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Toyota’s Sporting Heritage Rekindled

GT-86-11They say, whoever they may be, that the most joy can be experienced through the simple things in life. Whenever you may have a bad day, this often holds true; a warm day with the hint of a breeze, an email from an old friend, the smell of your favourite food wafting through the house, all of these things can be that little nudge to put you into a better mood. For car lovers, add the Toyota GT86 to that list.

You may be dubious about the styling from the outside, if your first impression comes from a picture seen online or in a catalogue. Something seems a little off, not quite right. It looks sporty, indeed, and different. But you can’t appreciate everything just yet. And then you catch your first glimpse of the beast in the flesh. And you smile. And walk around to get the bigger picture. And again. And again.

Toyota say that the GT86 was inspired by the old 2000GT first displayed at the 1965 Tokyo Motorshow, a 2.0 litre straight-six powered coupe which helped establish Toyota’s global reputation as a sports car maker. The similarities are clear – the low to the ground profile and the long, sleek hood being chief among them. Unsurprising, really, as apparently a 2000GT was placed next to the clay model as designers worked on their idea for a new sports car. And it really is a striking car – the angry headlights, the bold front and rear fenders, the two massive exhausts squatting down low at the back below a thin spoiler perched on the boat, the two-tone alloy wheels setting everything off nicely. GT86_34_2012

Inside, the cabin is somewhat small – getting down and inside is somewhat of a task for those of us with lanky frames and long legs – yet when sitting in the astonishingly comfortable racing seats, there suddenly appears to be acres of room (as long as you’re not sitting in the two back seats, which were designed to hold two spare wheels rather than passengers). The dashboard is a pleasing array of soft lighting and minimal information, black and red stitching adding to the overall effect. Nothing is overbearing or overboard, and the car is better for it. Everything in the cabin is focused on the driver – the shape and layout of each driving element, the small steering wheel, and the seats which grip on tightly. The handbrake is nice and close, and the seats are designed so your elbows don’t keep hitting against the gear stick (always handy) while the centre console is minimalist, making sure you’ll be keeping your eyes on the road.

So far so good.

The overall spirit of the car derives from the AE86 – front engine, modest power, rear wheel drive and loads of fun. The engine is a little quieter than expected when you push the start button and growls each time you press down even slightly. But the GT86 finds it’s true calling when the traffic clears and you find yourself on a straight stretch of road – you press your foot down and everything around you begins to blur as you realise these cars were not made for inching along the tarmac, but roaring down a twisting open road, and as the cabin is filled with a beautiful warbling roar you can’t help but smile as widely as you’ve ever done so.

GT86_19_2012It’s one of those things you can’t just read about – you need to feel it in the flesh. With a 2.0 litre non–turbo charged engine and rear wheel drive, it’s a real driver’s car. 0-60 comes in just 7.6 seconds, in the same region as the older Toyota Celica and MR2. While that may not be astoundingly fast – when combined with a light body, and fantastic grip (tyres come from a Prius, not that you would guess), the GT86 positively barrels down the road, eating up the miles, grabbing on to each corner and holding tight until you shoot out the other side. You might get wherever you’re going a little quicker in a high-end Mercedes or BMW, but it’s guaranteed you won’t have nearly as much fun. Or get the same angry glares which seemed to be solely reserved for politicians and people in BMWs. It’s understandable why the GT86 managed something not many other cars have done – earned the approval of Jeremy Clarkson. The GT86 was not only named Top Gear magazine’s car of the year but Clarkson’s personal car of the year too. The GT86 is only the second car to earn the coveted magazine award – the Aygo first won it in 2005, sharing first place with the Bugatti Veyron. It is, as Clarkson opines, a car designed with only one thing in mind: fun. And lots of it.

GT86-53

This is the point in most motoring columns where the reviewer finishes waxing lyrical about the magnificent features of the car and brings proceedings resolutely down to earth with a big ‘but.’ But…that just isn’t the case here. When driving around I was informed by a local butcher’s daughter that the special blend Toyota orange-red colour wasn’t quite to her liking. This was, of course, completely ignored. Besides the magnificent orange-red which suits the slightly mad air to the GT86, there are six other colours to suit your particular palate. And though the annual road tax for my particular test model weighed in at a hefty €750, let’s be realistic – carbon emissions and considerable road tax aren’t going to be high on your agenda if you’re considering the GT86 in the first place. And ok, perhaps the ride quality could be better too – you may find yourself unknowingly bopping up and down to that catchy beat on the radio on the more uneven roads. Then again, much of that relates to the fact that Ireland’s roads often have as many holes in them as the proverbial Swiss cheese. And it’s not without its rivals. Peugeot’s RCZ might be underpowered when compared to the Toyota but may turn the heads of driver’s who favour looks over sheer power, while the Audi TT offers a fast and fun, part coupe, part hot hatch experience. GT86_16_2012

These days, many people seem to be intent on sucking the fun out of driving. Now it’s all about how much carbon it produces, or how high the mpg is – environmental concerns that ensure the car is a utility vehicle whose sole concern is transporting one from A to B and back again. Worthy aspirations they may be indeed, but it’s nice to see a purpose-built sports car in the vein of the Skyline, 350Z and the Toyota sports cars of old – one which you can simply sit into and drive, with no particular destination in mind – a real driver’s car.

And one that puts a real smile on your face.

 

The Facts

Cost: €39,895

Engine size: 2.0L

BHP: 200

0-60: 7.7 seconds

Top Speed: 140 mph

MPG (Average): 35

Rating: 9/10 – a welcome return for Toyota.

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