When you think of Toyota, it’s the Corolla, Camry, HiLux or LandCruiser that instantly comes to mind. All capable, but hardly inspiring. However, there is one car from the humble manufacturer guaranteed to light your fire; the driver-focused, two-door Toyota 86 GT coupe.
Born from a joint venture with Subaru, the 86’s (and Suby BRZ) recipe for success lies in its front engine – rear drive layout, lightweight compact coupe body with a Porsche Cayman equaling low centre of gravity and 53-47 weight distribution.
Although the 86 and BRZ have been around for a while, jointly winning Wheels Car of The Year in 2012, the swoopy coupé styling is every bit up to the minute.
Inside, you sit low in heavily bolstered sports seats, legs almost horizontal, the gear lever and sports pedals perfectly placed and for me, the steering wheel set high. Looking through the steeply raked windscreen you see the tops of the guards in an almost retro style. Accentuating its sporty character, carbon look inlays are used through the cabin and like another Japanese icon, the Mazda MX5, it has a wonderful minimalist feel.
There’s little room on the back seats for anything more than laptop bags or a jacket.
Although our test car is the $29,990 (+ORC) entry model 86GT, you still get a good level of standard kit for your bucks including seven airbags, a five-mode stability control system, traction control, anti-skid brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning, CD/MP3/USB sound system, daytime running lamps (DRLs) and a multi-information display.
Under the bonnet is a Subaru supplied, free-revving 2.0-litre flat-four engine that delivers 147kW and 250NM with a crisp exhaust note to its 7,450 rpm redline. The 86 GT has the right number of pedals for a coupé, three, and a manual gearbox (call me a purist), its light shifting action needing nothing more than a flick-of-the-wrist to slip through its six gears. For a bit of theatre, the engine note is channeled into the cabin via a sound generator.
On paper the 86 looks the business, but the only way any coupé can be judged is from behind the wheel, on a long, long drive.
Trundling through the suburbs where the 86 GT turned out to be surprisingly user friendly, I headed for my favourite country roads, the kind the chassis engineers had in mind when conceiving the 86 (and BRZ).
The Toyota 86 like its Subaru twin has been built around the driver and driving, delivering its thrills in a more holistic manner than just outright power.
Hats off to both Toyota and Subaru engineers for creating one of the all-time great chassis. Superbly balanced and agile, that rewards driver commitment. The light direct power steering has loads of feedback. It points brilliantly with pin sharp accuracy and darts through corners like a go-kart flat, composed, confidence inspiring and smile making.
For anyone who enjoys driving, twisting roads will attract you like moths to a light. The Toyota 86 GT is one of those rare but special cars that will always cause you to find an excuse for a drive, with even a mundane trip to the shops navigated the long way, so you can enjoy more seat time.
What’s more, the 86 GT is unexpectedly practical, with a decent size boot that easily accommodates a couple of small cases, sports and overnight bags.
Like every Toyota the 86GT comes with renowned bullet-proof reliability, low running and serving costs. It also has five ANCAP stars and features a full spread of active and passive safety features.
The driver-focused Toyota 86 GT is supremely engaging, stylish and so very affordable.