Toyota GT86 TRD

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Added frills fail to enhance standard thrills

Good news: Toyota has released a performance upgrade package for its wondrous GT86 sports car that makes it even faster. Bad news: it does so by compromising the assets that made it so much fun in the first place.

Be careful what you wish for. The ideal of the Toyota Racing Developments modifications for the GT86 sound fair enough. Most of the ‘enhancements’ are cosmetic and include items like quadruple rear pipes, extended side skirts and a pronounced rear diffuser, but the important mechanical bits, the engine, gearbox and suspension, remain unchanged. How, then, can such innocent additions spoil such a very great car?

For two reasons, neither hitherto mentioned. Firstly, the TRD add-ons (which also include TRD badging on the wheel centres, fuel filler and gearshift) add £6500 to the cost of the car, pushing it straight through the £30,000 barrier and removing one of two pillars upon which its awesome reputation has been built. It is no longer outstanding value for money.

The other pillar, of course, is the fun it offers when you drive it hard. That’s taken care of by nothing more innocuous than a set of 18-inch wheelrims covered with some sticky Yokohama tyres.

You might think such a minor change could hardly affect the car to a significant degree but it does, in one move blunting the car’s core strength while simultaneously exposing further its single key failing.

I’ll explain. As you may know, a standard GT86 has 17-inch wheels because that’s what is needed if you want to cover them in exactly the same low rolling resistance, rock hard tyres it uses for the environmental warrior known as the Prius. Why would Toyota want to give a rear-drive, double wishbone, low-slung coupé the sametyres as a Prius? To make it easy for anyone with more enthusiasm than skill to be able to drift it safely, slowly and easily. This is done through the unique combination of iron-willed suspension control and tyres with almost no grip.

What Toyota has done with the TRD is give it grip, and that’s a mistake. It’ll still drift, but you have to be going much faster to make it happen. When it does happen, it slides far more quickly, requiring swifter and more accurate intervention. In the meantime, it also makes the GT86 feel underpowered. When it had no grip, its 2-litre flat-four motor actually felt well suited to the chassis as there was enough grunt to provoke it into action. Now that fine balance has been lost and the car feels substantially underpowered.

The good news is that none of this affects the standard GT86, which remains the most entertaining everyday car you can buy for less than £25,000. I await Toyota’s next attempt to develop it with interest. I think a subtle upgrade to a 2.5-litre engine with, say, 240bhp and a thick slice of extra torque would work wonders, complete with a little additional stiffness at the front and a slightly softer rear to aid traction.

And then maybe, just maybe, some 18-inch rims.

FACTFILE
£31,495
Engine 2.0-litres, four cylinders
Power 197bhp @7000rpm
Torque 151lb [email protected]
Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive 0-62mph 7.7sec
Top Speed 143mph
Economy 34.9mpg CO2 192g/km

Andrew Frankel