Don’t bother reading this review. This car won’t appeal to you. At least that’s what the market research must be telling the car industry. Apparently, nobody wants small, fun, front-engined, rear-driven, impractical sports cars, powered by an ‘old-fashioned’ petrol engine and featuring three-pedals, not even at sub-£30.
Rewind to the 80s and even 90s and when it came to two-door sports coupes, you were frankly spoiled for choice – and by the way, I mean actual ‘coupes’, not four-door family ‘buses’ on stilts with sloping roof-lines that have now appropriated the term for marketing purposes.
Try to find the new equivalent of those old-skool coupes now, especially at a relatively ‘affordable’ price point, and you’ll be left frustrated. So, it stands to reason the car industry knows something we don’t – that it’s fiscally unfeasible to offer sports cars and coupes it their line-ups.
Except that one of the biggest, most successful and profitable car companies on the planet, offers not one, but two sports cars (discounting hot hatches which are also on the menu). That is the Supra and the GR86 (formerly and otherwise known as GR 86, and GT86, FT86, FR-S and even just 86). Whereas you’re looking at £50k for the Supra, £20k less will get you into one of the finest driver’s cars you can buy new.
It was updated as a second generation model a couple of years ago, having been launched over a decade ago in 2012. The new car got lighter aluminium panels to compensate for the increase in weight from a slightly bigger engine and more safety features.
There’s also a little more power for the four-cylinder Boxer engine with an extra 30bhp or so taking it up to 230bhp. That puts the 0-62mph acceleration time at 6.3 seconds and gives it a top speed of 140mph, although with this car, top speed is really not the point.
Part of the point though is that this is a relatively affordable car starting at just under £30,000 and having an impressive fuel-consumption figure of 32.1mpg (for a sports car).
It remains about as practical as you could expect from a compact coupe (4.3m long, and 1.8m wide) with a reasonable boot and unreasonable rear bench – just use it to store extra bags etc, rather than carry actual humans.
Forget all that. Start it up, revel in the raspy note settling into that distinctive boxer thrum, select first with the perfectly placed, short-throw and delightfully slick and satisfying gear lever, let up the thankfully not-too-light clutch, and punch it!
The acceleration won’t take your breath away, but it’ll feel urgent enough. Don’t forget you’re sitting in a low-slung sportster, the sensations are instantly amplified. It’s an absolute delight to snatch the next few gears, and feel the car’s body lunging at the horizon. There’s a bit of road roar, but you want that, it all adds to the sight, sound and sensation of driving a great sports car.
Another crucial aspect of that is steering, not only a helm that is accurate and faithful, but features the right ratio for input at your hands compared to output at the wheels, and then vice-versa: the feel of the road feeding its way back up to your fingertips through the wheel’s rim. It’s quite at Lotus levels, but it inspires and assures. This is an even more impressive feat when you realise that Toyota (and Subaru for its BRZ version) employs electric power steering for the 86, which in most modern cars leaves it feeling numb and lifeless. Not here though.
And if you’re working the wheel, that means you’ve found some corners. Let’s lay some myths to rest first though. Many seem to think that the Toyota GR86 is all about drifting, so it must be very tail-happy. It is not. In fact, it’s a securely planted thing, that introduces a little tentative understeer, before transitioning to a tightening of line through a corner when you’ve confirmed your commitment to the corner.
Of course, you could provoke it into understeer, but you’d better know what you’re doing then. Despite the increase in power, which is plenty to have fun with and to unstick the car if you wish to, it’s not quite at the level to power-slide the car at will. Getting this car sideways and holding it, is all about managing momentum and mass, which requires skill. More skill than I have.
That’s not to say I can’t enjoy driving the wheels off this car on some great twisting roads, enjoying its secure grip, sharp response and impressive poise. It engages and excites, and when you arrive at your destination at the end of a good road, you’ll just turn around and go back the other way again. That’s just how good this car is. Especially at the money. Frankly it’s hard to fathom why every driving enthusiast isn’t buying one of these as their daily driver.