Remember the GT86? It’s that semi-affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car Toyota launched a few years ago. Car journalists all said it was the best thing since sliced bread – even better than a Mazda MX-5 – and that everyone should go out and buy one straight away.
- The 2017 Toyota GT86 features a track mode
- Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86: 2015 twin test
- More car features on Motoring Research
But we didn’t. A few thousand GT86s a year are sold. An Auto Trader browse reveals loads of the things, ex-management cars, presumably (and all too often with the automatic gearbox) gathering dust and waiting for someone to come along and decide they’d prefer a Toyota to some form of hot hatch.
Now Toyota has given the GT86 a facelift. While there have been a few cosmetic tweaks – notably a revised front bumper and grille, along with new 17-inch alloys – the changes have mainly focused on making the GT86 even better to drive.
The Toyota GT86 laughs in the face of drift mode…
One of the changes for 2017 is a new ‘track mode’, allowing drivers to completely turn off the Toyota’s stability and traction control systems. However, unlike certain hot hatches, there’s no daft ‘drift mode’.
Drift mode is your right foot. I discovered this driving to work on a freezing cold morning. Cue the first of my excited tweets about the GT86.
Temptation to PCP an ’86 and book all of the track days is so strong right now. pic.twitter.com/6UEGA6sxQb
— Andrew Brady (@MR_AndrewBrady) January 19, 2017
…but it’s also a bit rubbish in some ways
For a start, the interior feels pretty nasty. It’d be fine in an MR2 from the mid-90s, but when we’re talking Mk7 Golf GTI money, the GT86’s cabin definitely falls short.
Then there’s the new infotainment system fitted to the MY2017 GT86. It’s a £750 option and it’s utterly dire. No doubt the worst infotainment system I’ve ever used – I’m sure you could pick up a better one for less money from Halfords.
Mmm buggy new infotainment system in the GT86. Turning the car off and on again fixed it. pic.twitter.com/qjGILywZQO
— Andrew Brady (@MR_AndrewBrady) January 19, 2017
The first time I used it, the screen froze completely and I had to turn the car off and on again. EVERY time I get into the car I have to deal with errors trying to connect my phone via Bluetooth. It’s infuriating.
“The car is the infotainment system,” my racing driver mate James told me in a semi-ironic way.
It did hatch a plan, though…
7am on Friday. Two choices: turn right onto the A1 in Hertfordshire and go into work. Or turn left on the A1 and get off somewhere in the north.
I go for the latter. I stop at Peterborough services and wonder if I’m being silly. I tweet a pretty picture from outside McDonald’s and tell my boss that I’m ‘hyped’ about the day ahead.
Yeah, this car has that kinda effect.
While you know my thoughts on the GT86’s cabin, the sound system is pretty good and the seating position is super comfy for trekking up the country. It’s not all bad.
Eventually, somewhere near York, I turn off the A1 and head for the North York Moors.
I stop and look at it
During a road trip, I like to pull over, get some fresh air, let the engine cool down (ticking away) and take in the sights. I did this in the GT86 and it was great until I looked at it. From some angles, it’s not a pretty car. Look, here’s me trying to do an impression of it.
— Andrew Brady (@MR_AndrewBrady) January 20, 2017
(Yes, I know I look a bit silly. But at least I was in the middle of nowhere so no one could see me taking a selfie.)
There are other angles, however, where it looks amazing. Like the rear. Here’s a handy pic to show you what I mean.
How does it drive?
Time to get down to the serious stuff. Now, if you want to know what driving nirvana feels like, I suggest you combine a Toyota GT86 with the Blakey Road north of Hutton-le-Hole and this Spotify playlist.
Work the flat-four boxer engine hard and it sounds magnificent. Vibrations from the engine air intake system are directed into the cabin – but, fortunately, Toyota stops a stage before playing them through the speakers like some manufacturers.
Packing 200hp, the GT86 sprints to 62mph in 7.7 seconds. It wouldn’t see which way a Golf GTI went in a drag race, and even some modern turbodiesels would give it a run for its money. Does that matter? Occasionally, when overtaking, it’d be nice to have a bit more 00mph. But on the North York Moors, where traffic is light and you can see for miles, I don’t once find myself wishing it had more power.
The steering is lovely, delicate and precise, while minute throttle adjustments can tighten or widen the line. A smaller steering wheel adds to the Playstation feel, while the revised dampers prevent the GT86 being fazed by bumpy roads.
It’s an authentic driving experience – theatrical, yes, but not fake. It’s not long before I’m totally won over and have long forgotten about the GT86’s pitfalls.
Verdict: you should buy a Toyota GT86
Yeah, I think you should buy one. It’s definitely flawed, and I think it’d sell better if it was closer to £20,000. But for a generation who grew up playing Need for Speed, there is simply nothing currently for sale that has the same potential to reward enthusiastic driving than the GT86. And I’m not putting a price cap on that statement.
Buy one and while you’re feeling flush, book a track day or two. Learn how to get the best out of it: just like no one passed their International A licence within a day on Gran Turismo 2, no one learns how to get the best out of a GT86 straight away.
It’s a car that rewards careful, enthusiastic driving and while it might not impress on a test-drive the same way a Golf GTI does, spend some time with it and it will be an infinitely more rewarding car.