PetrolBlog's 2013 Toyota GT86 review, revisited

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As the last Toyota GT86 is sold in the UK, PetrolBlog recalls the time it spent a glorious week in the company of this brilliant sports car.

The last Toyota GT86 has been sold in the UK. Around 7,500 units have been sold since the GT86 hit UK showrooms in 2012. PetrolBlog had to wait until 2013 for a chance to drive one, but it was worth the wait.

To mark the occasion, PetrolBlog is revisiting this Toyota GT86 review from 2013. Unlike the car, the review hasn't aged well. It's a bit too enthusiastic. Too gushing. An example of why PetrolBlog doesn't do new car reviews. That said, it remains one of the best cars to have appeared on the site since it went live in 2010.

Spoiler alert: the Toyota GT86 was a great sports car. It will be missed.

2013 Toyota GT86 side profile

I'd waited patiently for my turn in the Toyota GT86. As the months passed, I watched the videos, read the reviews and listened to the hype surrounding Toyota's supposed return to form. Like a boy cruelly overlooked in the playground routine of selecting players for a football team, or a young man without a date for the prom, I thought my time wouldn't come.

I had every reason to believe the GT86 would appeal to me. The love child of Subaru and Toyota offered what appeared to be the perfect ingredients for a classic sports car recipe. Could it live up to my own hype?

After a week in its company I can confirm the inevitable: the Toyota GT86 is an absolute gem. Not only is it the greatest car to appear on PetrolBlog, I'll also proclaim it to be one of the greatest cars I have ever driven. An instant classic that I long to own.

Toyota GT86: no apologies

Toyota GT86 on A386

There now follows a warning. What you're about to read is one of the most positive reviews I've had the pleasure of writing. I make no apology for this. When a car captures your heart in the way the GT86 has mine, you want to shout about it from the rooftops. It's a love that grew stronger as the week went by, so by the day of departure I could almost feel my heart breaking.

It's not perfect, for reasons I'll explain later. But when you love someone – or in this case, something – you're prepared to forgive one or two minor irritations. The GT86 may leave the cap off the toothpaste or sing out of tune in the shower, but so what? It remains so utterly convincing in other areas. Crucially, it excels in the areas that really matter for a car of this nature.

Naturally I indulged myself in a Dawn Raid. My appetite wasn't so much whetted by the Citroën ZX a week previously, as positively reaching fever pitch. The chance to repeat the experience behind the wheel of a modern, rear-wheel drive, front-engineered sports car was not something I was about to pass up.

Dancing with a GT86

Toyota GT86 review

The alarm was set for a slightly more sociable 6.06am. While the rest of the country either slept or watched the start of the 2013 Formula 1 season, I was out dancing with a GT86 on the roads of North Devon.

The destination was Croyde: a location normally associated with those who get their kicks from waves and white horses than curves and hairpin bends. Indeed, by the time I reached the north coast the surfers were out in force making the most of the stormy conditions. But I'll put it on record: I don't think they were having more fun than me.

But let's get one or two ‘issues’ out of the way first.

Issue number one: the interior. Yes, I'd agree that it doesn't match the quality of say the Volkswagen Scirocco. Heck, it doesn't even come up to the standards of the Peugeot RCZ, although this may say more about the improvements delivered by the French than the lack of quality within the Toyota. The infotainment screen feels about a decade out of date and some of the switches appear to have been lifted straight from the 1990s.

Love is blind

Toyota GT86 interior

But to harp on about the issue is to miss the point of the GT86. I'd agree that the finish isn't perfect. Even after 1,500 miles my test car was already showing signs of scratches and minor wear and tear. But tell me, when you're hurtling towards a bend on your favourite B-road, does this matter? It shouldn't.

I'd also say that the things that really matter, for example the steering wheel and gearstick feel absolutely spot on. Equally the seats feel fantastic and the interior ergonomics are first rate. Maybe love is blind, but I did warn you about this review.

Second issue: the cost. Twenty-five grand is a lot to ask for a sports car adorned with a badge from a manufacturer that's spent so long in the excitement wilderness. But the value of the GT86 needs to be measured in the way it makes you feel rather than standard nuts and bolts. Just occasionally price becomes an irrelevance. Simply spend a morning with a GT86 and you'll see what I mean.

Shift up and push on

Toyota GT86 dials

Third issue: performance. To say the GT86 is lacking in pace is absolute poppycock. Granted the car is unlikely to be a winning card in a game of Top Trumps. A 0-62 time of 7.7 seconds and a power output of 197bhp will be provide little in the way of bragging rights. But it's the way the GT86 uses its armoury that really matters. You can keep your gazillion horsepower hot hatch – the GT86 was never designed to be anything other than a highly focused precision instrument.

And besides, it's £15,000 cheaper than a Porsche Cayman and while I'm yet to drive the new and supposedly brilliant 2013 version, I believe it has the mettle to give the starlet from Stuttgart a run for its Deutschmark. Stop thinking about the GT86 as an expensive 2+2 Toyota and start thinking about it as a genuinely pure driver's car. A priceless commodity these days.

Getting the best from the GT86 requires effort. There's no turbocharger, meaning you need to explore the upper reaches of the 2.0-litre engine for the best results. Peak torque of 205Nm comes between 6,400rpm and 6,600rpm, at which point the fireworks start to happen. Keeping the car at peak torque becomes an addiction. It's something you'll never tire of. The redline is 7,400rpm – touching this will illuminate a red flashing light which simply encourages you to shift up and keep pushing on.

Who needs coffee?

