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Toyota GT86 long-term test: an everyday handling hero

Published: 29 January 2018

► CAR lives with a Toyota GT86
► GT86 Pro long-term test review
► Still the hero affordable sports car?
 

Month 6 of our Toyota GT86 long-term test review: handling and improvements to the ABS system

When the GT86 was first launched, the ABS would chime in too early. I wondered if the 17-inch tyres were to blame, perhaps because they were running out of grip before the brakes were running out of stopping power. This revised version sticks with those same Michelins, but I haven’t once triggered the ABS.

Perhaps the updated suspension does a better job of keeping the front tyres in contact with the road, perhaps the ABS is now less intrusive, but either way it feels better to me. 

Browse used Toyota GT86s for sale

By Ben Barry

Logbook Toyota GT86

Engine 1998cc 16v 4-cyl, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6400rpm
Gearbox 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 36.2mpg, 180g/km CO2
Price £28,005
As tested £29,550
Miles this month 444
Total 6446
Our mpg 34.9
Official mpg 36.2
Fuel £68.58
Extra costs None


Month 5 living with a Toyota GT86: the MX-5 owner takes a spin

This month, we let Mazda MX-5 driver Mark Walton loose in the GT86: here's how he found it

The first thing I notice, climbing into the GT86, is its heft. True, the Toyota is hardly a lardball at around 1250kg, but after you’ve skipped around in a Mazda MX-5 – a featherweight at just 1070kg – anything this side of a crisp packet is going to feel plump.

The Toyota immediately feels softer and more cushioned than the Mazda. It’s also bigger – I know that sounds obvious, as the Toyota is clearly a 2+2 coupé rather than a teeny-tiny sports car, but at 6ft tall I only just fit the RF, so the Toyota’s more open cabin is a relief.

Toyota GT86 long-term test review by CAR magazine

It’s like changing out of a tight suit and tie and flopping in front of the telly in a pair of baggy old Y-fronts. The Toyota may be more generous in the legroom, but of course where it falls short is the legs – its strangely weak engine. Yes, as anyone who’s read a GT86 road test over the last five years will know, the Subaru-sourced flat-four has a leaden response, a lack of midrange grunt and a strangely tinny engine note. After the fruity, fizzy MX-5, it’s a bit of a shocker.

But my first drive home is a reminder of why the GT86 is so great, despite the engine. After the edginess of the Mazda at speed – the feeling that it might just spit you off if you make a wrong move – the Toyota feels wonderfully benign. If the MX-5 is like stroking a fluffy cat that might turn and scratch you, the Toyota is a slobbery St Bernard dog that just wants to be your loyal friend. Drive the Toyota cleanly and its perfectly weighted steering is a joy, matching the MX-5 in its accuracy and feedback; but turn off the traction control and play around, and boy, it’s a wonder. Pitch it into a wet roundabout with an exaggerated steering input, stomp on the gas and it’ll start to slide, but somehow in slow motion.

It communicates its intentions with such clarity, and responds to your ham-fisted attempts to save it with such moderation, you feel you’re given extra time compared to other cars. And it’s rewarding – the more you drive it, the more you learn of the method needed to unsettle and balance it. The magic is beneath the surface, and if you live with the Toyota for a week, then you’re sworn into the GT86 fan club.

MX-5 owner Mark Walton has a go in our Toyota GT86

For me, the Toyota clearly wins this comparison, but I keep wondering if the soft top MX-5 would have had more of a chance. By making the RF, Mazda has plonked its two-seater sportscar right next to the GT86 and invited comparison. Dynamically the roadster is the same as the RF, but in character the soft top stands further away from the GT86, offering a more distinct flavour. If it’s a sub-£30k sports coupé you’re looking for, the GT86 is one of the best you can buy.

By Mark Walton

Logbook: Toyota GT86 

Engine 1998cc 16v 4-cylinder, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6400rpm   
Transmission 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive  
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 180g/km CO2  
Price £28,005  
As tested £29,550  
Miles this month 1215 
Total 6002
Our MPG 33.9
Official mpg 36.2  
Fuel this month £194
Extra costs  None


Month 4 living with a 2017 Toyota GT86: like a sporty Prius?

The GT86’s official fuel figure is 36.2mpg, and this month I averaged 32.1mpg. Pretty impressive, I’d say.

Toyota GT86 fuel economy: we're averaging 32.1mpg

My GT86 rarely gets stuck in traffic, and mostly travels on cross-country routes or motorways. Sometimes that means simply going with the flow, but when the road’s clear it’s hard not to rinse the GT86 for everything it’s got.

Yet still it refuses to use more fuel! It almost makes me want to do an economy run to see if I can blitz those official figures. Almost.

By Ben Barry

Logbook

Engine 1998cc 16v 4-cylinder, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6400rpm   
Transmission 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive  
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 180g/km CO2  
Price £28,005  
As tested £29,550  
Miles this month 1250  
Total 4787
Our MPG 32.1
Official mpg 36.2  
Fuel this month £202.93
Extra costs  None


Month 3 running a 2017 Toyota GT86: not so fast, but oh so fun

Considering its modest power output – 197bhp from the 2.0-litre flat four – the GT86 is as hard to drive slowly as the bus from Speed. In fact, everything in the little Toyota’s make up suggests you drive it as hard as you possibly can. It starts with the incredibly low-slung driving position, small-diameter steering wheel, pedals that are perfectly aligned and weighted, and the compact, friendly proportions. First impressions suggest sportiness combined with a complete lack of intimidation; rag it, definitely. Even driving the GT86 slowly, you’re unlikely to overlook the fast, sweetly weighted steering, the feeling of lightness, or the way the nose darts around so eagerly and the body remains so composed. It’d be criminal to potter about.

