Toyota GT86: An Average Driver's Perspective.

My take as an average consumer on what is probably the most hyped car of 2012.

If you don’t feel like reading a review, I also made a video review of the GT86 and feel free to watch it.

A boy's dream car

I remember watching a Top Gear review of the GT86 back in 2013 in season 19 where Jeremy Clarkson had an absolute blast with the GT86. From there on the GT86 became one of my dream cars that hopefully I’ll get to buy with my own money. The idea of a two-door sports car with a Subaru engine, rear-wheel drive, a manual gearbox, a lot of drifty fun, and all for the price of what? An entry-level Mercedes-Benz? Even cheaper in some countries. It’s a good-looking, affordable, and very promising sports car. On paper, at least. It’s one of those attainable dreams that I wanted to achieve.

Anyway, seven years later I’m still a failure and have no money to buy the GT86 but self-pity aside, I’ve never actually properly driven a GT86. I did drive one a few years ago but it was a quick drive and so I never did a full review of the GT86, but anyway, with this review I knew what to expect; slow and almost VTEC-like engine, great handling, and lots of fun. The question is: what is it actually like to drive? Is the Toyota GT86 still my dream car? Is it still desirable? Will I ever meet Kiko Mizuhara? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out. Except for that last one.

A sports car that doesn't go like a sports car.

I think if you’ve driven a GT86 you already know what I’m going to talk about, simply put: the car isn’t that fast.

Yes, it’s a two-door sports car, and yes, it’s a Subaru engine with 197 horsepower so that’s still more than your average sedan or hatchback, but the car doesn’t have a lot of torque to go around and most of that power is at the top of the rev range. Peak power comes at 7,200rpm, and peak torque of 151lb-ft – which is 10lb-ft less than a MINI Cooper by the way – comes at 6,400rpm, so really you have to reach somewhere around 4,000 or maybe even 5,000rpm to really feel the power of the car, below that it’s like driving any normal sedan. It’s a lot like Honda’s VTEC engine; nothing at the lower end but lots of power and noise once that VTEC kicks in.

Officially, 0-100km/h is at 7.6 seconds for the manual car, this is an automatic by the way but more on that later, and top speed is about 215km/h. Doesn’t sound too bad, but really, it’s one of those cars where it looks faster than it actually is. It looks like a sports car, but really it goes more like a 2.0L Civic FD, or maybe a Honda Accord with the K24 engine. I’m not saying I’m disappointed, it’s just that I wish the car had a bit more torque and speed going for it.

But I guess at an affordable price tag you have to make compromise, in this case Toyota chose to compromise in the power and speed, and focus their efforts in the handling of the car. Speaking of which...

It's all about the handling.

Okay, disclaimer, I’m not THAT great of a reviewer, so half of the things I say isn’t going to make sense, but what I can tell you is that the handling was Toyota’s priority when designing this car. I’m going to be quick and concise: it handles well, the front and rear is well-behaved, and with the Toyo Proxes tires and that larger rear-wing spoiler of the TRD AeroPack, this GT86 is very stable at high speed cornering and gives you a lot of confidence.

At low speeds it’s also very stable, but with just enough body roll that the car tells you “come on, drift me, I promise I’ll be good, I won’t kill you”, but I didn’t drift the car because:

a. I am a responsible adult and I won’t drift around on public roads.

b. I’m not that great of a driver, and

c. My friend will kill me if I drift his car.

Anyway, if you want drifty action, you can just watch videos from the bald and new Top Gear man on Youtube. One complaint that I do have is that the steering isn’t as quick as the MINI Cooper; you put in a lot of input into the steering wheel and you think the car is going to turn but then it doesn't turn as much and you have to turn the steering wheel in a bit more. But apart from that, as an average driver and consumer, I can say it’s a fun handling car and I have nothing more to complain about. But I will complain about that gearbox.

What do you mean it's an automatic?

Oh God I don’t want to sound like one of those fanboys that glorifies a manual gearbox over everything else and shouts “automatics are bad” on the top of my lungs from the top of a mountain, but yeah, I’d like a manual gearbox in my Toyota GT86.

To be fair, it's a decent gearbox; it's a 6-speed conventional automatic with paddle shifters that are fairly responsive, but the gearbox itself takes a while to change. Don't get me wrong, it isn't one of those really dumb gearboxes that delivers a gear slower than an elderly butler bringing you dinner, nor is it a rough changing gearbox, but it isn't as nice as BMW's dual clutch gearbox or even as nice as Mercedes' 7G-Tronic, a gearbox that I don't even like that much to be honest. Again, to be fair, the gearbox is fine when you're just driving about, but from a performance and driving dynamics point of view, you're going to be much happier with a manual.

I get it, if you’re driving a GT86 daily, you’re probably going to want an automatic gearbox because it’s more convenient, but if you’re a keen driver, then just believe me, get a manual. You’ll thank yourself. Unless when you’re sitting in stand-still traffic. Don't @ me.

