The first car I ever test drove was Toyota’s GT86 back in early 2013, the reincarnation of the classic AE86 and the 2000GT which helped to establish Toyota’s reputation as a sports car maker. I was interviewing Dave Shannon, then the managing director of Toyota Ireland, about something else entirely, when I asked him about the brand’s model range. Shannon mentioned the GT86, which had only recently landed, and the sheer joy that came from barrelling around the roads in Glendalough in this new beast. One thing led to another, and several weeks later I found myself behind the wheel of the new model.
The GT86 is really built with the driver in mind – front engine, a decent amount of power, and rear wheel drive. The tyres are taken from a Prius, which might be surprising, but they tend to lose grip pretty easily, which is great for drifting. The thin roof (measuring just 0.65mm) even has two bulges in it to allow both driver and passenger to comfortably wear a helmet. It’s fair to say that it has been quite a moderate commercial success – selling over 170,000 units since it launched in 2012 (though only 17,000 in Europe), and garnering widespread acclaim from journalists and consumers alike.
The hope is that these figures will grow in the coming years, as Toyota reinforces its abilities in this segment. Nor will it be alone for much longer, if Toyota unveils a new Supra at the Frankfurt motor show later this year.
Given that several years have passed since it was first launched, it’s time for the GT86’s midlife facelift, informed by the cars performance in the Le Mans and Nürburgring 24 hour endurance races with Toyota Gazoo Racing. There isn’t, in my opinion, too much to improve on, and Toyota hasn’t changed a lot. The 2.0L flat four boxer engine developing 197 bhp remains, propelling you from 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds (8.2 in the automatic version).
Alongside suspension and damping adjustments to increase handling, stability and ride comfort, and improving body rigidity, Toyota has added a track mode which lets you have a little more fun with the car before the computer steps in. Access to information on power and torque, G-forces, as well as a stop watch to keep track of your lap times is provided by way of a new multi-information display, helping you to improve your sideways driving skills.
“We’ve remade almost everything, but I think the biggest difference is probably in the area of electronics – chassis systems such as ABS and traction control,” explains Toyota chief engineer Tetsuya Tada. “That is where the most significant change between the two versions can be seen.”
On the outside it’s much the same car as it was in 2012. LED headlights with integrated daytime running lights are a new feature, the bumpers have been revised just a little, and a new, full width wing type spoiler replaces the older version, improving aerodynamics and stability. The cabin, meanwhile, has been given a little revamp in terms of trim and upholstery, while the steering wheel is a little smaller.
On the whole the facelift is more of a nip and tuck, tweaking parts here and there to improve what is already a fantastic vehicle – a proper driver’s car that can put a real smile on your face.