The Toyota GT86 represents the return of something exciting in the Toyota brand’s model range in many years. Not only is it Toyota’s first rear-wheel drive sports coupe since production of the Supra ended in 2002, but it is being marketed as a Corolla Levin (AE86) reincarnation. The AE86 was without doubt one of the best affordable rear-wheel drive sports coupes of the 1980s, and with Japanese race car driver, Keiichi Tsuchiya, performing wonders on the race track and deserted mountain roads with one, the AE86 became a popular choice for enthusiasts, drifters, and tuners. So, if the new GT86 is to be anything like its predecessor, it will have to be affordable, rear-wheel drive, have potential for tuning, be lightweight, and – most importantly – be fun to drive.
The biggest problem these days with affordable sports cars is that they tend to look feminine for some reason – a look at the Mazda MX-5 will back that statement. To my eyes the GT86 doesn’t look anything as girly as the MX-5, but it isn’t testosterone-laden either. Instead, Toyota have taken a gender neutral approach with its design. The haunches on the front wings lend it that masculine look, while the car’s small dimensions give it its feminine side. My favourite design features are the daytime-running LED headlamps, which I think gives it a mini-Lexus LFA look. It isn’t the last in automotive design, but it has been well-executed and should bring no shame to its buyers, whatever gender they are.
So how much does Toyota want for the GT86? The base price is CHF 41,900, but if you include the options of this press car (satellite navigation, heated leather-alcantara seats, and grey metallic paint), you’re looking at CHF 46,020. Only one engine option is available at the moment, a 2.0-litre Subaru flat-four (with a Toyota fuel injection system) that produces 200hp and 205 Nm of torque, sending its power to the rear wheels. While the car is built in a Subaru factory and powered by their engines, the car was designed by Toyota, and they worked together with Subaru to develop it. A limited-slip differential is standard, so is a six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is a CHF 2,700 option). Speed figures include a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds, while its top speed is 226 km/h.
When time comes for some sporty bit of driving, the engine is effective in the way it delivers its 200hp, delivering it smoothly and progressively all the way up to its 7,500rpm redline. Although 200hp doesn’t sound like a lot in a world of Nissan GT-Rs that can do 0-100km/h in 2.7 seconds, it’s still brisk enough. Short gear ratios and being light (1,239 kg) also means that you don’t necessarily feel like the car is lacking in power. It’s a great example of showing how modest horsepower (for a sports car) can be accessible most of the time, provided there’s a good combination of low weight, gearing, and overall engine tuning. It’s a shame that the engine doesn’t sound that sporty, though. Being a high-revving naturally-aspirated unit, I was expecting it to emit a Honda VTEC-like growl at high revs, but it just sounds like a regular four-cylinder making a lot of noise.
The gearchange can be a bit of a pain when the car is still cold, but after a couple of minutes of driving, the change becomes slick, nicely weighted, and gives a satisfying ‘clonk’ when you select gears. The car is low to the ground, so the driver is sat very low in the cabin too, giving it a sporty feel. Its compact exterior might make you think that it’s only suitable for skinny 5’8” people like me, but an overgrown friend of mine – measuring 6’5” – had no problem making himself comfortable in the car as well. However, the rear seats are tiny, and should only be used for short trips with front seat occupants pushing their seats as far forward as possible. But, if any of the occupants is tall, they simply can’t be used.
So is the GT86 a fun car? Yes it is. The steering is nicely weighted, and it is very accurate with the kind of direction changes the driver asks from it. There’s also very little body roll around corners, if any at all, and the brake pedal feel is nice and firm. Speaking of the pedals, they are nicely placed for heel-and-toe downshifts. On a cold dry road, there’s enough traction too, even on the Continental winter tyres this car came with. Of course you can break traction at the rear when you want to, and the car won’t bite your head off provided you’re driving with some level of sense. You can feel when the car is losing traction, and you instinctively know how much throttle and steering to give it. Simply put, it’s a great car to drive for drivers of all levels of talents – be it sports car newbies, or experienced racers.
Driving on the highway did reveal slightly high levels of road noise, and the ride quality around city roads is noticeably stiff. But despite the stiff ride and noise on the highway, it doesn’t mean that the car is unbearable, they’re only noticeable when you initially use the car in the said environments. It can easily be used every day, whether as a daily commuter or for covering thousands of miles on a road trip. One thing that I truly didn’t like, however, was the blind spot created by the C-pillar – reversing out of parking spots is made a bit trickier because of this.
With a day left before I gave the car back to Toyota, a lot of snow fell on to Geneva. With my father having no car on that particular morning to get himself to work, I offered to give him a ride in the low-slung RWD Toyota. Although the car is perfectly usable on wet surfaces, it is not the best choice for getting around a city covered in fresh snow. A bit of fishtail here, a bit of fishtail there, and a father who still back-seat drives me a decade after I've gotten my license and you get the picture. After I dropped dad at work, I found myself on an uphill with the snow plough truck yet to have passed – the GT86 got stuck after being forced to come to a halt at a traffic light. Luckily, there was enough space for other drivers with momentum to go around me. I cleared snow out with a windshield ice scraper from in front of the rear tyres in order to create a temporary dry path, and hopefully get me enough momentum to get up the slippery hill. It worked, and I parked the car for the rest of the day when I got home.
My measure of how fun a car is, is whether I try to find excuses to take it for a drive or whether I take the long way home, and I certainly did both with the GT86. The price might be steep for most young buyers – which this car seems to be aiming at – but I don’t think it’s unattainable or overpriced for other buyers. Hopefully, used examples will cost half as much in a few years’ time, allowing more young buyers to get their hands on one.
By Alex Kisiri