How do you improve on the brilliant GT86? With difficulty, as this mid-life facelift proves
Not before time, Toyota’s broadly acclaimed GT86 coupé has been given some mid-life attention. But while it has submitted to the usual nip and tuck procedures, with new bumpers, LED lights and wheels on the outside and better materials, a new steering wheel and multi-media system on the inside, it is the car’s chassis that has received most attention.
This is curious for two reasons. First, the real reason for mid-life facelifts is to engineer cost out of the car and you don’t get that by spending money where it can’t be seen. Secondly, the GT86 chassis has received more plaudits than that of any other small sporting car with the possible exception of the new Mazda MX-5. Why mess with an already winning formula?
I guess it’s called playing to your strengths, and play they have, not just fiddling with the spring and damper rates at both ends, but fitting an aluminium bonnet and using thinner steel for the front wings to reduce weight and improve its distribution. They’ve even changed some of the structural steel to improve torsional rigidity. There’s a new stability system with a dedicated track mode plus information to show torque, power and G-force.
The more obvious changes are welcome. The interior is considerably less grim, though still hardly palatial. The car I drove was the upmarket ‘Pro’ version with partial leather and Alcantara seats, bum warmers and a chunky rear wing. And the central information screen is at least easy to understand even if its graphics are rather low-rent.
But I’m less convinced by the modifications under the skin. The car handles superbly, offering hilarious amounts of childishly manageable oversteer at the slightest opportunity, but so too did the last one. This GT86 is meant to be more responsive and maybe it is, but on my usual test route I can’t say I had any more, or less fun than in the last. It was a hoot, as it always has been. Really the biggest detectable difference to me was a slight deterioration in ride quality, though it’s still good enough for this kind of car.
You might quibble too that all this attention has been lavished on the chassis when the engine, which has attracted some criticism for lacking both power and torque, has been left unchanged. In fact you have to take the two together and ask whether the powertrain is strong enough for the chassis’s talents to be fully exploited and, now as then, the answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’.
I’ve been an enormous fan of the GT86 since its launch five years ago and I remain that way today. But is it transformed by these upgrades, or even significantly improved? On balance I’d say not. But perhaps that’s not the point: what matters more is that there still remains a proper driver’s car in a category populated largely by paper tigers. I wish it a long and successful second half of its life.
Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders
Power [email protected]
Torque 151lb [email protected]
Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power to weight 158bhp per tonne
Top speed 140mph