But perhaps unusually for a mid-lifecycle facelift, the refreshed GT86 hasn’t received any additional power. Work the revs hard and it’s perfectly fast enough, but it’s true that the naturally aspirated engine is lethargic low down – especially now all hot hatches whoosh you away from 1500rpm on a wave of turbo boost, and the Toyota manages only 151lb ft at 6400rpm. I tried to hang on to a Golf R in second gear and was quickly slapped down. You need to be getting up to 7000rpm, punching through the gear changes on the short-throw, stubby lever to get some adrenaline flowing and hear the rorty induction roar fill the cabin.

Even then, it takes pretty serious commitment to unstick the low-grip Prius tyres in the dry; I do think that’s a shame, because the GT86 feels so nicely balanced and benign when it slides, and it’d be nice to tap in to that playfulness more often. In the wet, though, it’s a hoot, giving up its grip easily if you turn off all the stability systems and sliding gracefully through corners.

Toyota GT86 interior

The downside to all this immediacy is a no-frills cabin, and high levels of road noise, because, well, luxuries and sound deadening add cost and weight. How many drivers recognise this as a worthwhile sacrifice? Not many, I’d wager, and that must make it quite a hard sell for Toyota. Other cars – typically those hot hatches – are faster, have a more upmarket feel and offer better refinement. But three months in, I still find myself heading out for a drive in the GT86, just for the sake of it.

By Ben Barry

Logbook

Engine 1998cc 16v 4-cylinder, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6400rpm  
Transmission 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive 
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 180g/km CO2 
Price £28,005  As tested £29,550 
Miles this month 1492  Total 3537 
Our MPG 33.92  Official mpg 36.2 
Fuel this month £233.84  Extra costs  None


Toyota GT86 meets a Lotus

Month 2 living with a Toyota GT86: a trip to Lotus

The GT86’s first big trip involved testing the Lotus Evora Sport 410 at Hethel, appropriately enough given the Evora uses a Toyota V6 (even if the GT86 uses a Subaru flat four).

I’m embarrassed to admit that, 18 months since I last drove a GT86, I couldn’t spot the difference between the old chassis settings and the revised version’s. Still feels responsive and composed.

The steering did seem better, but perhaps that’s down to the slightly smaller steering wheel.

By Ben Barry


Month 1 running a Toyota GT86: introduction to our long-term test

It’s five years since Toyota launched the GT86, the back-to-basics sports coupe that combines low power with low weight and rear-drive intimacy. We’ve tested the production version numerous times, and ran its Subaru BRZ twin as a long-term test car; you might remember that the 2+2 sports car is a joint project between the two companies. An update for 2017 provides an excuse to get the Toyota on CAR’s fleet.

Admittedly, new GT86 looks much like old GT86 at a glance, and there are no powertrain changes: the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine – a Subaru flat-four with Toyota direct-injection –  still produces 197bhp and 151lb ft.

Toyota GT86 drift: this is what our coupe does best

But there’s a new front bumper that adds fins and continues the contour of the bonnet to a lower point than before, and new headlights that incorporate LED indicators and LED daytime running lights, and push the actual headlight unit right out to the side of the cluster – it makes the GT86’s snout appear lower, wider, a bit angrier too. There are new rear light units, a deeper rear diffuser and a new rear wing, which you can delete; I did. The body changes apparently all enhance aerodynamics. Including that, erm, deleted wing.

Inside, the steering wheel is now 3mm smaller, and 10% lighter, the 7000rpm redline now sits at the top of the tacho, Ferrari-style, and there’s a new 6.1in infotainment touchscreen to replace the frustratingly poor unit in pre-facelift cars. You also get a new 4.2in TFT multi-function display in the instrument binnacle – you can check your remaining fuel range, or watch how fast you’re burning it with the lap-timer function.

Browse Toyota GT86 for sale

Toyota says front and rear spring rates are ‘optimised’, and that they can now flex for more progressive steering feel as the body starts to roll. The Showa shocks, meanwhile, are actually softer in a bid to improve ride comfort. There’s also a thicker rear anti-roll bar, a new Track mode to minimise stability control intervention without leaving you entirely high and dry, and a revised ABS calibration. Toyota has modified the bodyshell, adding a thicker mounting bracket for the front suspension towers, a thicker reinforcement in the transmission crossmember, plus extra welds in the rear wheel arches.

Toyota GT86 cabin and interior: CAR's long-term test review

The entry-level model starts from £26,855, but our car is the top-spec – and only other spec – Pro, for £28,005. The extra £1150 brings heated front seats, leather and alcantara trim (an upgrade from cloth), a leather armrest, and suede-look trim for the dash and door cards. Both specs get fresh 17in alloys, adaptive headlights, cruise control, electric heated door mirrors, keyless entry, Bluetooth and DAB.

We had to part with £750 extra for the Touch 2 with Go infotainment system, which introduces sat-nav and a few other niceties. We’ve also spent £545 on grey paint (only red is no-cost), and £250 for rear parking sensors.

That’s a final tally of £29,550. The Mazda MX-5 convertible comes closest to being a direct rival, and you can get hot hatches with more power for similar money, but five years since its launch, the GT86 continues to have the affordable rear-drive sports coupe niche to itself.

How worthwhile are the changes? What’s it like to live with? We’ve six months to find out.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Toyota GT86

Engine 1998cc 16v 4-cyl, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6400rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive  
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 140mph, 180g/km CO2  
Price £28,005  
As tested £29,550  
Miles this month 605  
Total 1039  
Our mpg 29.8  
Official mpg 36.2  
Fuel this month £109.62  
Extra costs None

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