No changes for 2017 – hurray!
A lot of people hate the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman, often without having driven them. These folk reckon that the new 718s are a sign of everything that’s gone wrong with modern sports cars: too much weight, too much complexity, too big tyres, too much insulation from the road, too much turbocharging etc etc.
They really should take a look at the Toyota GT86 and its all but identical Subaru BRZ sibling. These two deliver all the old-school sporty attributes that (according to the doom sayers) are being taken off our roads, namely rear-wheel drive through a limited-slip diff, a sweet manual gearbox, a revvy non-turbo motor, skinny tyres, manageable size, good visibility – and all at an affordable price.
The facelifted 2017 GT86 gets nothing new under the skin. All the engine, transmission and performance specs are the same as before – and that’s a brilliant thing because, if you ‘get’ the GT86, you’ll know that it’s right as it is.
It doesn’t confuse you with several gigabytes’ worth of driver modes and damper settings. It simply focuses on what’s important, promising you nothing other than the satisfaction of exploiting its potential. If you can’t match the revs yourself on downshifts, they’ll be jerky. If you don’t bother exploring the upper rev range, you’ll miss out on much of the engine’s appeal. If you can’t work the steering with a degree of sensitivity, it’ll come across all twitchy. If you think corners are about pointing and squirting rather than carrying speed you’ll be disappointed by how slow it all feels. If 200bhp doesn’t seem sufficient for effective overtaking, you need to plan ahead more.
Everything in the GT86 is aimed at encouraging you to drive rather than be driven. The boxer engine gives you not only a low centre of gravity but also a low dash. That, plus thin pillars, means fine visibility. That, plus the shape of the front wings, makes accurate car placement easy. The driving position is bob-on: stretched legs, small and thankfully round wheel near your chest, gearstick ideally placed, pedals perfectly situated and weighted.
The suspension settings have been twiddled with for 2017. We’re not exactly sure how but it seems to be a case of marginally softer damping, lower-friction struts, a slightly stiffer rear anti-roll bar and some extra body stiffening around the suspension mounting points, rear arches, body and transmission tunnel.
Whatever the changes actually are, the result is super-enthusiastic turn-in. Lifting or trailing the brakes a tad initiates a near-subliminal rotation which lets you establish and hold a brilliant neutrality in the car’s balance, with adjustability on tap from the fantastically transparent throttle response. Gunning it on dry surfaces (ideally on the track rather than the open road) opens up the potential of drift oversteer through weight transfer which can then be easily maintained on the throttle.
Toyota tells us that the biggest change for 2017 is in the electronics controlling the ABS, traction and stability control. These mods have trickled down from the company’s various GT86 motorsport efforts and bring new control options, from TC off to TC and VSC (stability control) off via one button. Or you can select the new Track mode, which minimises the electronic driver aids. Perhaps the most impressive consequence of these changes is how much smoother the electronic intervention is when they’re all switched on and you’re negotiating a wet roundabout on the trundle to work. This ‘soft limit’ approach is much friendlier for those unaccustomed to rear-wheel drive, without any of the rather joyless ‘black box remonstration’ feeling.
If you’re blinded by the properties of mid-range torque, soft cabin plastics and matey approbation, find some more cash for a front-wheel drive turbocharged Audi TT. Otherwise enjoy a GT86 and save some money while you’re at it.
If you see anybody driving a GT86 or a BRZ, give them the thumbs-up. They get it.