Why we need more cars like the Toyota GT86

In many ways the motor industry is reminiscent of an iphone. Every new model has to be more advanced, more complicated, more technologically superior and inherently more expensive than its outgoing model. It is this push for constant statistical evolution and numerical superiority over competitors that leads manufacturers into a world of power outputs, 0 to 60 figures and Nurburgring lap times.

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That’s why the GT86 was, and still is, a huge breath of fresh air. When the news broke that Toyota, the kings of bullet proof reliability, were building a genuinely affordable rear drive sports car, the motoring press broke into a worldwide game of Chinese whispers.

When the car finally landed in mid 2011 it was clear Toyota had a mini masterpiece on their hands. To the untrained eye the GT86’s modest power output of 197 BHP from a 2 litre boxer unit looked somewhat underpowered. But that’s where the GT86 formula originates from, low power, easily accessible fun.

Take a look at any manufacture that sports a performance division, (AMG, M powered and RS) and you can see the emphasis is on all out speed. Tyres are wide, suspension is stiffer and class leading power is paramount. The GT86 however takes all these requirements and dumps them in a wheelie bin, before burning it to the ground for good measure.

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What makes the Toyota so special is that every aspect of the car, both mechanically and ergonomically, is tailored to towards driver enjoyment, not box ticking performance. This is demonstrated no better than the GT86’s simple and focused recipe. Front engine, manual gear box, rear drive with a locking diff.  But it is the way the Toyota manages to harness the best aspects of this layout that makes it so involving.

The driving position for example, often overlooked by many manufactures, is multi adjustable with a generous degree of steering column adjustment and a seat which you can actually sit nice and low in.  The engine, while lacking in the mid range, is predicable and linear in the best possible sense and the 6 speed manual has short throws and is easy to quickly heel and toe with the perfectly positioned pedals. But what impresses most of all is the liveliness of the rear axle. The rear end is fully independent with a double wishbone arrangement and a mechanically limited slip differential. It is here where the GT86’s party piece of a 215 section rear tyre comes into play. The overall mechanical grip is more than adequate but turn in with a squeeze of continued throttle and you are rewarded with one of the most predicable grip to overseer transitions in the world. This means even the most sedate and gentle ‘just going for a spin’ drive becomes a hoot with genuine on the road engagement which would normally be the reserve of a disserted airfield or track day.

The GT86 with its Subaru and Scion counterparts is a car that despite now costing considerably more that its launch price of £23,500, is a real gem of a car. It proves that driver engagement and satisfaction doesn’t require a screaming v12 or fat Michelin pilot sport cup tyres. In the GT86 you can tease the chassis into mild, wheel pattering overseer discreetly on any drive. And as any petrol head will tell you, when you are at the limit of grip, things get exciting.  No wonder the little Toyota was voted Autocar’s best drivers car in 2012.

Image source: Autocar

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