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Test drive: LLM motoring editor Lisa Curtiss reviews the Toyota GT 86

By Lisa Curtiss  |  December 14, 2020

For a thoroughly engaging, exciting and stylish drive, the Toyota GT 86 takes some beating. It might be the world’s most compact four-seater sports car, but it certainly packs a punch and it’s no surprise it’s a firm favourite for countless performance car lovers across the globe.

Conceived as an entirely driver-focused machine, the GT 86 was designed to re-capture the purity of a true classic sports car experience – with precise, instant responses to the smallest throttle and steering inputs, and the kind of performance that’s sought by those for whom driving is one of their life’s passions.

To achieve this exceptional drive, chief engineer Tetsuya Tada and his Subaru counterpart, Toshio Masuda, were determined for the GT 86 to be rear-wheel drive and also turbocharge free, opting go back to Toyota’s sporting roots. Instead of a conventional heavy powertrain, they installed a compact, front-mounted, free-revving, horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ petrol engine that drives the rear wheels. This, combined with the car’s light weight, low inertia and a low centre of gravity to achieve the best possible power-to-weight ratio, resulted in a spirited and accessible performance and dynamic character.

It’s not all about performance though. This is a wonderfully handsome and striking car – and one that’s even better viewed in the metal on test. Its design is all about using modern sports car technologies to create a car that is both beautiful to look at and a pleasure to drive. Toyota calls this concept ‘Neo Functionalism’, expressing how the car’s driving quality and aesthetic beauty are part of its functionality.

An example of this ethos are the exterior lines and surfaces which are designed not only to look good, but also to help the driver to know just where each corner of the vehicle is at all times, so it is easy to place accurately on the road or track. The view out from inside the car was integral to the design process too, so the front wings are clearly visible from the wheel, as are the car’s rear quarters. This continues inside with a horizontal dashboard design which helps communicate the vehicle’s roll posture and also centre-line to the driver – both handy performance-driving aids.

Every design detail also serves to maintain or improve the car’s aerodynamics, including the addition of two fins in the lower bumper beneath the grille aperture. There are seven bold exterior paint choices – Pure Red, GT Ice Silver metallic, GT Black metallic, GT Starlight Blue, GT Grey metallic, GT Orange metallic and GT White Pearl.

Enter the cabin to experience quality trims and fabrics, a small track-car inspired steering wheel and a 4.2- inch colour TFT multi-information display which shows read-outs for performance-focused driving, including torque and power curves, lap time function and even G-forces. Drivers can also make use of a new Track driving mode, that deactivates the car’s vehicle stability control and traction control electronic systems. All controls are driver-centric and ergonomically placed. There’s a comprehensive raft of other state-of-the-art, safety, infotainment and driving aid tech too, as you’d expect from Toyota.

On test, the GT 86 proved an absolute driving delight. Its agility, instant power and pin-sharp cart-like handling delivered thrills and excitement on trip. It’s actually as good, if not better a drive than more than a few performance cars costing many times its price. The Nürburgring-tested driver’s seat provided welcome support even when negotiating tight turns at speed, and was comfortable on even long journeys. The soft knee pads built into the door trim and centre console were handy too in helping keep pedal control when the car was thrown around. Eye-catching to a fault, it won many an admiring look. A simply cracking car I wish I owned!