Toyota GT86: Drive Review

18th January 2013

Michael Woodhouse takes to the open road in a simple sports car

I’m a big believer in simplicity. From my oven to my razor, I like everything to be straightforward. I want to switch the oven on, select a temperature and cook, and as for the razor, I really don’t need something to massage and moisturise my skin while I cut the stubble from my face. Why over-complicate things?

Alas, it seems to be the modern way. Anything that can be made more complex (whether it delivers a benefit or not) has been, and the march towards electronics is relentless. In years to come we’ll be wondering why – and how – anybody did anything manually.

It’s not only in the kitchens and the bathrooms of the land that technology has taken over. The car had been perhaps the biggest beneficiary – or victim – of the modern world.
Your car basically thinks for you now. Switch on the ignition and the onboard computer systems will detect the weather, warning you if there is ice on the road, for example. Flick the adaptive cruise control switch on the motorway and your car will maintain a constant speed; should some lunatic decide to pull out in front of you the car will brake automatically.

And the wizardry isn’t going to stop. Companies are developing systems that will take ever more control away from the soft squidgy human in the driver’s seat…

…which is why getting behind the wheel of the Toyota GT86 was such a revelation. It is a return to simplicity.

In the cabin there’s a steering wheel, handbrake, gearstick and three pedals. The steering wheel is relatively small, the handbrake tantalisingly close for some naughty circular vehicle manoeuvres and the gearstick practically positioned for quick changes. This is Toyota’s latest step into the world of sports cars.

But while everyone else is reducing the number of cylinders and attaching turbo-chargers and superchargers in order to boost performance, the engineers in Japan have kept it simple yet again. The GT86 uses a naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine which develops all its power – 197bhp – at 7,000rpm and all 205Nm of torque between 6,400 and 6,600rpm. It is, no matter what you may read in other publications about it lacking power, a driver’s dream.

At low speeds you can trundle around town without a care in the world: even though it’s a sports car it isn’t noticeably hard over bumps, and the steering isn’t aggressively heavy. But it’s when you get out of the city that the GT86 comes to life.

Downshift as you hit an open road and watch the needle climb quickly up the rev counter (which is unmissable, as once again simplicity wins and it’s the largest readout directly in front of you) and hear the glorious noise of the boxer engine. It’s a delight.

As you’d expect with any performance vehicle there are safety systems onboard – ABS, ESC and traction control – so it isn’t completely under your sole control. But the GT86 is a rear wheel drive car, so sometimes you could be thankful for the computer’s assistance. On a couple of occasions, even with everything switched on, the car’s tail tried to slide out while driving around a roundabout at normal speeds. It can be a little frisky, if you aren’t careful.

That’s no bad thing, though. Too many performance cars have been ruined by engineers trying to over-refine them, forgetting why people buy this type of vehicle. Take the Vauxhall Astra VXR, for example: a great car in previous generations – scary, but great. Then Vauxhall saw fit to remove the scary aspect, introduced a lot of clever technology, and it lost its edge.

Thankfully Toyota hasn’t fallen into this tempting trap. The GT86 is everything I want from a fast car, and, like the perfect razor and oven, hasn’t been over-complicated. You get in, turn on the ignition, put it in gear and drive. Simple.

Price: from £24,995

Top speed: 140mph

0-62mph: 7.7 seconds

Fuel economy: 36.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 181g/km

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