The old adage that suggests you should be careful what you wish for seems particularly fitting for the Toyota GT86. Car enthusiasts the world over have bemoaned the sports car’s alleged lack of power and ‘torque hole’ ever since its launch in 2012, and with leaked details from a recent dealer conference suggesting the next GT86 will be turbocharged and be good for more like 260bhp, both of those apparent issues will be fixed.
The news was not universally welcomed, however. And in some ways, we get why. Whether or not this is a good call for what’s set to be christened the ‘GR86’ is open for debate, so we thought we’d put all the arguments for and against the power move on one page. Let’s get started with the cons…
Criticise it for being underpowered all you want, but the GT86 is an incredibly rare beast - a naturally-aspirated sports car. N/A performance cars are rocking horse excrement anyway, but atmospheric rear-drive coupes? As far as the UK market goes, your only other non-supercar options are a Porsche Cayman GT4/GTS (expensive) or a Ford Mustang GT (not a sports car).
The FA20 Subaru flat-four (rebranded by Toyota as the ‘4U-GSE) needs to be worked hard, with peak power of 197bhp arriving at 7000rpm. But isn’t that the main draw? Particularly when that last-gasp change can be done with a slick six-speed manual gearbox? And while 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds doesn’t sound like much, it’s arguably fast enough for a good country road.
In contrast, the FA24 set for use in the ‘GR86’ makes its peak power at just 5600rpm. You’d hope that the top end might be in for a little tweak before the engine goes into the Toyota and in Subaru’s jointly-developed BRZ (right now it’s only used in more humdrum stuff), but even if it’s given a comparable redline to the FA20, it’s not going to be an engine you need to spin up to the limiter.
You’ll be swapping the brilliant responsiveness of an N/A engine for frustrating turbo lag, removing one of the car’s most unique features, and making it more like every other performance car out there right now.
Then we have to consider weight. Tipping the scales at under 1300kg, the ‘86 is not a heavy car. The GR Supra, even in inline-four guise, is well over 100kg bulkier. Adding more displacement, a turbocharger and all the associated plumbing means the GR86 is unlikely to be as lithe as its predecessor. The engine won’t be as compact either, meaning the central point of its mass won’t sit quite as low in the car.
It’s probably best we kick off with the obvious: speed. Yes, I know only a few paragraphs ago I stated that the GT86’s performance is more than adequate for road use, but on the occasions we’ve tried a modified one making 250bhp or thereabouts, it’s felt like a great match for the chassis.
It’s enough go to make for thrilling straight-line performance without being excessive. And you can wave goodbye to the FA20’s torque hole - the FA24 is good for a peak of 277lb ft, available between 2000 and 4800rpm.
It’ll be a much more tuneable engine than the N/A FA20 too. Extracting a significant power increase from the current GT86 engine is an expensive business since you need to plough at least £5000 into a turbocharger or supercharger conversion. The already turbocharged FA24 will be capable of significant gains with minimal fiddling, and some firms are already playing around with the engine in examples of the Subaru Ascent SUV, the first vehicle to receive it.
While it’s a fair point that turbocharged performance cars are boringly common these days, we should point out that the GR86’s powertrain won’t just be any old turbo mill. As a boxer engine, it’ll still be far more characterful than the average inline-four, and remember, turbocharged fast cars are Subaru’s thing. The next GR86 and the BRZ will be - if you like - Subaru WRXs in compact coupe form. Which sounds awfully tempting.
It’d be wise to expect an increase in price relative to the current model, but it won’t be a big one. The GR86 can’t be too expensive, otherwise, it’d end up competing with the 2.0-litre GR Supra. A 250bhp+ rear-wheel drive coupe for the price of a mid-tier hot hatch seems like a good deal.
Finally, we need to bear in mind the business case. Which sounds boring, but a reality check is needed - making a car that ticks boxes for petrolheads doesn’t equal something people are actually going to buy. The GT86 is one of the most enthusiast-focused cars you can buy right now, but that doesn’t sell in the real world - the Audi TT outsells it by a factor of eight. If Toyota can broaden the appeal of the next one by making it faster and more luxurious while keeping it fun and rear-wheel drive, that’s surely a win for everyone.
Ditching the atmospheric engine seems like a shame given the dominance of turbochargers in the performance car world, but the GR86 is set to gain much more than it loses. The enthusiast focus won’t be quite the same, but since the alternative might have been no next-gen car at all, I’m not sure we’re in a position to moan.
It’s a question of maintaining a balancing act between satisfying petrolheads and keeping more general car buyers interested. It’ll be a little while before we know how successfully Toyota has done that. You wouldn’t want to be against the company that surprised us all with the GR Yaris though, so our hopes are high.
Whatever we say doesn’t matter, of course. Even if the GR86 is a blinder, we’ve no doubt the debate over its powertrain will rage on for years after its launch. Just look at what happened with its predecessor.