AFFORDABLE, rear-wheel-drive sports all cars are becoming increasingly hard to come by. The Mazda MX-5 epitomises the lightweight formula, but is only available with a retractable roof, while its Fiat 124 Spider sister car adds turbocharging, too. If you want something with a fixed roof, then your options are even more limited. Here, the Toyota GT 86 stands proud as the driver’s choice – and now we’ve driven the updated car to see if enough has been done to steer you away from an Audi TT. The new GT 86 gets a few hard-to-spot visual changes over its predecessor. There’s a wider grille and new bum per design, fresh foglights and new LED headlamps.
A revised front splitter and a meaner-looking bootlid spoiler also appear, although you can ask Toyota to delete the latter if you favour a cleaner appearance. Arguably the biggest update is to the rear lights, where LEDs give the car a more distinctive glow at night. Inside, things are slightly more luxurious than before. Toyota has added a smattering of leather and Alcantara to the doors and dashboard, while the seat stitching has been revised, too. There are handy audio controls on the steering wheel now, to help connectivity on the move, while a small 4.2-inch screen adds trip functionality and replaces the old car’s analogue fuel gauge.
Those waiting with baited breath will be disappointed to discover Toyota hasn’t seen fit to add more power or a turbocharger-meaning the facelifted car mates do with the same 197bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine. It comes with the same choice of manual or automatic gearboxes, and it’s the former we try here for the first time. Understandably, the new car feels much like the old one from behind the wheel. It’s not that quick, but there’s enough power to effectively exploit the chassis in the corners.
In slippery winter conditions, nearly 200bhp feels like plenty – with the revised GT86 keeping even experienced drivers on their toes. Engineers have made some changes to the steering and shocks to help improve agility, but in all honesty, there was little wrong with it before – and the tweaks are tough to decipher without driving the old and new cars back to back. Apply too much throttle mid-corneror on the exit of a roundabout and the Toyota’s tail will wag – even with the traction control turned on. Switch everything off using the car’s new Track mode and you’ll be able to execute perfectly controlled drifts at remarkably slow speeds.
The steering is sharp and well weighted, and while the ride is firm, it’s not too harsh. In fact, it remains a truly satisfying and immensely engaging car to drive – whatever the situation. The typical Boxer soundtrack is carried over, feeding seamlessly into the cabin via the engine’s intake system. It hits its peak noise at more than 7,000rpm, and wills you to hold on to the gears right up to the red line. It actually makes you feel like you’re travelling much faster than you are -only emphasising this car’s ability to thrill at amusingly low speeds. However, the tuneful growl turns into a drone both at idle and at higher speeds – something that will grate overtime.
What’s also a shame is that the GT 86 can’t compete with its rivals when it comes to running costs. CO2 emissions of 180g/km are on the higherside, while official fuel economy of just 36.2mpg means you’ll be on first name terms with your local petrol station cashier before too long. A comparable MX-5 2.0 emits only 161g/km, and costs around £6,500 less.