For many years, Toyota – as a manufacturer – had a dearth of exciting products, instead choosing to kill off its most desirable nameplates like MR-2, Celica and Supra in favour of hybrids and reliable (if dull) hatchbacks. But, in 2012, it launched an entirely driver-focused car: a rear-driven, lightweight, normally aspirated, relatively affordable coupe. Built in conjunction with Subaru (which markets almost exactly the same vehicle as the BR-Z), the Toyota effort was called the GT86 and it was quite brilliant. Really, it has no direct rivals, although you could make an argument that the Mazda MX-5 is close in ethos (if not in structure) to the GT86, while the Nissan 370Z is a bigger, heavier, V6-powered machine. Stymied by customer demand for hot hatchbacks, which are more practical and often faster across ground, the GT86 is nevertheless a wonderful second-hand buy as it offers pure, accessible motoring thrills.
It’s simple: there’s but one choice for the GT86’s motive power, a 2.0-litre, flat-four (often called a ‘boxer’) petrol engine that lacks for either turbo- or supercharging. It has continued largely unchanged since launch in 2012, when it doled out 200hp and 204Nm, but a 2017 update – including mildly tweaked exterior looks for the GT86’s body and a cabin improved in terms of quality finishing – saw modest increases of 5hp and 9Nm, to peaks of 205hp and 213Nm. Either way, choose a six-speed manual model of Toyota GT86, of any age, and performance will be of the order of 0-100km/h in around 7.5 seconds and a top speed of circa 225km/h. These most certainly aren’t ground-breaking numbers today and they weren’t even when the car was launched, but the GT86’s secret lies in how it uses those outputs. Lightweight and rear-driven, the Toyota engages its driver like almost no hot hatch of the past 25 years can; it’ll put a smile on your face even when you’re going at legal road speeds and it can get up to all manner of tricks and oversteer nonsense if you’re in a place where you can exploit such things. The GT86 puts the driver at the very centre of its experience – and that’s what makes it such a rewarding car to own.
There’s only one version, so all you need to do with the GT86 is decide how much budget you have to spend on a used example – the more cash you have, the newer the car you’ll get. But don’t be put off early models, because Toyota’s excellent reliability record and the GT86’s relative mechanical simplicity means that well-cared-for examples (and they will be well-cared for, as motoring enthusiasts buy this sort of car) should provide dependable driving fun, day in and day out, for many a year to come. The only thing you must do when buying a GT86 is pick a manual version and not the automatic…
Toyota GT86 manual (pre-2017MY)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Maximum speed: 225km/h
0-100km/h: 7.6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 7.8 litres/100km
• Divine to drive
• Has few obvious rivals
• Mechanically robust
• Limited to one variant
• Torque-light power delivery
• Some interior plastics leave a bit to be desired
The Toyota GT86 is not very practical and its peaky power delivery may annoy people who are used to forced-induction performance, but there is little doubt the Japanese coupe is a work of genius. It represents a breed of car that has largely died out, yet – if you sample the GT86 – you’ll wonder why on Earth that has come to be the case. It’s one of the greatest real-world performance cars, of any shape or size, that you can possibly buy.