Its said that a child lives inside every one of us and I wholeheartedly agree with that. So many of us hark back to the days when running or servicing a car was a pleasure, long before the times when an I.T degree was required just to receive Radio 2 on the stereo. You don't have to be simple to appreciate simplicity itself and even though many makers build a basic car in terms of equipment, only a handful produce a car that has that raw and basic charm when it comes to driver appeal.
When you think back to iconic cars of a 2+2 nature and rear wheel drive, all the usual suspects come to the fore such as the Ford Capri or the Opel Manta. They were both vehicles of a long bloodline with countless wins in motorsport and made many a bedroom wall pin-up alongside Linda Lusardi. What made them successful was the fact they were nicely styled, affordable and portrayed in the press as a car for all people - simple unadulterated rear wheel drive fun.
From way out East, Toyota had their Celica / Supra and latterly, the mid engined MR2 that all rapidly became a huge hit in the showrooms with those old school models today being of cult and legend in status. Those along with the aforementioned Ford and Vauxhall-Opel offerings were never replaced when the last order bell was rung - time was seemingly called on the no frills, rear wheel drive sports coupe and they were very much sorely missed!
That was until a couple of years ago when Toyota and Subaru joined forces to create a sports coupe that promised to be fun, reasonably affordable and stylish. Enter the GT-86, a car I have previously driven for about 20 minutes on a test track. All I could remember was laughing out loud once or twice so with a view to finding out how the foreign built Toyota's stack up compared to the UK examples, I was very keen to get to grips with the GT-86 for a more memorable period.
On paper, the GT doesn't set the world on fire with its 2.0 non aspirated boxer four engine. There is no fancy valve technology or chattering wastegate noises to be noted - just a flat four with 197bhp to your right foot. A six speed manual gearbox and rear wheel drive tops of the drivetrain - even the suspension fails to raise an eyebrow with plain old McPhearson stuts up ahead with double wishbone out back. But as the Actress said to the Bishop... it's not what you have, it's what you can do with it - and I can feel a big grin coming on.
Slithering into the incredibly low slung driving position takes a little huffing and puffing, but once you're there the "fully driver - focussed design" as the blurb describes it, is more than obvious to the eye. The seating, wheel and gear lever all fall into your domain and it's very easy to fine tune into a near perfect driving position. All the controls are plain and easy to fathom out and there is a dual zone climate control system operated via three rotary push-turn dials, ergonomically speaking, the GT86 scores very highly.
In terms of build quality, it's generally good but there are the odd signs here and there that certain items have been produced to keep either weight or costs to a minimum. The trim around the heater panels is low rent as is the plastic used in the centre console area behind the gear lever, but nothing is eyewateringly penny-pinching and the car does feel very well screwed together all in all. Thanks to a keyless entry system, the car fires up on the prod of a button and then the fun begins.
The boxer four fires up without fuss and the lack of vibration on idle is excellent, once warmed through, the motor is free revving but driving in normal busy urban traffic requires a little throttle control as the engine seems easy to stall and low speed driving can become jerky. The gear-change is one of the best I have come across with a well-defined short throw that reminded me of a Rover 3500 or MGB - its weighty in action but precise. Its matched to a very forgiving and light weighted clutch with a similar short action required. But as I have touched upon, the nature of the power curve means you need a few revs to eradicate the risk of stalling when parking or negotiating tight spaces.
Ride comfort around town is joggly and unsettling and this is compounded by the firm feeling driving seat, but it's not designed to be a shopping trolley, it's designed to have a damn good time. Out in the wild the GT86 had more grip in the bends than velcro yet provoking a wagging tail like a naughty pup is simple and laugh out loud entertaining. Some say it needs more power but I disagree, with 197bhp on tap its just enough to keep a happy balance of useful performance, fuel economy and insurance costs. It's not rip snortlingly rapid... but it feels like it is inside.
A short throw and delicious gearchange, super agile steering that gives you just a dash of oversteer and that Subaru developed engine fitted lower than a snakes belly in the engine bay makes the GT86 an intoxicating experience. But it's not all happy happy joy joy. There is a pronounced lack of grunt from the engine, especially in the higher gears and the road noise from the tyres on rough surfaces is very annoying. Also, you can tell where the weight has been saved in the tinny feeling of some of the body panels and pieces of the interior trim, as mentioned already, they are the only real blots on the copybook.
Dont expect to ferry rear passengers around either, unless they are into yoga or have an obesesion with the foetal position. Small children might fit into the back two seats, but it would be best to view that area as more room for shopping or squashy hand luggage - it's very very cramped. No problems with the boot though because there is more than enough clutter room for two. But what I would expect of the Toyota is reliability and piece of mind, add those two together with grin inducing fun and an induction roar that's lovely on the ear and you end up with a very likeable safe bet of a car that magically takes years of the driver - awesome addictive unadulterated fun!
OUR RATING? 8/10
THE HUMBLE OPINION:
John Major was right! its good to go back to basics. The GT86 makes for affordable fun with Japanese engineering and reliability in a pretty bodyshape which is almost perfect for the keen driver. The handling and "chuck-a-bility" of the chassis is wonderful to enjoy while a reasonably high overdrive 6th makes motorway crusing the right side of acceptable. As an everyday commuter machine, the jerky driveline and knobbly ride might become tiresome to some, but as a weekend plaything... its just right.
Price wise, its tempting and theres a reasonable level of equipment too but as mentioned, you can spot where the costings have been kept to a minimum if you look and feel hard enough. Those points aside, there isnt much to detract the enjoyment you can have with the Toyota... if its old school tail happy antics you desire, I recommend the GT-86.
POINTS OF COMMENDATION: Good looking - Great driving position - Awesome handling - Forgiving chassis - Engine noise and induction roar - Good value - Well equipped - Simple to drive - Tail happy drift inducing nature is brilliant fun - Makes you feel much younger again - Decently practical as a two seater with a good sized boot.
RESERVATIONS: Ride and cabin noise can be tiresome after a while - Brakes slightly underspecified - Some fixtures and fittings could feel better to the touch - Rear space almost non-existant - Not an everyday car.
Price (as Tested) : £27.460
Engine: 2.0 quad cam flat four 16v
Power / Torque: 197bhp / 205Nm
Gearbox: 6 speed all syncro rear wheel drive
Suspension: Struts / Double wishbone all coils
Brakes: F & R Vented discs with ABS/EBD/TC
Performance (claimed): Max 140mph 0-60 7.7 seconds
Fuel Economy: Combined 36.2mpg 30.3 on test
Co2 Output: 181 G/Km
VED Band: I
Benefit In Kind: 26%
Insurance Grouping: 29E
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE GT-86 CLICK HERE