GT86: spiritual successor to Toyota’s first MR2

Published: 18 July 2012

I climbed down into the cockpit of Toyota’s GT86 for the first time and thought for a split second I’d gone through the Stargate, emerging in the late 1980s at the wheel of my beloved MkI MR2. It put a smile on my face, I don’t mind telling you.The new car’s cabin is minimalist yet cool, with nicely tactile materials, great sports seats, crisp instruments and a well-placed touchy-feely steering wheel. It doesn’t feel too cheap, yet it’s not blingy or gimmicky.

Driving it massively underlines the timewarp illusion. This is a car mere mortals can really exploit, being both low-powered and agile. You can sling it around without fear, placing it accurately via the chatty steering and urging it through corners, knowing you’ll have to be Ben Barry in a hurry to unstick the driving wheels at the back. And even if you do, the chassis has the right CV to sort you out.

I thought fleetingly about that go-faster giant the BMW M5, a car which is so far out of the range of my capabilities it’s truly scary, and realised that, while BMW has built a machine for super-human autobahn jockeys and people whose address is No.26 The Nordschleife, Toyota has built a car for the likes of me. I can drive the GT86 at maybe seven tenths of its ability; for the M5 it’s closer to a tenth.

The MR2 was exactly like this – an affordable sports car that made you feel good about yourself. Its modest power made it cheap to insure, cheap to fuel and cheap to service, and its lineage meant it never broke down. It also looked lovely (I had a t-bar in metallic light blue) and so does the GT86. Not sure about the front end, but the rest of the car looks exotic, compact, and delicious on the drive.In the build-up to GT86 there was much hoo-hah about rear-wheel drive, and the clamour obscured the true genius of this car, tricking me into expecting at best a sanitised 21st century Celica. What a cracking surprise. The MkII MR2 wasn’t the true successor to the MkI, but the GT86 surely is.

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies