Toyota GT 86 coupe
"The Toyota GT 86 is a real back-to-basics sports coupe. It’s rather low on polish and finesse, but is simply brilliant to drive”
- Huge fun to drive
- Great value for money
- Good standard equipment
- Cramped rear seats
- Dated interior design
- Engine sluggish at low revs
Back in the 1980s, Toyota was one of very few companies that offered a small hatchback with rear-wheel drive and a relatively powerful engine – the Corolla GT. It achieved legendary status and is regarded as one of the best driver’s cars of that decade. Today’s Toyota GT86 was created as an homage to that celebrated machine.
Built in collaboration with Subaru, which offers the near identical Subaru BRZ, the GT86 is a compact sports car that is a throwback to the nimble Japanese sports coupes of the 1970s. Unlike other models in the firm’s line-up, the GT86 doesn’t share its underpinnings with any other model. This allowed Toyota to design and build the car specifically as a two-door sports car from the beginning.
Since its introduction in 2012, the GT86 has received several mild updates. Cosmetic changes have included a widened front grille and a restyled front bumper. LED headlights were also introduced with redesigned LED foglights to match. The rear lights are also LED, too, while the rear spoiler has been reworked with a more aggressive look than before - there’s the option not to have it at all if you don’t want to.
It’s a car that buyers really have to understand before they want one, and there are a few fun-to-drive alternatives on the market, most prominently the Mazda MX-5, whose open-air thrills can’t be matched by the Toyota. Two-door rivals are present, too, with the Audi TT and BMW 2 Series offering different interpretations of the driver’s car theme, and all – it has to be said – offer a rather less uncompromising package than the Toyota.
You certainly won’t find that the standards of luxury and polish in the cockpit of the GT86 match those of its German rivals. Although Toyota has introduced Alcantara suede and leather finishes to the seats, there’s no disguising the bare-bones nature of the car’s interior design.
Earlier versions of the GT86 were found wanting for equipment and technology, too. To remedy this, the brand now offers their latest ‘Toyota Touch2’ infotainment system in all models, with a 4.2-inch touchscreen, sat nav and Bluetooth connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto remain noticeable by their absence. While it remains a stylish car, the lack of modern technology that’s readily available in its premium European rivals does limit the GT86’s appeal.
The GT86 is not especially powerful compared to its coupe rivals, either: all offer more powerful engines than the 2.0-litre 197bhp petrol of the GT86, but Toyota is here to tell you that power in itself isn’t the key to a good time behind the wheel. More important is that all the power can be effectively deployed and better still, enjoyed.
To actually drive a GT86 is to understand what all the fuss is about. Only the BMW 2 Series coupe follows the Toyota’s rear-wheel-drive layout, but even the well regarded German car struggles to match the GT86’s sheer responsiveness. Every minute you spend behind the wheel, you’re right at the centre of the action, enjoying the feedback and feeling that flows through the controls. If you’re not in the mood, though, it might prove tiresome and if your interest in the finer points of chassis control isn’t deep-seated, you may find the BMW easier to live with.
Although the GT86 does have rear seats, they’re rather restrictive and only suitable for very young children. The boot is considerably smaller than the Audi TT’s. Also, while the Audi is available with more economical, less performance-orientated engines if you want, the same isn’t true of the Toyota. If you don’t like the idea of a car that can only manage 33.2mpg – or less when driven hard – the GT86 won’t be for you, although it will cost less than a well optioned TT or 2 Series coupe.
Only really enthusiastic drivers need apply and only those who aren’t tempted by the roof-down frolics of the Mazda MX-5 or the extra power and expense of the Nissan 370Z. It’s hard to choose between the GT86 and its Subaru BRZ sister – you may as well go for whichever badge you prefer or whichever dealer is closer to you – although it may be easier to get a GT86 than a BRZ, as more are built as Toyotas than Subarus. We liked the Toyota enough to give it Carbuyer's Best Coupe award back in 2014.