Tested: Toyota GT86 is fun to drive, but needs more oomph

By Pritesh Ruthun Time of article published Nov 1, 2018

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Johannesburg - When Toyota South Africa launched the 86 on local shores around five years ago, the GT nomenclature in the sporty coupe’s name was dropped. In the UK, it’s been known as the GT86 for some time now, but we’re back where it all began in 2012 because Toyota SA’s decided that the car should be called what it was intended to be called in the first place - the GT86.

I vividly remember the responsiveness of the cars that I drove on its initial launch drives (in Spain, and Mpumalanga); stiff, sharp, revvy and eager to powerslide. I was quite excited then when Toyota called to say its drivers would be delivering a GT86 for evaluation.

Surely, the latest upgrades for the 2018 model year would make it even sharper, more eager, and therefore even more fun to drive than ever...

But, before we get to the drive, let’s unpack the millennial generation’s Hachi Roku in a little more detail.

Conceived as a ‘driver’s car’ from the start of its development, the Toyota 86 stands alone in terms of handling, dynamics and ‘feel’. The early models that were sold in SA came in a few flavours, bogo-spec models with Hilux radios as standard, and High Spec models with yummy 17-inch alloys and a race-inspired two-tone interior.

Going forward, though, the focus is on dynamics and luxury, with only one model on offer - the GT86 derivative.

The latest model is fitted as standard with a Brembo high performance brake package that measures in at 326mm x 30mm (ventilated discs) at the front and 316 x 20mm (solid discs) at the rear (compared to 294mm x 24mm and 290mm x 18 mm for the old ‘High-grade’ model). In conjunction with the larger brake rotors, the brake callipers’ swept area increases by 38% and 6% for the front and rear respectively.

Basically, all this means is that when you stand on a GT86’s middle pedal with intent, it will stop without any hint of fuss. Yes, the ABS does kick in and you have to be alert when braking hard in a bend, but there’s a whole lot of stopping power at your disposal. In fact, the braking system is so sharp, and so competent, that it is the ideal set-up to consider as an aftermarket installation if you drive a supercharged 86 already.

Then to ensure more control of the car, Toyota have added a special set of Sachs high performance shocks.

Visual changes are easy to spot if you’re a fan of the car. You’ll see black-out treatment for the rear spoiler and side mirrors (power folding, Toyota will have you know) whilst new black 17-inch alloy wheels complete the slightly Tokyo Drift theme.

Instead of the signature screaming orange hue that the old 86 was famous for, your new exterior colour options include Crystal White Pearl, Ice Silver metallic, Dark Grey metallic, Pure Red and Lapis Blue Pearl. A new ‘Bright Blue’ colour option has been added to the range too.

Now, because there’s no ‘Hilux spec’ model and High Spec model anymore, you’ll get a decent equipment list along with the standard GT86. Items that you will appreciate include full LED lighting (headlights, taillights and fog lamps), key-less entry and push-button start, dual-zone climate control, seat heating, Alcantara-trimmed seats and door linings and a TFT multi-information display with digital gauge read out. 

This gauge is excellent if you enjoy monitoring things like your ‘G’ (force), and then bragging to friends about how many of these Gs you can pull in a bend. You can also use the multi-info display to see how much fuel you’re using in real-time and on average (11.5l/100km on test) and access a host of timers to fiddle with.

Most impressive on the inside of the car, though, is a newly fitted touch-screen infotainment system that ‘occupies the dashboard’, according to Toyota. The unit is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and it will even allow you to ‘mirror’ apps on your smartphone and stream both music and navigation services from favourites like Spotify, Apple Music and Waze to the vehicle directly.

In addition, on-board Satellite Navigation is included as standard and the system also offers Bluetooth telephony and USB interface - all accessible from steering-mounted hot keys. I loved the system, apart from the fact that it really needs a decent amplifier and speakers in the doors (and maybe a small sub woofer) to compete with systems in cars like the Mazda MX-5 RF, for example.

Now, let’s move on to the engine that sits under the GT86’s low-slung bonnet. The latest model retains the 2.0 litre D-4S Boxer engine delivering 147kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm between 6400 and 6600rpm.

It is mated to a six-speed manual close-ratio transmission delivering drive to a Limited Slip Differential (LSD) equipped rear transaxle.

D-4S (Direct injection and port injection) and four-cam VVTi technologies combine to promote combustion efficiency in the pursuit of both fuel efficiency and performance, according to Toyota. But ultimately, on the road in Gauteng where we test, it struggles with asthma.

When the 86 was launched in SA half a decade ago, we already knew that it couldn’t perform as swiftly as its on-paper figures suggested at highveld altitude, and it’s the same story with the latest model. If you’re seeking quick acceleration this isn’t the car for you. I was shown a clean pair of heels from the traffic lights by so many cars (and a 3.2 diesel bakkie) that I felt a genuine sadness that Toyota missed an opportunity to wring out a few extra ponies from the engine. I’m not talking a massive power bump here, but something more in line with Honda’s legendary S2000 power output (177kW) would have sufficed to at least keep some of today’s ‘warm’ hatchbacks at bay.

At R575 700, the GT86 isn’t cheap either, and if you’re willing to take a chance on a used one, you could buy a 2012 or 2013 model, supercharge it, and still have some cash to burn on tyres and fuel.


If you seek a fast car, look elsewhere. If you seek a car that’s razor sharp on turn-in and fun to hoon in isolation, get the GT86. On its own, it’s a solidly engineered coupe that takes a beating and keeps on asking for more. You can slide it at low speeds and have fun, or you can take on winding mountain passes while stretching the gears without running up crazy speeds (or into trouble with speed cops).

If you live at the coast, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this car as a daily runner or as a weekend toy.

The Toyota GT86 comes with a four-year/60 000 kilometre Service Plan and three-year/100 000 kilometre Warranty. You also have the option to upgrade from the standard Service Plan to a full Maintenance Plan (at additional cost) at dealer level.


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