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Toyota sports cars

Hardcore Supra GRMN to lead Toyota sports car fightback

Toyota sports cars

The future may be full of self-driving EVs and, inevitably, more SUVs, but the sports car is alive and kicking. That’s the message from Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer for the brilliant Toyota GT86 and forthcoming Supra – due in 2019. 

We caught up with Tada-San at Le Mans, our conversation frequently punctuated by the wail of Toyota’s TS050 Hybrids blasting through Arnage. Here’s what he had to say about the new Supra, Gazoo Racing and why technology is the car enthusiast’s friend.

The new Supra will be a “pure sports car”

The Supra and new BMW Z4 will share a straight-six engine and gearbox, but they aren’t near-identical twins like the GT86 and Subaru BRZ. “Each company defined what we wanted and went from there,” explains Tada. “Both cars have completely different suspension and software calibration, for example.”

Toyota sports cars

Tada insists the Supra “will be a pure sports car – practicality and comfort were almost not considered.” Its styling is partly shaped by the demands of GTE racing regulations, but it will still “look sexy”. The voluptuous rear wings of the GR Racing Supra Concept, revealed at Geneva 2018, are here to stay.

A hot Supra GRMN is coming, too

Following the critically-acclaimed Yaris GRMN hot hatch, will we see a hotter, GRMN-badged version of the Supra? Certainly not at launch, it seems, but Tada doesn’t deny the car is in development.

“I would like to see something like that eventually,” he smiles. “We are preparing for it”. 

Toyota sports cars

Gazoo Racing has big plans

Toyota’s sporty Gazoo Racing sub-brand was everywhere at Le Mans, and will soon be far more familiar on the road. As well as full-fat GRMN models, we’ll see GR and GR Sport versions of existing cars. These will major on racy styling rather than outright performance, in the mould of BMW M Sport or Mercedes-Benz AMG Line.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a roadgoing version of the GR Super Sport hypercar concept is in the pipeline, too. “It’s very difficult to make a viable business case for sports cars,” says Tada, “but our young engineers are reaping the benefits of working in Gazoo Racing – and with BMW.”

Technology offers a different kind of driving fun

Many drivers see technology as the enemy when it comes to driving engagement and fun. However, Tada is remarkably upbeat about the role tech can play in future sports cars. “Spearheaded by the Supra, we’ve been working with app developers to use driving data and artificial intelligence in simulations,” he reveals. “It’s one way of getting more people interested in cars and motorsport.”

Toyota sports cars

“You could be driving your Supra on-track, but racing against a virtual Fernando Alonso in real-time.” Sounds like an ego-bruising experience to us, albeit a very clever one…

The Celica and MR2 could make a comeback

The Supra isn’t the only famous Toyota nameplate that could make a comeback. Tada grins when quizzed about a possible return for the Celica and MR2: “I’m often asked that, and we get many requests.

“We’re committed to sports cars and Gazoo Racing means we have more resources for developing them. We’ll investigate what cars to introduce in-future, but this company set-up shows where we want to go.”

Toyota sports cars

When Tada retires, he’ll drive off into the sunset in a Supra

You’d expect a man like Tetsuya Tada to have something special tucked in his garage. In reality, he says, “we only have my wife’s car at home. That’s because I’m always driving test cars, and simply don’t have time for more driving at weekends.”

When Tada retires, however, he’ll do so in his new Supra. “I’ll customise it to exactly how I like it and just enjoy driving it.”  

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Top Gear: all the cars so far

Top Gear: all the cars so far

Top Gear: all the cars so farIt’s back! The Top Gear vs The Grand Tour bout continues, with series 24 of the BBC’s flagship motoring show. Amazon Prime might have landed the first blow with The Grand Tour, but this is the BBC returning with a sucker punch.

The post Chris Evans era feels leaner and less shouty before, with Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid taking the wheel as the show’s hosts. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be running through a list of all the cars featured in the current series. We kick things off with a rather special Ferrari…

Ferrari FXXKTop Gear: all the cars so far

Choosing to launch the new series with a VIP-only Ferrari hypercar was a predictable if wise decision. This was, if you like, Top Gear sending a direct response to The Grand Tour’s ‘Holy Trinity’ extravaganza and, let’s face it, the format does seem to work.

Chris Harris has probably driven more exotic supercars than most, but watching his childlike excitement and wide-eyed wonder behind the wheel of the FXXK is a high point so absent from the previous series.

Top Gear: all the cars so far

You can hardly blame Harris for channelling his inner ten-year-old. Few people get the opportunity to drive the super-rare Ferrari FXXK – only 40 will be built – and he is being paid to do a few hot laps behind the wheel. Hashtag ‘pinch me’.

