The Toyota GT86 may not be an obvious green car , but it’s one of the best driver’s cars currently on sale , it’s a fraction of the cost of many sports cars, and we managed to get 50mpg out of it – so it gets a 10 out of 10 rating.
Toyota is probably best known today for its
, which may be efficient, but they’re certainly not drivers’ cars. Against this background, the company decided to develop the GT86, with the express goal of it being a driver’s car. The Toyota Corolla AE86 of the 1980s was an inspiration for today’s GT86; it shares the same principles of being front-engined, rear-wheel drive, lightweight, and fun to drive.
Toyota partnered with Subaru to develop the new car, with Subaru providing the boxer engine
. You can buy the car either as a
Toyota GT86 or as a Subaru BRZ
The brief for the designers and engineers was to make the GT86 a driver’s car. To achieve this the car had to be lightweight (it weighs just 1180kg), rear-wheel drive, and responsive to driver inputs . Subaru’s 2-litre petrol boxer engine has a lower centre of gravity than tall, upright, conventional petrol engines, so this unit was used – but without a turbo, as a turbo adds weight, and turbo lag can spoil an engine’s response. Another interesting and refreshing decision was to use relatively narrow (215/45R17) low grip tyres which, combined with a limited slip differential, has resulted in the car’s handling having fantastic adjustability.
We think the GT86 looks good on the outside, and also inside, where the design is functional but also attractive, with a mix of interesting materials. It has a great driving position, but there’s very little room in the rear seats; they’re fine for small children, but not for much more. It has a boot rather than a hatchback, which limits its practicality somewhat, but the rear seats do fold flat, creating a long space from the back of the boot to the rear of the front seats.
The ‘infotainment’ screen isn’t the most upmarket-looking of systems, but for a touch screen it actually works well; it’s quick to get a phone connected via Bluetooth, and it’s easy to use the satnav. One complaint is that the volume control on the system is very fiddly to use, and there are no steering wheel-mounted volume controls.
We also couldn’t find any read-out on the dash showing the remaining driving range, which is a very rare omission on a modern car.
You only need to drive the GT86 a short distance to realise that it is very different from today’s average car. The low-slung driving position, responsive steering and brakes, rear-wheel drive chassis and relatively narrow tyres all combine to provide a driving experience that is adjustable, like virtually no other car on sale . However the experience isn’t like that of track-focused machinery such as Caterhams, where there’s often lots of downsides that go with a direct feel, such as heavy steering, firm suspension, too much noise, lots of impractical ergonomics etc. The Toyota is still easy to drive and has a comfortable ride on most surfaces. The cabin can get quite noisy, presumably due to weight saving in the insulation department, but it’s still a relatively refined cruiser when compared to some other lightweight sports cars .
This test car was an automatic, which is slightly more economical on the official tests than the 6-speed manual version . We’ve also driven the manual, and the manual is a better car to drive. However our aim of testing this car was to see if we could live with the automatic – and the answer is yes we could. In situations such as driving around town or in stop-start traffic, leaving the transmission in auto mode made life easy. However with more progressive driving on the open road, or even on motorways, the gearbox tends to hunt around for gears, and so it’s definitely preferable to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear manually under such conditions.
Another factor in the GT86’s character is the noise of the boxer engine – which seems to sound even better in the manual version. We’ve already established that this Subaru engine has a low centre of gravity , which assists with the car’s handling. However compared to some rivals this is not a super-fast and powerful car, and the engine struggles in the torque department. You’ve really got to keep the revs high – above 4000rpm – to get the best response from the engine, and this is very evident when attempting to accelerate past traffic on uphill stretches of road, when you really feel that the car needs more ‘thrust’. You also have to change down from sixth to overtake anything at motorway speeds – in most cases to fourth gear.
A way to achieve a better response would be to add a turbocharger. We know from driving Subarus that this transforms this engine, however the design brief for the car was to use a naturally-aspirated engine. Even so, it would be interesting just to see what this car would be like with a turbo
The GT86 has a number of drive settings – more so with the automatic transmission than in the manual car. You can drive it in Normal mode, or Sport, which allows it to rev higher before changing gear, or VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) Sport, which reduces the interaction of the traction control. There’s also a Snow mode.
On dry roads the GT86 has good levels of grip. However in the wet you can really have fun with the back end
The official economy and emissions figures for the automatic GT86 are 39.8mpg and 164g/km CO2. These are slightly better than the manual version, which returns 36.2mpg along with 181g/km CO2. For a car that is this involving to drive, these are good figures – however things get better. We drove for 3 hours up the M1 and A1 and achieved 50mpg. Including some driving in built-up areas before and after, we averaged 48.2mpg in total.
Exceeding the official figures by such a margin is such a huge refreshing change compared to the vast majority of the cars that we test, which fall short of their official figures by a considerable amount. Why is this? Well, most cars today are designed to get through the ‘low load’ NEDC test with the lowest emissions and highest miles per gallon. Therefore their engines are optimised to do this, as well as harnessing as much ‘green’ technology as possible such as stop-start systems etc. The GT86 doesn’t have any green tech to help it through the NEDC test. Therefore in real-life driving, when such technology doesn’t make as much of a difference, it comes closer to its official figures than most other cars, and this has to be helped by two factors – its light weight, and its aerodynamics.
Drive the GT86 hard and you’ll see the fuel economy drop – 34mpg was the worst average we saw – but overall it averaged 40mpg during its 1000 miles with us, which matches its official combined figure exactly – very impressive for such a rewarding driver’s car. However because of its official emissions, the GT86 has a 23% company car tax liability – or 27% with the manual transmission.
There’s just one GT86 model – which is available with manual or automatic transmission. The manual is better to drive and cheaper at £24,995; the automatic is more economical in the official tests and more expensive at £26,495. Our test car had the options of Touch and Go (£750), pearlescent paint (£650), black leather and alcantara heated sports seats (£1600) – taking the price to £29,495.
There’s also the virtually identical Subaru BRZ, which costs £24,995 in SE guise, or £26,495 in SE Lux form. Bearing in mind the rewarding driving experience, we’d say it offers very good value for money.
It also has good levels of equipment and safety kit, and being a Toyota-Subaru cross, the GT86 should be reliable and durable. Be aware that Toyota offers a five-year warranty but Subaru only offers one for three years.
The Toyota GT86 is quite simply a revelation – at least for people who want an affordable and efficient driver’s car. If people say it needs to be more powerful, or quieter, or more refined, they’re simply missing the point of this car. For normal driving it provides more feedback and fun than virtually all other cars on sale today . And the key thing is that you can enjoy all this at legal speeds – unlike most cars with such levels of fluid agility and responsiveness, you don’t have to drive it at license-losing velocity to enjoy the benefits. All other manufacturers should learn from this car. Although we could live with the more economical automatic, ultimately we would prefer the manual version.
Our only issue was whether we could award the GT86 a 10 out of 10 rating when the official fuel economy figure doesn’t even quite make 40mpg, even in the more efficient automatic version. But as soon as we drove for three hours up the M1 and achieved 50mpg in real-life use it was decided – the GT86 gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 10 out of 10.