Ollie Marriage20 December 2013

First drive: the Fensport GT 86

Can our car of the year for 2012 handle more power? Ollie Marriage investigates…

Hmm, didn't you drive another tuned Toyota GT 86 recently?

No, that was a Subaru BRZ. Totally different. It was supercharged for one thing and this one's turbocharged.

But surely as they're so similar, you could fit either set of mods to the other?

You are, of course, absolutely right. The supercharger kit that Litchfield fitted to the BRZ we drove and Fensport's turbocharger set-up are entirely interchangeable - it all comes down to personal preference.

So tell me a bit about this one.

Fensport buy the turbo kit from a US firm called AVO. There's a choice of more than one level of tune and in fact we tried two different cars - one with around 280bhp and the other with 326bhp. Fensport make no particular performance or power claims because it depends on the level of other options you might want to select, including exhausts, ECU upgrades etc. The base kit costs £3594, which includes the turbo, replacement exhaust manifold, oil pump and intercooler plus various pipes, hoses and clamps. There's also an upgraded ceramic coated turbo kit at £3,959.

And? How does it differ from the Litchfield BRZ?

Not as heavily as you might suspect, as Litchfield's kit uses a centrifugal supercharger (rather than a screw-type) that acts more like a turbo in the way it behaves. There are two chief differences, though. I think the supercharger kit complements the engines natural character better, but there's no denying the Fensport car has superior fuel economy. I know, I know, that shouldn't matter too much, but I reckon that in day-to-day driving you'll get 35mpg from the Fensport, but more like 30mpg from the Litchfield. However, because the supercharger has that mechanical link (and personally I prefer the noise, too) it's that fraction more responsive and eager.

So that's the one you'd have?

Not so fast. The Fensport has very smooth pick-up and - for a turbo - extremely crisp response. Personally I wouldn't take thing as far as the owner of the 326bhp GT 86, which although it has a delicious flat-four burble, is also penetratingly loud. Permanently. What I did enjoy was the power delivery from 4,000-5,500rpm. No, you still don't get a whack load of torque right at the bottom end, but by 3,000rpm interesting things are starting to happen and in that mid-range the GT 86 becomes a dark destroyer, the acceleration piling on at a rate that suggests a Cayman S would be kept very honest. 

So there's plenty more torque then?

This is where the turbo scores - it may not have quite the quick response of a supercharger, but once spinning it does force the air through at a good lick. So what you actually notice is the gain in torque and that's where the turbo really hits home - where the cooking GT 86 develops 151lb ft, this one has 259lb ft to call on. Keep in the power band and it's a rocketship - and a very controllable one at that. You'd think that might overwhelm the traction, cause clutch issues, but the standard car is a robust thing by all accounts (certainly the BRZ I ran as a long termer never gave me a moment of mechanical complaint) and the chassis' low centre of gravity and relative suppleness means the rear wheels cope well with the forces involved.

That car looks as though it had had more done to it than just a turbo kit.

Doesn't it just? And yes it had. There was an Eibach spring lowering kit, all sorts of adjustable suspension bits and 18-inch Rota Grid wheels wearing asymmetric Goodyear F1 tyres. What I have found from driving this and the Litchfield that you need to be a bit careful before throwing the kitchen sink at it. Personally I'd upgrade the engine first and then see how the standard chassis and wheels/tyres handled it. I suspect it might do quite well. Possibly change the Michelin Primacy tyres to a more sporting tyre and leave it at that. That's not to say this car was a lummox at all, because it wasn't, but giving more grip and aggression does change the car's character and you need to be sure that's what you want from it. If you do, fine, as this GT 86 was still perfectly friendly to drive, but also sped about the place with way more intent. All you forfeit is a bit of everyday chirpiness and usability.

Didn't you say you drove a second car?

I did. It had a lower state of turbo tune and an automatic gearbox. Which was so much better than I expected it to be. Although it was short by about 50bhp compared to the other one, it didn't feel that much slower and had a more natural, factory-standard feel. Still a good overtaker, and proof (if it were needed) that it's very much up to you to decide how far you want to take your upgrades. This level of personalization across not only the engine and suspension, but also the exterior bodywork and cabin does at least allow you to stamp your own personality on it and turn it into the car you really want it to be. Fensport would be only to happy to help you with this...

Hmm, 326bhp is good, but what if I want more? Much more?

Fensport's managing director Adrian Smith says the engine will take quite a lot of tuning. 500bhp is not unheard of from the turbo conversion, which is more than sufficient in a car weighing around 1250kg. 

 

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