Auto-tech review: Toyota GT86 sports car (video)

14 Nov 2012

They reckon that at least 40pc of the value of a high-end car today is in its technology. Starting off on this premise, it soon became apparent that the Toyota GT86 was probably the wrong car to try out. The idea is the technology takes a backseat and you just drive.

You could say this car is the biggest gadget I’ve ever reviewed, because really that’s all cars really are in a way – big gadgets that happen to get you from A to B. Like an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy S III, these ‘gadgets’ speak a lot about who you are and your tastes.

Car makers and tech giants have been in cahoots for some time now and even the wonderful Linux Foundation is forging alliances with carmakers with a view to putting more IT in vehicles.

Of course, if Google has its way we will have driverless cars soon enough and already car makers like Ford have self-parking systems built into their cars.

I remember speaking with a senior R&D chap from Fiat a few years ago who said driverless cars are the nirvana the industry is seeking and the logic is that without human intervention the cost of insurance will disappear overnight.

And let’s not forget the whole green tech revolution, where cars ranging from the Toyota Prius hybrid to Tesla’s Roadster and Model S prove electric vehicles don’t have to look like Mr Bean’s car.

Well, that’s all very well but the GT86 is the opposite of all of this. It’s about feeling so close to the road you could kiss it. But in many ways it’s like a last hurrah for the gear-heads of this world. It’s all car.

Video review of GT86:

The technology in the GT86 is pretty much invisible to the naked eye with the exception of obvious things like the hi-tech digital dashboard and the touchscreen multimedia console. The multimedia console is quite cool and it’s very easy to use Bluetooth to sync up your iPhone or whatever smartphone you use and conduct calls through the speaker system. Another cool feature is the ability to play your music straight from your smartphone onto the speaker system.

To begin with, the idea behind the GT86 is to make driving fun. Electronic control devices have been minimised to focus on the things that allow you to drive instinctively.

The rear-wheel drive car comes with a Boxer engine and dispenses with the typically large powertrain in favour of one set as low as possible. The two-litre petrol engine GT86, which has a six-speed gearbox, revs freely and accelerates so quickly that you don’t need a turbo-boost function.

Intent on giving gear-heads heady thrills, there are even amplifiers that transmit the sound of the engine back into the car to add to the giddiness of driving it.

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A little about the history of the GT86. It is modelled on the Toyota 2000GT, of which only 337 were ever made – a 2-litre straight-six-powered coupe first displayed at the 1965 Tokyo Motorshow. Apparently, its designers kept a 2000GT nearby to influence the shape of the GT86.

In terms of its engine, it owes its heritage to Toyota’s two-cylinder boxer-engined Sports 800, which was the world’s first front-mounted horizontally opposed engine and rear-wheel drive car and was presented at the 1962 Tokyo Motorshow.

So there’s pedigree and pride in the GT86’s design – as evinced by the fact the inner diameter of its chrome exhaust measures 86mm exactly.

The drive

I drive a 1.6-litre coupe on a daily basis so while the dimensions are similar I wasn’t sure if the extra power of a 2-litre petrol engine would aid my driving or hinder it and as I gingerly took off into the morning traffic I got to grips with the car.

The extra power caused me to rev high on take-off at first but as I settled into the drive I took in my temporarily new surroundings.

When you approach the car there’s wireless technology embedded in the key that automatically unlocks the car door. Without having to take the key out of your pocket you just put your foot on the clutch and hit the engine start button as the car detects the key’s presence.

The car powers up with a throaty roar and you’re off. The 200 bhp sports car can accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 7.6 seconds and consumes 7.8 litres of petrol per 100km.

The GT86 uses aerodynamic technology called “aero sandwiching”. Now before you think of lacklustre Irish politicians having lunch on the way to the next begging session in Brussels, this is a technique that is key to the car’s performance on the road.

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‘Aero sandwiching’ techniques employed in the car’s design causes the car to be pushed by air from all directions – top, bottom and both sides – causing the car to be sandwiched by air from all directions and this gives it stability both vertically and horizontally.

When I first looked at the car I realised it uses ordinary tyres rather than sports tyres and wondered what they were thinking putting ordinary tyres on this much muscle but it became apparent how well the car sticks to the road. Thanks to aero sandwiching, apparently.

The interesting thing about this car is that it attunes itself to your body, allowing you to drive instinctively. Not only is the cab snug and the bucket seats seem to mould around your body, the steering is so responsive and accurate that the car goes exactly where you point it. All the while you are fixed firmly to the road.

This has the effect of making you feel really safe at the same time you are enjoying a thrilling drive. Now, while it has six gears it really comes into its own in third or fourth gear as you sweep along bendy country roads. This allows you to maintain a consistent speed without having to compensate on difficult bends.

Internally, the car is beautifully designed with felt, buckskin, leather and red trim and boasts a horizontal dashboard that connects you to the driving experience. The handbrake is closer than I’m used to and the gearbox is also much closer – reinforcing the notion of being closer to the driving experience with no interruptions.

So while I had to do the odd reality check that I was driving an extremely robust and powerful vehicle, the GT86 made driving effortless and instinctive.

At just under €40,000 the GT86 isn’t really primed at the young executive starting out, nor is it likely to be an acquisition by a family-oriented person. The back seats are very narrow and that puts paid to that latter point.

The car’s design is exceptional and it’s responsiveness and throaty engine make for a thrilling drive. But for practically minded people, the two-litre petrol engine, despite its fuel efficiency, has quite an appetite.

The GT86 is a car designed for people with some spare change and an instinct for fun. Qualities unfortunately in short supply in the present economy.

Toyota is giving away two cars – the new GT86 and a new Auris – on the weekend of 23-25 November. Anyone who test drives any new Toyota at a Toyota dealership that weekend will be put into a draw to win

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years