A week with… a Toyota GT86

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A small, simple rear-wheel drive coupe co-designed with Subaru. So openly masturbated over by most of the car press I thought about wiping down the seats with a damp cloth before I drove it, just to be on the safe side. 

Day 1: When you get in the GT86 the driving position feels odd. If you slide the seat to the right place to work the pedals the wheel feels close and upright. In fact, it’s not odd, it’s actually perfect and most other cars are getting it wrong. The engine note is less impressive. It’s a Subaru Boxer engine so you hope it would sound like an old Impreza. It doesn’t. It just sounds like an engine. Since it’s a 2-litre that makes 197bhp without a turbo you might think it would also be a bit stroppy and need revving but actually it pulls beautifully from low revs and you can short shift all the way through town. Whilst driving through city streets it’s impossible to ignore that the ride is a bit firm, but not unpleasantly so.

Day 2: The useful low down pull is surprising but I’ve noticed something odd when you rev the engine. At about 4000rpm it suddenly hits a strange patch where the delivery goes very flat and all it does is make more noise. Then hits its stride again. The sound still isn’t very nice but I’ve just discovered that if you’re all helmsmithy and blip the throttle on a downchange it does a sweet little bark.

As befits a sporty car, the GT86 has a red light and a little chime to tell you when to change up. Strangely, the trip computer gives you the option to move the threshold to wherever you want in the rev range. Unfortunately, it only allows you to do this when the car is stopped so don’t do what I did and experimentally set it at 2000rpm while at traffic lights and then have to spend the next 15 minutes in slow but constantly moving traffic being repeatedly flashed and beeped at by your own dashboard.

Day 3: Returning to the GT86 in a car park today I notice that it has disproportionately massive exhaust pipes. They’re one of a number of styling details that don’t quite work. The basic shell is quite pretty but it’s spoilt by wanky trimmings like the clear rear lights and the overdone rear spoiler, as if they left all the details to a teenager.

Day 4: My wife needs picking up from the airport. The GT86 isn’t a hatchback but, unusually, the back seats fold down. It’s surprisingly practical and can easily accommodate the kind of vast suitcase used by someone who has brought a load of Christmas decorations back from the United States. You know we have Christmas here now, I say grumpily. ‘What’s going on with this car? It’s like being trapped in the ‘90s’ she replies, wilfully ignoring me and poking at the vile red leather trimmings on the interior. She’s right. The trim is ghastly. Fortunately, you can spec the seats, wheel and gearlever in all black but that won’t do away with the crappiness of the dash. The lower half is okay, especially the heater controls and the metal buttons that disable the traction control, but the upper bit is hopeless and some of the shapes are so needlessly odd that it looks like it’s coming apart at the seams. The optional nav unit, rather worryingly called ‘Toyota Touch & Go’, appears artlessly slapped in place rather than smoothly integrated.

Day 5: There’s something else curious about the nav unit. In most modern cars it has a settings function that changes things about the car in general. In the GT86 it just does nav, radio and phone. There’s no sense that it’s integrated into the rest of the electronics and that makes the whole car feel strangely old fashioned. It doesn’t have those lane change three-flash indicators either and if you don’t give the wiper stalk a firm shove to make it flick wipe, the blades twitch slightly and then stop again. These days everyone else has managed to engineer this stuff out, or in. It’s like Toyota did the GT86 15 years ago and then forgot to put it into production until now. Which might also explain why the third brake light sits on three little legs sprouting from the parcel shelf and looks half-arsed, as if no one told the designer such things are mandatory until two weeks before sales started.

Day 6: It’s raining. The GT86 wears fairly narrow 215 tyres which explains why it’s easy to spin the wheels pulling out of junctions. This can get quite wearing. It also explains why you can get it to slide amusingly through tight corners in the accepted dab-of-oppo style. This can get quite addictive. It’s one of those cars that allows you to dick about at low speed, much like an MX5. I’ve stopped wondering how they could design a brand new, clean sheet of paper car with such a cockarsed interior and started driving about looking for places to slither around in a comical fashion.