Good interior design, questionable build quality.

Have you ever bought a Chinese product that has really good hardware design, but then the build quality is terrible? Like, take for example a Xiaomi phone: it’s cheap, it looks good just like any other phone from Samsung or OnePlus, but then the buttons feel a bit cheap, the vibration reminds you of the original Dual Shock controllers, and the buttons would probably break after about a year of use. The GT86 is somewhat like that, it’s yet another compromise they had to make in order to be able to give you that affordable price tag.

The interior looks good, and most of the materials are fine with bits of plastics here and there, but the switches – mostly the ones on the center – are cheap feeling, especially the knobs that controls the A/C, those feel cheaper than a 3-star hotel’s price during a global pandemic.

But, to be fair, much like the speed, the build quality isn’t really the focus of the car, as we’ve discussed it’s the handling. Just one of those things that Toyota had to sacrifice to bring the car to a more affordable price. Besides, most of the stuffs that matters such as the paddle shifters, the gear lever, and the buttons to change the driving mode all still feel very good, even though the car is six years old at this point. It’s certainly not as bad as the Range Rover Evoque, which I maintain to this day still has the worst and cheapest-feeling buttons and switches of any car that I’ve driven. Apart maybe from the Mitsubishi Grandis.

It's like a coloring book. Or a blank canvas.

If I had to come up with an analogy for the Toyota GT86, it would be that it’s like a coloring book, or a blank canvas. It’s a car where you create your own little art with and express yourself.

Want to make it look better? There’s Rocket Bunny, Liberty Walk, Karma, TRD, the lot. There’s a lot of bodykits, spoilers, and aftermarket wheels that you can fit to this car to make it look better. Want to go faster around a corner? There’s a bunch of coil springs and big brakes that you can fit as well, make the car more stable. Want to go faster? You can install a turbocharger or a supercharger or even dump a big old American V8 in the car if you have more time and money than sense. Really, your imagination – and your bank account – is the limit here.

It’s not like a MINI ( I’m comparing it to the MINI because the price is about the same), where you buy the car, drive it out of the dealership, and have fun with it immediately – although technically you can with the GT86 as well – but really what you want to do is take it to a workshop and start to figure out what parts you want to install and which brand of cheap instant noodles you want to eat for dinner because all of your money’s spent on car parts. It’s Indomie by the way, you’d have to be mentally insane if go with anything other than Indomie.

The MINI is the better car to drive daily, even though I still maintain that MINIs are uncomfortable, they have a nicer interior and it’s a nicer place to be stuck in traffic in, and I would argue the MINI is easier to have fun with and with an inclusive service package – which is something you don’t get if you purchase a brand new Toyota GT86 by the way – it’s better for your peace of mind as well.

The Toyota GT86 however is the better project car; there are lots of room for improvement and there are a lot of parts that you could choose from to make your little Toyota better. It’s the car you want if you want something to fiddle around with in the weekends.

I think this is something that a lot of reviews, especially in larger medias such as CAR Magazine or Top Gear doesn't talk about, some cars are full of modification potential and is a great project car to have for the weekend.

That’s what the GT86 is, it’s a project car.

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Comments (8)

  • I bought mine new in 2013. What I really wanted was a yellow Mk II Triumph GT6 for a road trip I had planned from Coventry (where it was built) to Turin (where it was styled). In the end I found a white Mk I in good condition at a Kent classic car dealership. I had the cash to buy it. But it was never ready. In the end I used the money as a deposit on the GT86 and financed it. By the time I got around to doing the road trip I'd become a father. It wouldn't have been possible without the back seat in the GT86. If you're expecting modern sports car performance, you will be disappointed. But if you think of it as a modern take on the classic British sports car, the same philosophy that has made the MX-5 so successful, and if that's what you're looking for, you'll be very happy. I have made very few modifications, and wherever possible I've kept them reversible. I got a stubby radio antenna because the car cover was bending the enormous factory one. I plugged the sound tube for a quieter cabin. I installed the JDM arm rest. I replaced the two-piece faux carbon dash trim with a one piece with red stitching from a later JDM BRZ model. I installed a Kenwood head unit with wireless CarPlay, rear cam and dash cam. I replaced the goo kit with a real space-saver spare wheel. When it was time to change the original tires, I upgraded to Michelin Pilot Sport 4. The car is nearly eight years old now and it still turns heads and makes people smile. It's a keeper.

      9 months ago
    • I never thought of the GT86 as a modern take on the classic British sports car but now that I think about it, you're right it's really what the GT86 is about; front-engine, rear drive, manual box, not that much power but lots of fun to drive and...

      Read more
        9 months ago
    • Don't forget the skinny tires. It also has similar acceleration and top speed to an Aston Martin DB5.

        9 months ago
  • Gotta love a gt86

      10 months ago
    • It was a car built to be modified

        10 months ago
    • Agree! Standard form is fine especially with a manual 'box, but really you've got to modify it to get the best out of it.

        10 months ago