UK Toyota GT86 review

Critics will argue that this makes the GT86 inaccessible – claiming a turbocharger and an extra 100bhp is what the car really needs to exploit the brilliant chassis. And I've no doubt a quicker and headline-grabbing GT86 wouldn't be anything less than great. But it's totally missing the point. As it stands the GT86 is useable, well rounded and utterly compelling.

The Dawn Raid (I actually did three early morning runs in the end) was enough for me to confirm that someday I will own a GT86. I'd order one today were it not for the fact that I'm chasing a dream of doing this writing malarkey on a permanent basis. I'll buy a piggybank and hope for the best.

Rather like me, the GT86 takes a while to warm up in the morning. There's an organic and mechanical feel as you wait for the fluids to circulate around the engine and the GT86 to reach operating temperature. But the sense of anticipation begins long before you get behind the wheel. Even the mere thought of knowing there's a GT86 parked on the driveway is tinged with excitement. A sports car simply has to do this.

And the anticipation builds further once you set eyes on the thing. It's not beautiful, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it has an aggressive, almost menacing stance – it's like a statement of intent on four wheels. And those wheels are wrapped in the same 215/45 R17 tyres you'll find on a Toyota Prius. By resisting the urge to fit ultra-wide rubber, Toyota has ensured the GT86 delivers predictable yet exploitable handling with bags of feedback running up to the steering wheel.

Along came a spider

Black Toyota GT86

It's the level of feedback I'll remember most. How often do motoring writers bang on about numb steering and a feeling of absolute disconnection with the road? It's as though driver involvement was becoming a thing of the past in all but a select few modern cars.

But not in the GT86. The level of feedback is almost absolute. There's communication through the gearstick, the pedals and crucially the steering. Grip the wheel lightly and it will constantly chatter away, communicating every tiny detail about the road surface, picking up even the smallest of indentations. Run over an unfortunate spider and you could identify its inside leg measurement. On all eight legs.

It's the GT86's greatest strength: a feeling of being totally immersed in the driving experience. The 53:47 balance makes the Toyota the ideal dance partner. You know exactly where the car is on the road and the level of grip available to you. Clumsy dance moves and stepping on each other's toes never becomes an issue.

The engine will sing to you. It's not the most pleasant of engine notes, and the way in which it's piped into the cabin through a rubber tube creates a tune that at times can feel a tad artificial. But it becomes central to the driving experience. It will also return to more suburban-friendly levels when you're not exploring the upper reaches of its talents. Meaning you can tiptoe up your driveway following a Dawn Raid without the fear of waking your neighbours.

Toyota OCD86


That's if you return home. The temptation is to spend your entire life exploring the B-roads of Britain before crossing the English Channel and exploring the best roads Europe has to offer. Right now I can think of no other car I'd rather do it in. Perhaps a Michael Palin-style trip is on the cards? Eighty-six days around the world in a GT86.

Creating such an enjoyable car didn't happen by accident. Subaru and Toyota started working on the project in 2006. There was only ever one aim: to create a pure and unadulterated driver's car. As such the attention to detail is little short of obsessive. I wouldn't have been surprised had the car emerged as the OCD86.

The front wings are designed in a way that ensures they're seen from the inside the car, ensuring the driver knows exactly where he or she is on the road. The rear haunches are also visible in the door mirrors. The contours in the roof were put in to help the car achieve a drag coefficient of 0.27. The raised section on each side of the roof also widens towards the rear, providing greater stiffness, allowing the steel used for the roof to be just 0.65mm thick. You'll notice this in bad weather when raindrops sound like bullets bouncing off the roof.

I could go on to talk about the 365mm diameter steering wheel, trimmed in buckskin to provide the best levels of feedback and grip. Or the hip-point of 400mm – 7mm lower than the Porsche Cayman. Combine this with the flat-four Boxer engine format and you have a centre of gravity of just 460mm.

Broken hearts and grazed kneecaps

Toyota GT86

The engineers even went as far as ripping out the original fuel tank to build a bespoke unit designed to fit neatly into the available space. As part of an overall weight production plan, the GT86 eventually tipped the scales at 1,240kg.

And yet, despite building what I believe to be one of the greatest sports cars of the modern era, I do wonder if the Toyota GT86 is destined to become a glorious failure. Like the Corrado and the Racing Puma, critically acclaimed and yet commercially a monumental flop.

Those who want a 250bhp hot hatch are unlikely to be swayed. And those who want something a little more accessible and rounded will still opt for the more trendy TT, RCZ or Scirocco. And it would be wildly optimistic to suggest the GT86 will win sales from Porsche. Because it won't. And don't be thinking the rear seats are anything other than a token gesture. Unless your children are dwarf monkeys, they're only good enough for storing luggage.

In some ways I hope the GT86 becomes no more than a niche indulgence. A sideways step created by the joint efforts of two manufacturers in an age where the focus is on efficiency and turbocharging. But then the GT86 could signal end of the rear-wheel drive, normally aspirated sports car once and for all. And that would be a shame.

Toyota GT86: a conclusion

I'll conclude this review by reaffirming my apology for the overtly glowing and positive nature of this review. But I make no apology for falling head over heels in love with a Toyota.

If you've skipped to the end for my conclusion, allow me to summarise exactly why I rate the GT86 so highly. The driving position is perfect, the handling is exemplary and the ride is firm yet comfortable. The pace is perfect for a British B-road. I can't throw enough superlatives in the Toyota's direction.

The Toyota GT86: an instant classic and arguably the last of a dying breed. Beats going to the prom and playing football in the playground. No risk of a broken heart and grazed kneecaps. It's simply a brilliant car to spend a week with.

Apologies for the rubbish photos. They looked okay in 2013.

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