Day 7: It’s dried up a bit. I think I get the GT86 now. It feels like all the time and effort has been spent on the mechanical parts and tuning them until they’re right. This is one of those cars where all the controls are just the right weight, especially the delightful gearchange, and fundamental things like the driving position are bob on. It really is a very lovely thing to drive and consistently hilarious when it’s damp. That said, it still feels like the styling team went home early, possibly in about 1997, and it’s not cheap either, starting at 25 grand and rising to almost £28,000 if you stick leather and sat-nav on it. For that money you might feel entitled to complain about the cacky interior plastics and stupidly placed cup holders. But then you’d find a nice bit of road or a moist roundabout and suddenly all that stuff wouldn’t matter because you’d be laughing your face off.


  1. Oh, sounds a bit like the Honda S2000 from about a hundred years ago then, but I still want one of those; can’t say that this GT86 appeals to me in the same way though and how long will it be until this thing is recalled by Toyota to have replacement dust caps fitted, or to change the number plate mounting screws or something even more important?

  2. £25k? Cor blimey Charlie.

    I still haven’t decided whether to put myself on the waiting list for this car. The wait was 24 months, which made the decision an easy “no”, but I hear the length has come down quite a bit…

  3. “starting at 25 grand”.
    Sounds like there is a major tax contribution there. Just bought a new manual GT86 here (Dubai) and it was AED 95,000 which at today’s exchange rate is…….GBP 16,183.

  4. Apparently when the rear seats are down its designed to carry a second set of wheels and tyres for track days, and the interior door handles are placed so a roll cage clears them. It starts at just over $30k in Australia, so about $10k less than a Golf GTI.

  5. Everything above is true – mine is great !! Big grin after every drive.

  6. I have to agree on the styling details… The rear end is too busy, the badges are too big for the bootlid, the exhaust pipes belong on a modified GT-R, and the interior is indeed “a bit shit” for 2012. This is the kind of car that will look excellent on console racing games like Gran Turismo, Need For Speed, et al. In fact, it looks a bit like it was designed by computer game developers. I’ve not driven one, so I can’t comment on that, but enough people have said it’s brilliant, so I’ll take that as read.

  7. I like a “dab-of-oppo” on wet roundabouts too. Not sure that justifies £28,000 though.

    If wet roundabouts are your thing, get a £300 RWD chariot off ebay. Just as much toys, leather, zero depreciation and approximately £26,700 cheaper.

    Plus, when you have an ‘incident’ and kiss a kerb, you can laugh about it, not cry about it into your chequebook.

  8. Sniff Petrol allows comments? Shit, that’s another thing I’m going to have to copy. — Otto

  9. Only on the ‘sensible’ car tests Otto. The rest of Sniff Petrol is very much set to ‘send’ not ‘receive’.

  10. Took a test drive in one…….What a car!……The interior plastics do feel cheap,but thats not what its about…..this is a car for people who love driving….If you want a bland car with a quality interior,buy an Audi!

  11. Bought one for £29K that is a one of a kind special Toyota built for a car show version, certificate and ID says its a one off, its has everything speck wise and is a manual tranny, the bits I hate are: The rattle of the door cards when the JBL stereo is wound up above VOL 20, fix was silicone round the edge of the 3 parts than make up the door card, door card has to be removed and stripped down to component parts to do this.

    2 the middle tray area –> why did they not put a bloody hinged lid on it ?????, I suffer with bad back (have an 1994 MR2 Turbo) and the center console is bloody uncomfortable, you can’t rest your arm on it (like you can in the MK2 MR2) and you can’t lean on it to get out of the gt86 without either your arm dissapearing in the tray bit or hurting your arm –> fix a bit of MDF cut and plained to shape, covered with black speakerbox material and a couple of bits of “nice” wood stratigicly placed on the “home made top” that hook / slot it in the tray hole area, job done, may mass produce and sell on ebay in leather !

    3 the on / vol knob on the stereo is toooooooooo small, try turning it up while driving down a bumpy road, you end up turing it off !!!

    The GT86 drives very very very well (not as quick as the MR2 Turbo but still packing a fair amount of grunt) and was built to be driven, drifting is a definate go go in one of these and large roundabouts are fun fun fun, the GT86 back end might be an issue in the snow however as the rear end is light and wheel spinning in the dry let alone the snow could be the end of the car to a non experianced rear wheel driven car owner, my MR2 Turbo has 400+ KG of engine holding rear wheels down and I drove fine in the snow all be it very sensible with fun in the works car park, the GT86 in the wet in the works car park is also fun, doughnuts yay, oh wait a min need new tyres at £189 each !!!!

