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.