Toyota GT86: Lofty benchmark
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It may have a slightly swisher cabin and a new nose, but the diminutive sports coupe's dynamic dna has been left alone
This is a bit annoying. I'd basically come to the conclusion in recent months that if someone was going to force my hand and demand I buy a sports car I'd be happy to live with forever, it would be the Subaru WRX.
It's got the space/pace analogy sewn up, looks suitably racy without being a complete cartoon and wouldn't cost a packet to buy or service, either.
Plus, it's all-wheel drive and you can have one with a manual gearbox if you're insistent.
But then I had the opportunity to have another go in Toyota's 86 sports coupe; the higher specified GT86, to be precise.
And, well, damn it. I'd forgotten how much fun the GT86 is.
On a smiles-per-mile basis, five years on from its launch the 86 still sets a lofty benchmark.
The Toyota GT86 has had a bit of a makeover. I know what you're thinking; it looks exactly the same and, yes; when your base car is such a pared-back pocket rocket to begin with, what do you do to enhance it? It's the same effect as taking a pencil and sharpening it a bit.
But finesse it, Toyota has. The nose has had a bit of a reshape, with new bi-beam LED automatically-levelling headlights and LED Daytime Running Lights showing the way.
The new lightweight 17-inch sports alloy wheels (finished rather nicely with machined gun-metal detailing) look fantastic and, while I don't tend to get all worked up about spoilers, the sculptured aluminium one on the GT86's boot lid looks the part; I always preferred the low-lying TRD accessory spoiler for its subtlety, but I could live with this one. And apparently, it also improves the car's performance.
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The GT86 also now sits even lower than it did before (130mm ground clearance). This is great for complicated aerodynamic reasons, although someone like me, with all the litheness of a house-brick, tends to fall in and spill out of it at this height, rather than enter or exit elegantly.
Inside the GT86's still-fabulous driver-orientated cockpit, you'll find tasteful alcantara-suede-style material inserts across the glovebox section of the dashboard, as well as revised gauges (including the ability to bring up race track-friendly torque curve and g-force data displays) and - gasp! - controls for the audio system on the steering wheel. Purists won't be happy about that, but I am.
You can still have either a six-speed manual or a six-speed auto 'box. But honestly, if you go for the latter, you're just not playing properly.
Toyota has tried hard to sculpt out a usable rear seat, but it may as well not be there. Unless you're under the age of about 10, you're not going to volunteer to sit in the back. Then again, the GT86 is a diminutive sports coupe, so rear seat comfort is a moot point.
But while I'm sniffing derisively, why does the 86 still not boast indicators that you can flick when overtaking and know they'll flash three or four times automatically before stopping again? In this 2017 model year sportscar you still need to deploy them fully when manoeuvring, like you're in a 1985 Corona station wagon.
Anyway, on to the road. In this, the GT86 remains as before; rear-driven with an eager 2.0-litre naturally aspirated Boxer engine up front, a mechanical Limited Slip Differential and a low centre of gravity. It's sublime to drive; there is no other way of putting it.
The driving position is fantastic, with heaps of lateral support from the sports seats up front. The Aisin 'box's manual gear lever feels properly mechanical when you shift between gears and, although 152kW may not sound like a lot, the engine will just give and give.
Acceleration is fizzy and linear -- almost like a rotary engine feels -- and the car slingshots you forward in an addictive way. There's a track mode that sharpens things even more. Although, day-to-day, the GT86's default settings are a cut above anyway.
You can get your 86 in a more budget-conscious flavour; the $46,986 base model 86 with the manual transmission is possibly the one to get. It eschews a few of the GT's comfort features (and that aluminium spoiler) but retains all of the coupe's charisma.
A few years ago, Toyota New Zealand had the genius idea of selling a stripper 86 as an online-only deal. The 86 RC, as it was called, didn't even come with painted bumper sections or air conditioning if you didn't want it. With the weekend warrior track day market in mind, an 86 RC could have been yours for somewhere in the low $30,000 bracket, depending on what features you wanted to stick on during the online configuration process.
With a PhD in hindsight, that one would have been the one to get and add to as time, interest and funds allowed. The bare-basics 86 would have been the hobby car you could have fun in, but didn't need to spend all weekend under it with oil dripping up your elbows.
Similarly, the GT86 is all about turn-key fun, just in a different price bracket. And it is fun. Fun to sit in, fun to steer, fun to seek out a corner or two with.
Would I stick to my guns and go for a Subaru WRX over this? With the realities of young family logistics and a twinge-y back in the equation, I probably would. But ask my heart and it would be a different story.
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Boxer engine (152kW/212Nm)
Prices: $51,986 (six speed manual), $52,986 (six-speed auto)
Pro: Sublime and sporty in almost every way
Con: The Subaru badged one will be worth more in 20 years