Toyota has produced plenty of icons over the years. From the bruising twin-turbo Supra as seen in The Fast & The Furious to the lightweight and nimble MR2 sportscar or legendary Landcruiser, the Japanese marque has catered well for the petrolhead. Does the GT86 live up to this tradition?

First impressions on this occasion are slightly skewed by the test car’s distinctly non-standard appearance. Designed for the Goodwood Festival of Speed and inspired by early 80’s ‘IMSA’ racing Celicas, it boasts glitzy gold 18” wheels from Rota, a performance exhaust from Miltek and V-Maxx lowering springs. The stripes are in vinyl and completely removable (not that I’d want to) making the GT86 stand out anywhere your drive it. If I’m honest, it’s Marmite on wheels and I love it. That the standard car already has a chiselled, muscular appearance with an aggressive front and pert bottom doesn’t hurt. Add the stripes and it’s like a real-life Hot Wheels toy.

Look past the warpaint and you’ll see the features that make the GT86 such a temptation for those who love to drive. Up front is a 2.0 litre ‘flat’ (so called because the pistons travel horizontally instead of vertically) four engine powering the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic is available but seems a little out of place in such a focussed driving machine. A super-low seating position and unusual engine contribute to a centre of gravity just 18 inches above the tarmac, figures a Porsche would be proud of. Out back there’s also a limited slip differential to provide plenty of traction or easily controlled drifts if you prefer.

Inside there is technically room for four but only on short trips or if you really hate your rear seat passengers. More important are the two heavily sculpted front seats that hold you in place perfectly, small yet chunky steering wheel and a giant rev counter right in front of you. The short reach to the stubby gearlever confirms that this is an environment that’s been geared towards the driver. Thumbing the starter button brings the engine noisily to life with a distinctive burble from the giant rear exhaust pipes. The gear change is mechanical feeling, direct and for the most part very enjoyable apart from the odd notchy moment.

Those expecting serious firepower will be disappointed, the non-turbo engine produces 197bhp at a giddy 7,000rpm. You really have to rev this motor to get the best from it, while it’ll mooch along with less than 2,000rpm on the dial you need over 4,000 before it really wakes up. Even if you do poke it with a stick, the 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds is only on par with a BMW 320d. Straight line speed isn’t really the point of a car like the GT86 though. The modest power output means you can use more of the performance more of the time without expecting flashing blue lights in your rear view mirror. It also prevents the car from being too intimidating when it comes to cornering, something it does exceptionally well.

Even at low speeds, you can feel there is virtually no slack in the suspension, steering or gearbox. Up your pace and you find the GT86 corners with barely any roll and is beautifully balanced. Apart from a slightly sticky feeling around the straight ahead, the steering is very well weighted and fast too. Even with all the electronic nannies turned on you can feel the rear of the car pushing you around corners, given a private track (or deserted roundabout) and you’ll find it’s, even more, fun beyond the limit. A stab of throttle in the first couple of gears can unstick the rear tyres and get you sideways. This is not something to be feared though, a quick flick of the wrists on the steering will catch it by which time you’ll be grinning like a complete idiot.

Downsides? Well those use to a premium German cabin won’t be bowled over by the GT86’s interior. Although everything seems well made, some of the plastics look a bit cheap compared to a VW or Audi while the overall design is a little behind as well. Those after cheap running costs should look elsewhere too, I averaged around 28mpg while carbon emissions sit at 164g/km for the manual. Ride comfort and general usability also suffered at the hands of the modifications on this car. Over a succession of bumps the GT86 could bounce you almost out of your seat and speed bumps had to be taken at a crawl. Parking was a stressful activity thanks to stretched tyres that left the polished lip of the wheel with no protection from curbs; I managed to avoid damaging them but needed a gangplank to get to the curb most of the time. Then there was the noise, fantastic if you were going for it but the exhaust drone at motorway speeds coupled with the tyre roar and wind noise got old fast. No doubt a standard GT86 would be more agreeable on a day to day basis if a lot less dramatic.

If you think of a car only as a method of transportation to get you from A to B then the GT86 is not for you. Space is limited in the back, it’s expensive to run and not at all comfortable. If however, you see cars as a thing of pleasure that beg to be driven, the little Toyota will be right up your street. From the moment you approach the GT86 to the moment you glance back towards it as you walk away it makes you happy. For some, the modifications may be too much but for me its pure theatre, I’m smitten.


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Noise when driving hard

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Uncomfortable over rough tarmac


About the author: Alan Taylor-Jones
I've loved cars for as long as I can remember and love to share my passion for them.