Toyota’s new coupe’s GT86 appeal

Toyota has finally gone back into the coupe market – it was worth the wait, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

The Toyota Celica was growing alarmingly quickly in my rear-view mirror before pulling level for the driver to have a good look, then zipping past on the roundabout and blasting into the distance as the driver put one hand out of his window with a digit raised.

I'm still not sure whether it was a thumbs-up or a less pleasant way to let me know that either he was envious I was driving Toyota's new GT86 or didn't rate it against his Celica.

Either way at least it was recognition Toyota has moved back into the sports coupe sector… after the Celica came to the end of the road in 2006.

Not that the GT86 is a modern-day Celica. It was actually inspired by the spirit of three past models in Toyota's 50-year sports car heritage – the Sports 800 and 2000GT from the Sixties and a Corolla GT. A 2000GT was actually parked beside the clay model of the new GT86 coupe as designers worked on it.

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The GT86 is actually a joint effort between Toyota and Subaru, the latter is badged BRZ.

So why the GT86 tag? Well, that's also down to tradition for the coupe's in-house development code of 086A was more than just harking back to the Corolla GT AE86. The new engine's 86mm square bore and stroke are the same as the in-line four-cylinder engine used in the Toyota Celica and MR2 and even the diameter of the GT86's chrome-tipped twin exhausts is 86mm. All very Japanese when it comes to attention to detail.

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Just the one engine is offered – a Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre, flat-four boxer engine with Toyota's D-4S injection technology. The result is 197bhp – pretty impressive given that Toyota has avoided the turbo charging route favoured by Subaru, but it needs to be worked hard to get the best out of it – peak power is at 7,000rpm while maximum torque is at a heady, narrow band between 6,400 and 6,600rpm.

With the need to keep the engine on the boil, the optional six-speed automatic gearbox in my test car came into its own, kicking down readily or it can be changed manually via the gear lever or flappy paddles behind the steering wheel.

On paper the automatic may not pick up from a standing start as quickly as the manual although it's more economical – I got 35 to 40mpg in mixed driving – and has lower emissions but, once rolling, it delivers searing acceleration and a glorious, raucous exhaust note which is piped into the cabin via a sound creator so it complies with strict noise regulations in some countries without sacrificing a sporty exhaust note.

The firm suspension is sensitive to poor road surfaces but gets smoother as speed builds… along with tyre and wind noise. You don't buy a sports coupe for ultimate ride comfort but the GT86 doesn't disappoint when it comes to handling and roadholding. The front engine/rear-wheel drive combination and stiff lightweight chassis's near-perfect balance make it extremely entertaining and agile on twisty roads especially with the engine and stability control in sport mode.

On the outside, the GT86 looks stunning but it's not so stylish inside with a lot of dark plastic and, while well screwed together, it's no Audi TT when it comes to ambience or quality of materials. The instruments, dominated by a central rev counter with inset digital speedo, flanked by a smaller speedo dial and fuel gauge, have a slightly retro feel but work well and the switchgear and rotary knobs for the heating a ventilation system are sensibly laid out.

The low-slung driving position has all the adjustment you need but with the small back screen limiting visibility consider the �750 upgrade to the Toyota Touch & Go system for a reversing camera as well as satellite navigation, advanced Bluetooth and Google Local Search.

Toyota says the GT86 is currently the most compact four-seater sports car but the two rear bucket seats are next to useless for anyone but small children. Determined to try them out, I persuaded my wife to squeeze in but legroom is non-existent even before you put the front seats right back and the sloping roof limits headroom. She managed a short journey with her legs across the other seat… and is still complaining!

Accept the GT86 as a two-seater and it is really quite practical with a decent 243-litre boot with a wide, deep opening. The one-piece rear seat folds flat with the boot floor.

One high-spec model is offered with dual-zone climate control, seven airbags, stability and traction control, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, touchscreen control panel with Bluetooth phone connection and music streaming, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights, rear privacy glass, 17in alloy wheels and rear spoiler. Leather and alcantara heated sports seats add �1,600.

The GT86 marks a welcome return to the coupe market for Toyota – focused enough to be fun to drive and, as a two-seater, practical and comfortable enough to be everyday transport.

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