Andrew Frankel's highlight of the year


Had he done so I would have written about Alonso winning the World Championship because if you look back over time, very few drivers have won titles in the second best car, let alone the third or even fourth which is where I suspect the true pace of his Ferrari puts it. Yet he was actually unlucky not to win it. He had done it would have been one of the great achievements in Grand Prix history.

So I’m going to go somewhere else entirely, from man to machine and from race to road. As the chap responsible for the road car content of the magazine and website, I know no one else is going to champion the cause of anything so mundane as to wear a number plate, but this year saw the launch of a genuinely game-changing car, the likes of which I had presumed was gone for good.

Look at the Toyota GT86 (or its Subaru BRZ clone) and you’ll not twig its secret. It’s a reasonably attractive two door coupé in much the same mould as the Celica. It’s not particularly powerful thanks to there only being a 2-litre, 200bhp flat four motor under the bonnet. Its cabin is rather plain.

But if Motor Sport were to hand out a Car of the Year prize, I would award it to this Toyota – yes even in the year of the Ferrari F12, Lamborghini Aventador and Porsche Boxster. If the entire point of buying a sporting car is to enjoy driving it, then for the money there’s nothing on the market to touch it.

Indeed when I drive one, it reminds me of the old Alfas I sometimes race. Even in full race trim a 1950s Giulietta is has neither power nor grip, but in their ability to let you get away with the most absurd behaviour, these types of car are unparalleled. They’ll go so sideways the person trying to overtake will be convinced you’re having an accident and back off without realising the car’s no more likely to spin than when parked in the paddock.

The GT86 does precisely this. There’s a story peddled in the mags that it’s fitted with tyres from a Prius, but unlike almost all such tales, this one is completely true. I know of one that did two back to back track days with a load of other cars and not only was it driven most and spent easily the greatest period of time oversteering, it was the only car there that didn’t require re-shoeing. In fact its tyres were hardly worn.

And it’s not simply that you’ll feel like a hero when you drive it fast. Sure in the right conditions it’s a true drift addict but here’s the thing: most of the time conditions are far from right, in which case you just re-engage the electronics, sit back in your air-conditioned, cruise-controlled cabin and go about your business as normal.

Will it change the world? Possibly, but probably not. Toyota says global lead times remain long (Thailand briefly had a seven year waiting list) but over here it is no more than ‘on target’. Sadly the UK market for coupés is still more about show than go and while people may like to talk about their driving prowess, when it comes to writing the cheque they’d rather sit in a plush, comfortable Audi TT and think their neighbours are admiring them.

But not me. However popular it becomes, the GT86 will remain a rare kind of car and here’s why. You can look at any passing Ferrari, most modern Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, Astons and Jags and not know whether they’ve been bought for the purposes of posing or driving. With the GT86, that question doesn’t arise. It is a car for drivers alone because no one else would be remotely interested in what it has to offer. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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