was still a great deal of debate as to what the car would be called. The engineers were very keen on the AE86 link, while the marketeers thought that very few people would know what that symbolised – they preferred Celica. It is, however, likely that an 86 suffix will appear in some markets.
After we wrote this story, the GT86 name was confirmed.
What's the specification of the new Toyota GT86?
The key info here is that Toyota is developing the GT86 in tandem with Subaru, who will also sell the car, in much the same way that Citroen, Toyota and Peugeot sell the C3/Aygo/107. So, this explains why the GT86 uses a Subaru 2.0-litre flat-four engine that produces around 200bhp and 170lb ft. Unlike pretty much everyone else these days, Toyota has shunned turbocharging, but the engine does benefit from Toyota’s D4S direct injection, which helps towards a C02 figure of around 160g/km – a similarly powerful Renaultsport Clio manages 190g/km.
The engine is mounted up front, but low and relatively far back in the engine bay. It’s mated to a close-ratio Aisin gearbox (as used by Toyota elsewhere), while a Torsen rear differential sits between the driven rear wheels. The overall weight distribution is 53/47% front to rear, while the production car will weight around 1200kg.
The platform is newly developed, and I managed to put eight of my size 11 footsteps between the front and rear wheelhubs, giving a wheelbase of around 2400mm – similar dimensions to a Mini hatchback.
Elsewhere, there’s MacPherson strut front suspension, and a double wishbone rear-end. Mitsubishi supplies the springs, while test cars ran both Sachs and Showa shock absorbers – we tested the Sachs set-up.
What's the Toyota GT86 like inside?
You sit low down – lower than a Porsche Cayman, claim the engineers – and squish into a comfortable seat with leather bolsters and grippy suede centres. The driving position is excellent. The FT-86 is strictly a 2+2: there was no room whatsoever for my legs in the back with a six-feet-tall driver in the front.
The rest of the interior was still heavily camouflaged but we did see aluminum finishes on the rotary climate control dials, plus a row of aluminium-topped switches. Toyota’s ‘keyless go’ is standard, but we couldn't see the zip-up dashboard cover like on the concept car, forum watchers take note!
What's the 2012 Toyota GT86 like to drive?
It’s great fun. There’s fantastic throttle response, quick, well weighted steering and a nice firm brake pedal. Add little inputs to the steering when you’re driving in a straight line at speed and the front end darts immediately – no slop, no roll, it’s just 100% obedient and alert.
Clearly, it’s not a GT-R chaser, but that’s the whole point – the focus here is on dynamics you can explore at lower speeds. The flat-four zings happily and spins round the dial to 7500rpm, at which point you get a flashing light and a well-judged soft rev limiter – not a sudden cut-out. Doesn’t sound much like a flat-four though – perhaps this is intentional, as the flat-four sound is such a Subaru trademark.
The gear ratios are closely stacked, and help to keep this modestly powered 2.0-litre spinning, but the ratios are well chosen so as not to be tiresome: 60mph in sixth gear brings up 2500rpm – relatively high, yes, but not daft. The gearshift could be slicker, but the lever has an engagingly short throw.
Even without sliding it around, the GT86 is very obviously rear-wheel drive: get to the limit in a second-gear corner and accelerate harder and you feel the back end point the front back exactly where you want it. It responds well to a really aggressive driving style. Shame that the stability controls’ Sport setting was too intrusive, although Toyota’s engineers said they had a less intrusive set-up that they were also experimenting with.
It must be a blast to slide around…
Drifting is a huge part of the appeal of the GT86, just as it continues to be for the AE86. Our car was fitted with 215/45 R17 Michelin Green X tyres all round – aka Toyota Prius tyres. This made it laughably sideways in second gear, the back end stepping out with relatively mild – and sometimes almost no – provocation. For the average driver, this makes exploring the limits far easier than in anything else currently on sale.
However, at higher speeds I found the balance less pleasing. In fast third-gear turns, for instance, the front end feels too soft and errs towards understeer – it could be pointier, firmer and more positive. Under provocation, the rear then comes around, but the GT86 is so short that this transition can be very quick. Two factors then come into play: the first is the Torsen diff, which is more refined in day-to-day driving, but less precise than a mechanical differential when the rear tyres are struggling for purchase, so the level of control you have over the sliding rear end is compromised; the second point is the lack of power: adding power during slides helps you to bring things back under control, but in a high-speed GT86 you’re more in the hands of momentum than you are able to dictate things with the throttle.
So the Toyota GT86's a hooligan oversteer specialist?
At one point I found myself snapping into very fast oversteer, then suddenly snapping back and making an out-of-control excursion across the run-off area. My mistake, yes, but I’ve never had this feeling in any other modern rear-wheel drive car, 911 GT3 included.
Is there going to be an GT86 with more power and a mechanical differential?
Turbocharging the flat-four would be straightforward (after all, that’s what Subaru does with the Impreza), but chief engineer Tetsuya Tada told us that he ‘doesn’t like turbos’ and has ‘decided to reject the numeric power war’. He also said that an R version of the GT86 was coming with less weight, Brembo brakes (our test car’s stoppers were from Hitachi), a rollcage, a larger rear wing, no rear seats and, yes, a mechanical LSD but no more power.
And bear in mind that Toyota had invited us for our input and that this was a fairly early car – things will be tweaked for production. Our cars were still disguised, although pictures of the GT86 production car have leaked out in recent days.
Other options are also on the cards: a convertible is ‘possible’, while an auto gearbox is confirmed – it’s a six-speed unit based on the eight-speeder in the high-performance Lexus ISF.
The Toyota GT86 is great news for enthusiasts: it’s affordable, frugal and relatively practical. You also don’t have to be a driving deity to explore its limits. If anything, we’d adjust the high-speed, on-limit balance (firmer front end, more progressive transition into oversteer, tighter differential), but that doesn’t undo the underlying fact that this is a great car, and one that trounces its closest rival, the Mazda MX-5, in the fun stakes.