The FXXK is a LaFerrari with the volume cranked ‘up to eleven’, each one costing a cool £2 million. Not that deep pockets will provide access to this racing club: if you’re name’s not down, you’re not coming in.

Top Gear: all the cars so far

Harris is the first ‘outsider’ ever to drive a Ferrari FXXK and his sense of excitement – and no doubt a dollop of nervousness – is palpable as he emerges from the pitlane. Power is sourced from the same 6.3-litre V12 engine seen in the LaFerrari, but with a combined system total of 1,050hp.

With power comes the need for control, and Harris is the man best placed to harness the true potential of the FXXK. He concludes the piece with a hot lap in the special ‘Qualifying’ setting. Proper ‘hairs on the back of your neck’ stuff, this.

Volvo V70Top Gear: all the cars so far

Consult the ‘Motoring Shows for Dummies’ handbook and you’ll find two requirements: a supercar and a challenge. With the FXXK ticking the supercar box, it was left to Messrs LeBlanc, Reid and Harris to embark on a challenge. The quest: to drive to a space station in a trio of high-mileage heroes.

What does Chris Harris choose to drive across Kazakhstan? An LPG-powered Volvo V70, of course, which Harris describes as “a minter”. With 570,122 miles on the clock it certainly meets the ‘high-mileage’ criteria, although it doesn’t stay ‘mint’ for long…

Mercedes-Benz E-ClassTop Gear: all the cars so far

Next to emerge is Matt LeBlanc in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, finished in the familiar shade of ‘German taxicab beige’. As Harris points out, the chances are this E-Class has led a hard life on streets of Berlin, but it looks to be in surprisingly good shape.

The E-Class has covered 800,137 kilometers (497,182 miles), which is an awful lot of trips to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Schönefeld Airport. Its final fare: the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

London Taxis International TX1Top Gear: all the cars so far

“You wanna talk reliability, this has gotta be in the conversation,” says Rory Reid as he reveals his choice of wheels for the challenge. That the London Taxis International TX1 is a reliable car is in little doubt, but would you choose one to drive across Kazakhstan?

With 483,222 miles on the clock, the TX1 is positively low-mileage compared to the other cars, but it’s the only one of the three able to claim ‘iconic’ status. Fair play, Mr Reid, this is a terrific choice.

Challenge carsTop Gear: all the cars so far

The scene is set for a gruelling drive across the vast expanses of Kazakhstan, interspersed with a series of mini challenges. Which car emerges victorious is for you to find out.

Needless to say there are a few hiccups along the way, but the presenters show a level of camaraderie notably absent from a certain other motoring show.

Reasonably Fast Car: Toyota GT86Top Gear: all the cars so far

And so to the celebrity segment, so often the weakest part of Top Gear. Thankfully, the show’s producers have chosen to return to a simpler format, ditching the MINI and rallycross track after one ill-fated series.

The new idea: a Star in a Reasonably Fast Car, kicking off with James McAvoy in a Toyota GT86.

Top Gear: all the cars so farWatching a celebrity wrestle with a proper driver’s car is most welcome, although the segment seems needlessly long. The studio pieces feel laboured, although it’s worth remembering that the Clarkson era of Top Gear took a while to bed in.

Sunday nights are great again, with Top Gear following an hour of Robot Wars. Get your homework done before 7pm, kids.

We took the Toyota GT86 on a road trip to find out why no one’s buying it

We took the Toyota GT86 on a road trip to find out why no one buys it

We took the Toyota GT86 on a road trip to find out why no one’s buying it

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.

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.

…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.

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…

To Yorkshire!

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.

GT86 road trip

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

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.

(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.

I stop and look at it

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

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.

Mazda MX-5 versus Toyota GT86: 2015 twin test

Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86: 2015 twin test

Mazda MX-5 versus Toyota GT86: 2015 twin test

Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86

The Toyota GT86 has been around for a few years now, and has proved to be a controversial car. Many love its simple, modest-grip, rear-wheel-drive setup, while others fail to see past its lack of power and dated interior.

Buyers have certainly struggled to justify it against cheaper, faster hot hatches such as the Ford Fiesta ST, which goes some way towards explaining why sales have been so disappointing.

One car that has been overlooked as a rival to the GT86 is the Mazda MX-5. Despite being the world’s best-selling sports car, in recent times it has put on weight and (perhaps unfairly) developed an image as a fashion accessory rather than a true sports car.

That’s set to change with the launch of the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5, due on sale in the UK at the end of this month. The new model is 100kg lighter than its predecessor and shorter than any MX-5 ever – even the 1990 original.

