Toyota GT86 review - The best budget sports car on sale?

evo staff
26 Sep 2017

accessible rear wheel drive thrills

Evo Rating: 
Outstanding handling and driving position; 2017 model adds a little refinement
Wants for a bit more power, dubious interior trim, pricey next to an MX-5

Ask yourself this: what do I really need from a car in order to be able to enjoy it on the road? If the answer is leather seats, parking sensors and a posh badge on the bonnet, then the Toyota GT86 isn’t for you.

If, however, what that matters is three pedals, reactive steering and a sweetly balanced chassis, the GT86 is worth a test drive at the very least. The steering accuracy and control weights are supremely well judged, while the boxer engine's 197bhp and skinny tyres mean the chassis can almost always be teased out of shape. Crucially, in the world of 300bhp hatchbacks, it’s also a car you can get stuck into driving on public roads without fear of losing your licence.

> Read: Subaru BRZ review - Is Subaru's sports car a class-leader?

Rarely does something in the motoring world feel ‘just right’ and while the GT86 isn’t without its issues, it comes very close. The 0-62mph sprint doesn’t set the world alight, but to compensate that you spend a lot of time in the GT86 with your foot flat to the floor and using the engine to its potential – an increasingly rare experience in modern performance cars.

For 2017 the GT86 has received a facelift, and prices now start at £26,410. Admittedly, the changes are modest, but include upgraded dampers, a stiffer bodyshell, a better-appointed interior, more technology and several subtle but effective exterior design revisions. What hasn’t changed is the car’s mischief-making nature, for which we’re grateful.

Toyota GT86 in detail

> Performance and 0-60 time - Low torque figure limits low-revs performance, but performance is respectable if you're prepared to work for it. Read more about the Toyota GT86 performance here

> Engine and gearbox - Two-litre flat-four needs working hard but doesn't sound good doing so. Slick six-speed manual is a joy. Read more about the Toyota GT86 engine here

> Ride and handling - A mixed-bag. The standard Michelin Premacy tyres don't do the chassis justice - but it's entertaining and interactive. Read more about the Toyota GT86 ride and handling here

> MPG and running costs - Mid 30s MPG is reasonable for a car of this type. A five-year warranty and Toyota reliability should keep running costs low. Read more about the Toyota GT86 MPG and running costs here

> Interior and tech - Little joy to be found in the design or materials, but the driving position is perfect. Rear seats aren't suitable for most humans. Read more about Toyota GT86 interior and tech here

> Design - Compact sports car proportions give off the right impression and it looks more exotic than the price would have you believe. Details are less successful. Read more about Toyota GT86 design here

> Video review - Click on the link to see the GT86 compared with the Mazda MX-5 in our Deadly Rivals video series.

Prices, specs and rivals

The GT86 underwent a refresh for 2017 with Toyota offering two specifications – the GT86 and the GT86 Pro.

Near £5000 dearer than when it was launched in 2012, the range now kicks off a tad under £27k. For that, Toyota will throw in 17-inch wheels, the Toyota Touch infotainment system, revised LED headlights and a start button (with keyless entry). A revised rear-wing, suede trim and leather-and-alcantara upholstered heated seats are the justification for the £1000 premium carried by the GT86 Pro. 

Both models receive the shrunken new multifunctional steering wheel for 2017 and 6.1-inch touchscreen display. If you're after an automatic (why you'd want one who knows) you’ll have to put another £1500-odd aside. 

The pre-facelift model was available in TRD (Toyota racing Development) trim, garnished with a host of racing inspired parts (mostly superficial and rather garish), although gripper tyres were a welcome addition. Mind you, the £6500 upgrade hardly seemed worth it, hence we’re yet to see such a package carried forward for the current model.

> Abarth 124 Spider review - Fun and character come at a price

Those seeking more from their GT86s’ though can reap the benefits of a thriving aftermarket. The full fat Litchfield GT86 featured in Truyendoremonche track car of year, equipped with a raft of suspension upgrades and most notably a supercharger – not the only forced induction route there are turbo kits too. Retaining the car’s naturally aspirated state does not totally negate any gains, a remap and new exhaust system can liberate more performance and massage the torque curve. 

> Read our full Mazda MX-5 review here

Chief amongst rivals is Mazda’s MX-5 RF powered by the range-topping 2-litre mill. The little roadster is a hoot to drive but loses out to the GT86 when you go in search of that last tenths of performance where body roll curtails your confidence and thus progress when you really push. A used Porsche Cayman is certainly worth considering. Then there is the base-model Lotus Elise

And like the GT86 has a cousin, in the form of the Subaru BRZ (from £26,495), so Mazda has the Fiat (and Abarth) 124 models. Each swaps carefully-crafted Japanese styling for something more American (despite the Italian badge) and naturally-aspirated engines for 1.4-litre turbocharged units. The Abarth is possibly the pick of the bunch, but at £29,565 you pay handsomly for the privilege.

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