Belfast Telegraph

Geared up for change

An automatic transmission in a classic sportscar chassis did seem out of kilter for Jim McCauley but the GT86’s many other features proved to be winners

With the GT86, Toyota has returned to the classic sportscar ingredients of front-mounted engine, light weight and rear-wheel drive.

However, in the case of the test vehicle it arrived with an automatic transmission which is rarely first choice in a classic sportscar chassis.

The Toyota is built in collaboration with Subaru and the power unit is the classic 2.0 litre Subaru flat-four with some Toyota modifications. Both the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ share the same coupe design with just minimal variation on the front bumper unit. The car is pleasantly, if not excitingly, designed and conveys the sporting image adequately, albeit without a resounding ‘wow' factor.

The initial satisfaction comes on starting the car and listening to the tick-over burble of the flat-four engine, but should a sportscar be nursing an automatic transmission? Off the mark and it takes a little while to accept the automatic option but it performs well and offers the option of steering wheel mounted paddles for manual override, but the plastic wings feel flimsy and inappropriate to the 200 horsepower they are commanding. A Sport setting holds lower gears longer for increased response while a Winter setting is also available for a more cautious approach in adverse conditions.

The automatic transmission offers better than expected response with the added benefits of improved fuel consumption and lower emissions than with the manual gearbox. Against this, is a 0.6 second penalty in off-the-mark acceleration and a 10mph reduction in overall top speed. However, while it may not be a first choice for a rear-wheel drive sportscar, it does not disappoint and allows the driver to focus on other attributes.

The attraction of the car is in its handling, particularly when pushing into the higher rev band, with the electronic support systems safely curtailing any unwanted response to enthusiastic throttle application, in which case the rear end will merely twitch.

Steering is precise and well balanced while additional confidence is provided by competent brakes. Overall, the ride is, as expected, firm while the neatly contoured sports seats on the test car nip the hips to hold the occupants snugly up front. However, while there is the promise of two rear seats, they are really only practical for adults on short journeys and out of the question if the driver over six-foot tall.

Instruments are clearly presented behind a no-nonsense three-spoke steering wheel but the overall dash layout could flow better to reflect the exterior styling and make the cabin much more appealing.

Performance-wise, the GT86 hits the benchmark 62mph (100km/h) mark from rest in 8.2 seconds with the flat-four burble adding to the excitement of the pace. With regards to active safety provision, the car's rear-wheel drive system is well protected electronically to maintain driver confidence with its Vehicle Stability Control switchable between two modes: Normal or Sport. Passive safety provision includes seven airbags adding driver's knee protection to the front, side and curtain units.

Overall equipment levels are high, allowing the car to be used on a daily basis as opposed to being a track-day special, with dual-zone climate control, cruise control, satellite navigation with DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity all standard as is a rear view camera. However, there are no hefty additions keeping the overall weight of the car to a performance-conscious 1,700kg.

Overall, the GT86 marks Toyota's return to a compact sporting coupe continuing an iconic line that includes the 2000 GT, Corolla GT and Supra. It may lack the practicality of a hot hatch, but it flaunts the classic requirements of superb handling, a driver focused cabin and beautiful flat-four boxer engine.

The GT86 costs £26,495 and is covered by Toyota's comprehensive five-year/100,000 mile warranty with one year's full AA membership.

Toyota GT86

Engine: 2.0 litre, flat-four, 200bhp @ 7000rpm. 205Nm torque @ 6400-6600rpm.

Drive: Via six-speed automatic gearbox to rear wheels.

Performance: 0-62mph (100km/h) in 8.2 seconds; max, 130mph (208km/h)

Fuel on combined cycle: 39.8mpg (7.1 l/100km)

CO2: 164gms/km; VED Band G for annual car tax of £165

Trim: Standard

Price: £26,495

Insurance: N/A

Warranty: Fiveyear/ 100,000 miles, 12 years’ anti-perforation cover and one year’s AA roadside assistance and recovery.

Benefit-in-Kind: 23%

Euro NCAP: N/A

Available extras: Body graphics, from £180; leather and alcantara upholstery, £1,600; Touch and Go satellite navigation, £750; rear parking sensors, £314; carbon- look mirror covers, £119.

Belfast Telegraph Digital