We recently went to the Scottish Highlands to find out if it is now a serious driver’s car – but we also decided to put it head-to-head against the slightly more expensive Toyota GT86. Which will come out on top?

Toyota GT86: On the road

Toyota GT86: on the road

If we could award a star rating on driver experience alone, both of these would be five-star cars.

The Toyota GT86 feels like a much more exotic car than a twenty-something-grand coupe. You sit low, and the Milltek Sport stainless steel exhaust system fitted to our test car makes a pleasing burble on start-up.

The steering is heavy – bordering on too heavy when manoeuvring in tight situations. But that adds to the feeling that you’re driving something more akin to a supercar than a competitor for a hot Fiesta.

Once out on the road and past national speed limit signs, the GT86’s foibles (of which there are many, we’ll come to those shortly) are soon forgotten. Even with the wider 235mm Pirelli P Zero tyres fitted to the 18-inch alloys of our test car, there’s not an endless amount of grip.

That’s part of the GT86’s charm, though. It’s a refreshingly analogue car in a time of turbochargers and copious grip. The chassis is so communicative that you always know what’s going on. Not that you need to be a pro to drive one – after a bit of time with it, your confidence will increase. It’ll teach you a lot more about driving than an over-assisted hot hatch will.

At first, the GT86 feels slower than you might expect, particularly if you’re used to driving turbocharged cars. It lacks torque and putting your foot down at low to middle revs results in a lot of noise, but won’t pin you back in your seat. With peak torque at around 6,500rpm – just short of the redline – you really have to rev this engine to extract its best performance.

You soon get into this mindset, however. The six-speed gearbox is a fairly sweet unit, if a tad notchy, and a light flickers telling you when to change up. You soon get into a rhythm, exploiting its peaky power delivery and changing up just as you touch the redline.

If you drive the GT86 in this manner it’s unlikely to feel slow. It’s more than capable of overtaking slower traffic and you can soon be travelling very quickly. The low-down driving position and communicative steering add to the sensation of speed. Sure, a hot hatch might beat it in a drag race, but the GT86 is such a thrilling car to drive on normal British roads that you soon forget about the hard facts and figures.

Mazda MX-5: On the road

Mazda MX-5: on the road

We’ll concentrate on the 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5 here as, although some argue the 1.5-litre is the sweeter unit, the bigger engine is the one closest to the GT86 in terms of both price and power.

Ah, power. If the GT86 feels lacking, you’d have thought the MX-5 would be in desperate need of a hot version – the 2.0-litre packs just 160hp.

But 160hp combined with a low 1,075kg kerb weight means it’s actually brisker than the GT86 – hitting 62mph in 7.3 seconds compared to the Toyota’s 7.7 seconds.

It accelerates in a similar way to the Toyota, with torque peaking high-up in the rev range at 4,600rpm. It’s an engine that loves to rev, but it does seem sprightlier than the Toyota – that 0.4 second gap to 62mph makes a surprising difference.

But straight-line acceleration isn’t what either of these cars is about. The MX-5’s compact dimensions make it feel nimbler than the GT86, while both are wonderfully communicative and feel like could be fairly tail-happy should you turn off the traction control systems.

The GT86 we had on test was fitted with 40mm lowering springs, so provided a firmer ride than a standard version. The MX-5, however, provided a surprisingly compliant ride, only getting unsettled by the harshest of bumps.

That’s always been the delight of the MX-5. Not only is it extremely entertaining if you push it hard, it’s also very happy being driven at low speeds. In that way, it’s probably an easier car to live with every day than the more focussed GT86.

Toyota GT86: On the inside

Toyota GT86: on the inside

As good as the GT86 is to drive, it’s as let down by its interior. It feels like a Toyota from at least 10 years ago – with lots of dark, hard plastics making the cabin feel quite claustrophobic.

It’s more practical than the MX-5 – it’s got rear seats, for a start, although they really are only a token gesture for young children. There’s plenty of stowage space, too – something the MX-5 is seriously lacking in.

Toyota says its interior has been designed with a lightweight ethos in mind – pointing out its frameless rear-view mirror as an example of where weight has been saved. But you find yourself asking if this is just an excuse for penny-pinching.

Standard equipment is lacking. There’s no DAB radio (although it is ‘DAB-ready’, says Toyota). It’s amazing how much you take things like hill-hold assist and stop-start for granted – and having to take your hands off the steering wheel to change the volume of the radio feels very old-fashioned.

Our test car was fitted with the optional Touch and Go satellite navigation system. It’s a clumsy, old-fashioned unit that even looks a bit aftermarket. For the £750 Toyota asks, we’d recommend swerving it in favour of a TomTom on the windscreen. Old-fashioned, for sure, but so is the car.

