We first drove Toyota’s GT 86 on a racetrack in Japan, but that was inconclusive, as we never got out of third gear. Now we have a better picture, a picture that extends all the way to fourth, fifth and even sixth gears. Lucky us.
And we’re closer to home now as well, at the Jarama racetrack near Madrid. Still a closed circuit though, so still no real road driving impressions which is frustrating, but if this thing disappoints on the road I’m prepared to munch on important bits of my own anatomy. Because it’s really, really good.
So how different is it to its twin sister, the Subaru BRZ? I spent a whole day in the BRZ at Subaru’s test track late last year, so this is where you expect me to say no, to say there are small but definable differences between the Subaru and Toyota. Possibly while scratching my chin and looking thoughtful. But there aren’t.
Well, there are supposed to be. Toyota’s chief engineer on the GT 86, Tetsuya Tada-san tells me there are tiny changes in the spring and damper settings, and in a chin-scratching phase while on track I thought the GT felt marginally softer. But that could simply have been down to the fact the tyres and brakes were cooked after some Swiss hotfoot had been pummelling it five minutes earlier.
In essence they’re identical, and identically excellent. The GT 86 is light on its feet, not dainty exactly, but super accurate and so well balanced. I know it’s not especially relevant, but the ease with which this thing lets go at the back end is so refreshing, and even when not arsing about it’s just a joyful thing.
Tada-san told me there were three key elements to the car for him, things he (together with his opposite number at Subaru, Toshio Masuda) had to fight for tooth and nail. One was to steer clear of turbocharging, the second was that it should be rear-wheel drive and the final one was to use narrow tyres. I love that. And it’s not just that the 215/45 R17′s aren’t oversized, it’s that they’re not a sports tyre either. They’re Michelin Primacys for heaven’s sake – as fitted to the Prius.
So they flex a bit, squeal a lot and aren’t too grippy. Tada-san is emphatic that lap times don’t matter here, what matters is if the driver gets out with a smile on his face. I am in complete agreement. Yes, it’s nice to boast to your mates that your car beats theirs around the ‘Ring, but wouldn’t you rather drive a road car that’s actually been set-up to drive properly on the road, not the track? I would.
Toyota is maintaining the façade that these are still prototypes, but Tada-san told me that just applies to the interior fixtures and fittings and that the dynamics are finalised. Great, because off the top of my head I can’t think of any car that handles more sweetly than this. And it’s not slow either. On the main straight at Jarama it hit an indicated 125mph and that flat four engine, red-lined at 7,500rpm, pulls with gusto at the top end. Bit limp lower down, but that’s a small price to pay. Great gearbox and lovely, lovely brakes, too.
The price isn’t yet finalised due to the yen exchange rate, but Toyota is homing in on £25,000 (RM120,000, without taxes of course) as the target. Rivals are cited as the Scirocco and Peugeot RCZ, but in truth neither can hold a candle to the GT 86 on the road. Enjoy driving? Then this contest boils down to a battle between this and the Subaru – and you’ll make your choice on grounds of badge, dealer location, price and visual tweakery. Me? I’d have the Subaru – the brand is that wee bit cooler – but honestly, this goes down as the best Toyota I’ve ever driven, and one of the best driving sports cars of the last decade. It’s here in June. You know what to do.