GT86 - The one that got away
You’ve got to work it to get the most out of it
I grew up very much around Japanese car culture. Monochrome interiors, all the toys as standard, hard wearing seats, free revving engines and sonorous dump valves. The 90s era cars were iconic in my view, and there were plenty to choose from back then - Toyota Supra, Mazda RX7, Mitsubishi Evos and my personal favorite the Subaru Impreza WRX. I loved the conservative and slightly aggressive look of the Impreza, and who could forget that flat four burble which at around 3,000 rpm took off like a stabbed rat once the turbo kicked in. When the GT86 came out I was glued to YouTube waiting for the next early release video to come out. It was the modern day interpretation of what made the earlier cars great. The interior was functional and focused on enhancing the driving experience. It still had all analogue dials with a rev counter sitting firmly in your line of sight. You sat low and snug in the driver’s seat with that precise gearbox perfectly positioned.
The hype kept on building and when the car magazines formally got hold of it, well my suspicions were confirmed (from most of them). A certain Jeremy Clarkson and Chris Harris raved about it so I had to test drive it to see for myself. From the moment I walked up to it, the GT86 looked purposeful, cleanly designed (well apart form the slightly busy rear) and squat. It didn’t matter that the tyres were borrowed from a Prius or that the rear seats were as useful as a chocolate tea pot.
I think you can tell a lot from start-up, and with a an energetic turn of the starter motor the engine burst into life. The burble I had become used to from the Scooby days was unfortunately nowhere to be heard which was a disappointment but I forgot about that the moment I slotted in first and balanced the clutch. It felt light, responsive and eager from the moment the GT86 slithered out of the dealership. On the test drive the dealer caught on that I liked cars and didn’t say a word during the drive. I think from my ear to ear grin they could see I was smitten. You’ve got to work it to get the most out of it which is all of the enjoyment. There is very little torque and no forced induction to get you out of trouble if you pick the wrong gear. Toyota clearly put a lot of time and effort into the drivetrain and want the driver to use it as much as possible.
There’s a lot of pleasure in nailing third gear at around 4,200 rpm and enjoying it gain speed as opposed to modern day equivalents glueing you to your seat for a few milliseconds before breaking the speed limit. It did sound better from the inside mind you so don’t expect it to turn heads from engine note alone. Handling wise there’s so much already written about it from seasoned reviewers I’ll just re-affirm that it really does handle brilliantly with a chassis brimming with characteristics you’d fine on much more expensive cars.
I wouldn’t call the interior refined but to dwell on that would be missing the point and the parts that you engage with (gear lever, indicator stalks, pedals) are spot on in terms of quality and feel. The steering is sublime and should be bottled up for other manufacturers to learn from. No electric steering, no cumbersome buttons, just a small rim to entice both hands feeding it through every corner.
It gave me all the feeling I could possibly want from a sports car but without the death dealing power. I see myself as a competent driver but certainly no Carlos Sainz. I could use all of the power, still yearn for a bit more and not worry about facing the wrong way wrapped around a lamppost - just take care in the wet as those tyres can’t defy the laws of physics. I walked away at the time as I was living in central London and wouldn’t do the car justice which was a mistake. Even at low speeds it’s enjoyable so when the opportunity came around again I jumped at getting a second hand one years later. I was moving to Malta for a bit on secondment and needed a car so I thought this is it!
Regrettably I missed that opportunity as well as second hand prices were still over my budget at the time. In another post I’ll explain what I did get eventually but it’ll always remain as the unicorn I never bought. If there are any of you out there teetering on buying one, get one! Second hand values do seem to hold the line at around the £12k mark for a good one. For those seeking to shred the tyres, there are aftermarket packages (such as Litchfield’s supercharger upgrade) which can bring about more power to give a Boxster S something to worry about.
Whatever you do though avoid the automatic at all costs and watch the Chris Harris review back from the Drive days when he reviews a GT86, Cayman and 370Z.