The GT86’s interior does have a few saving graces, however. The bucket seats not only look great and provide plenty of support, they’re also surprisingly comfortable. We also particularly like the steering wheel… a minor thing, perhaps, but one that does make a big difference to the overall driving experience. At 365mm, it’s particularly small, making it easy to extract the best out of the sporty Toyota. The chrome sports pedals are also nicely placed for enthusiastic drivers.

Mazda MX-5: On the inside

Mazda MX-5: on the inside

Considering Mazda has also gone hard on the lightweight ethos, the MX-5’s interior is much more pleasant than the GT86’s. It will also look familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the latest Mazda 2 or CX-3.

It feels very modern, with bits of chrome giving it an upmarket feel and red stitching adding to its sportiness. The sat nav is easy to use, while the prominent rev counter emphasises the MX-5’s rev-hungry nature.

It’s only when you look really closely that you notice minor weight-saving measures, such as the lack of padding on the sun visors. Overall, though, it’s not detrimental to the driver or passenger’s comfort – which is impressive considering how much weight they’ve managed to cut on the new model.

One thing it does lack is storage space. There are no door bins, the cup holders are flimsy removable items, and there is no glovebox. A minor gripe on the face of it, but it does irritate when you struggle to find somewhere even to put your mobile phone.

If you can cope with the compact nature of the MX-5’s interior and don’t mind the lack of storage, it runs rings around the GT86 here.

Toyota GT86: Running costs

Toyota GT86: running costs

The old-fashioned nature of the GT86’s engine, combined with the fact you will thrash it anywhere, means it’s not particularly efficient. Officially, it returns 36.2mpg on the combined cycle, but do expect this to drop significantly.

CO2 emissions of 180g/km mean you’ll pay £225 a year in road tax (£350 in the first year), while if you’re looking at one as a company car you’ll be paying a BIK tax rate of 31%.

Traditionally, though, Toyotas are extremely reliable. This means you shouldn’t suffer many of the unexpected costs you might associate with sports cars.

Mazda MX-5: Running costs

Mazda MX-5: running costs

The 2.0-litre high-compression Skyactiv engine in the MX-5 returns 40.9mpg on the combined cycle, while emitting 161g/km CO2. That puts it into the ‘G’ tax band, resulting in £180 tax for the first year, and the same for following years.

Like Toyota, Mazda has a reputation for reliability, so we wouldn’t be worried about owning one when it’s out of warranty (after three years compared to the Toyota’s five).

Neither should be costly to run, providing you’re not expecting diesel-like economy. Without resorting to the ‘smiles per gallon’ cliche, both cars offer an awful lot of fun for relatively affordable running costs.

Mazda MX-5 versus Toyota GT86: Verdict

Mazda MX-5 versus Toyota GT86: verdict

If you’re serious about driving, neither the Toyota GT86 or new Mazda MX-5 will disappoint, despite their relatively modest power.

The MX-5 is a much more sorted package. It seems easier to live with, and its interior, although not as practical as the Toyota’s, feels of much better quality.

It’s also nimbler and offers more fun at low speed. The little roadster is just as happy on city streets as being pushed to its limits on track.

The Toyota GT86 feels, and looks, more special. It’s a more focussed car to drive, and its poor sales mean it still turns heads three years after its launch.

Like past models of the MX-5, we expect the fourth generation will soon become a victim of its own popularity, appearing across the UK quicker than you can fold its manual soft-top roof down.

For most buyers, the Mazda MX-5 makes a lot more sense than the Toyota GT86. It’s cheaper, faster and has a much nicer interior. Handling is on par with the Toyota, and the Mazda also has that added boon of being able to go topless.

Are we saying don’t buy the GT86? Not at all. If you can make the GT86 work for you, it’s a purchase we’d fully respect. It feels more special than the MX-5 and is likely to stay rare for longer. Don’t let it’s relative lack of power bother you, but that interior is a sacrifice you’ll have to justify. Many will find that difficult.

Specification: 2015 Mazda MX-5 2.0

Engines: 2.0-litre petrol

Prices from: £20,095

Power: 160hp

Torque: 148lb ft

0-62mph: 7.3 seconds

Top speed: 133mph

Fuel economy: 40.9mpg

CO2 emissions: 161g/km

Specification: 2015 Toyota GT86

Engines: 2.0-litre petrol

Prices from: £25,000

Power: 200hp

Torque: 151lb ft

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Top speed: 140mph

Fuel economy: 36.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 180g/km

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