    The 4000RPM is an issue with the VVT (a ECU upgrade or valve replacement fixes) all new gt86 cars as of end of November have the new ECU firmware I am told and the recall is on Toyota UKs erbsite, mine had the valve replaced in the VVT area, which was the mechanical way to fix the issue before the ECU upgrade / tweak.

    I have also changed all the SMD LEDs in the control swithces (heater, VSC buttons etc) to blue which looks cooler than the boaring orangey-red, this is where the electronics expert in me came out and I went into “chav” mode.

    Gonna remove the darn buzzer that comes on from opening the door and not wearing a seatbelt at some point as its one word “anoying”.

    I already know too much about the car having stripped most of it’s insides out and at least its easy to remove.

    Marks out of 10 would be a 7.5 its a great car to drive, the seats are perfect but the “plastic” interia lets it down a little, the JBL sound system in great once the modifiaction to the door cards is done with silicone (maybe Toyota might do it with that black sticky tar like rubber stuff they use)

  12. Reading the previous post should serve as a warning to anyone wanting to join this particular group of owners.
    Things rattle with the volume above 20? That’ll be your eardrums fella.

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  14. With the prices of clannish protection latterly? Believably not.

  15. I just took delivery of my GT86 4 days ago. Still running in so not too much tomfoolery yet but what a machine. total grin to drive as the article mentions. Interior is rubbish and I thought the centre brakelight had come from Halfords but when you’re going sideways round a roundabout none of that matters. I have to say I like the engine induction noise, but havent explored the upper revs yet so can’t comment on the exhaust howl.
    Great car, a good choice.

  16. I like your blog about Toyota GT86.You have update the awesome information.Great !!

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  18. Someone mentioned recall for something silly?

    About time they recalled it for the things that really are crap, like about 20% having crap gearboxes and almost all manuals having an oil leak where some chump designer thought it a good idea to use silicone sealant rather than gaskets.

  19. Took delivery of a 2,700 mile demonstrator, sub £20k. After 2 days of test drives. Replaces a Mk3 2.0i Sport MX5. I considered and test drove Audi TT Quattro coupe and BMW 123d. Build quality and interior of the Toyota are not up to BMW & Audi standards; these cars are certainly accomplished, competent and capable of eating up big miles. The GT86 is great move up from an MX5 , with similar raw enthusiasm, but more polish and accuracy. It’s great fun and puts a big smile on my face. I simply don’t want journeys to end and keep thinking up excuses to take it out on the road again. The German cars were by comparison uninvolving; heavy and sluggish in steering and handling response. It may not suit everyone, but I’m really pleased with the GT86. If you are thinking about getting at GT86 take one for a test drive. Toyota are very accommodating.

  20. This car is absolutely gorgeous and sexy. I cant’t wait to see them out on the road! I got some of the literature about this car and haven’t heard any updates on it manufacturing but it looks absolutely incredible!

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  39. i feel that in your review, you’ve missed the essence of this car. is it well finished? no. is it refined? no. is it powerful? no. but is it the most fun you can have in any car even somewhat near the price range? absolutely. By all normal fit/finish standards this car is terrible, but it was never designed for that. weirdly, you assessment of the engine seems to be the most positive thing about this review, and while it is a wonderful base of an engine, it is the car’s biggest weak point. it definetely needs more power. it needs at least 50 hp more. low end power is the most obvious area of need. however, this car one of the most balanced,potent, and fantastic chassis that has been intorucuded in recent years. i own this car. every car i’ve owned previously has had a more powerful engine, and has been much faster, but the gt86 is by far the favorite car that i’ve owned.

  40. my car history is all rear wheel drive sports cars. the car before my gt86 was a 350z that, when i was done with is, had 434bhp. that car was way faster than my gt86, but i would rather have the gt86. It’s more fun. before that waS A V8 Mustang… goes without saying that the gt86 is more fun. i’m not giving my input defending my purchase. it honestly is the best fun you can have without spending thousands more.

  41. Gt86 is just a old mans car its slow and full of cheap plastic looks like a yaris interior

    1. Bob is spank you in my mildly mod gt86

  42. Still looking for the wrong idea with this one. Not that I want to find one but programming…


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