I've just done my first test drive of the GT86 and thought some of you might enjoy reading my impressions - photos have been removed
No surprises on the exterior really - I think I have seen enough of them to know this is one very sleek and attractive car. To me the lines have always been just fundamentally 'right' in the same way that an Aston V8 Vantage, E-type, TVR Griffith or Lotus Esprit just looks right. Of particular interest here is the fact that there is a mid cycle refresh coming which the dealer says will be here towards the end of the year. The refresh is a revised front grille (which doesn't look as nice as the current one), revised rear lights and splitter that don't look much different and a subtle refresh to the interior with the addition of audio controls on the steering wheel and more 'soft touch' high quality materials (which is appealing). The dealer informed me that if I ordered this week my car would be delivered in September - which would make it one of the last of the current design. This doesn't bother me in principle but financially may be more costly unless I can mitigate that with a hefty discount. Interior accomodation
The interior comes in a variety of different trim options and unfortunately I really wanted to see the two tone red and black leather and Alcantara but the dealer didn't have one in stock. I saw the black fabric and there's no way I would buy one of those as it doesn't in any way feel special enough. I also saw the black leather with red stitching which was very nice with a good premium feel. I have to say the seat was utterly sublime - quite simply by far the finest car seat I have ever sat in by a million million miles. It supports you without gripping you and I was very impressed indeed by the driving position. I thought the Griffith had the best driving position I have ever experienced but the Toyota is a little better than that. There's ample legroom even for someone like me with the legs of an emu bird and plenty of headroom too. The Jag XK8 leaves me short on headroom so this was a welcome relief because I'm certainly not planning to buy a car that requires me to drive along with my head half cocked! In essence though every normal saloon car I've ever driven requires you to have a driving position with your legs bent at the knees and some (including my old VW Passat) accentuate the discomfort by placing the pedals off centre. This leads to cramp on drives over 3 hours and sends me crazy. It's one of the reasons why I love a more sporting car such as the TVR Griffith and the Toyota GT86 because in my experience you get better support under the hips and knees and your legs are straight ahead on the pedals with very little bend at the knee. I was so pleased to see that Toyota have arranged the GT86 like that with the pedals dead ahead and the legs stretched out. The gear knob is perfectly positioned and is exactly where you want it to be:
The rear legroom was adequate for someone like my 11 year old daughter as long as the seat isn't pushed the whole way back - in which case there's bugger all. Because the front has so much room you can however live with the seats halfway forward. I would be very interested to know what height adjustment options there are on the front passenger seat??
I'm not sure a 5ft 9 inch Texan cheerleader would be comfortable on the back seat but for an average woman or a young teen it was fine. The only frustration is that my Daughter's feet were essentially stuck under the seat in front. I need to look into what options there are to raise the seat in front to enable her more flexibility in foot position. Would it be comfortable for her for a blatt to a pub half an hour away on a Sunday? - yes, but a two hour journey would be more of a struggle I think if you can't easily reposition your feet. On the plus side the rear seats were surprisingly wide and spacious and she had loads of head and shoulder room and that was a genuine surprise:
Practicality is enhanced by a surprisingly capacious boot. Sure, I wouldn't be able to fit a chesterfield sofa in there, but two cabin bags and some of my wife's shoe collection undoubtedly. The rear seats fold forward to provide enhanced load area Switchgear and instrumentation
The instruments are beautifully laid out with the core instruments scuplted around the driver and they are extremely legible. I liked the ergonomics, everything falls very easily to hand and even the milled aluminium heater controls had a nice tactile feel. The stitched leather wheel nicely echoes the sporting intent. There's a couple of plastics on the center console that aren't up to the standards of the very best and I hope that's one of the things they will address in the mid cycle refresh. Overall though it felt like a very nice place to sit. Coupled with a sublime driving position every control is just ideally placed and falls to hand. You wouldn't need to read the owners manual to this car because everything is so intuitive
This car had the premium audio option which I would want - 10 speakers by JBL including a subwoofer. The sound was very good but not as good as the Rockford Fosgate audio fitted to my wife's Mitsubishi Outlander which is supremely refined. The JBL system by contrast was a bit 'thrashy' and lacking in smoothness. I only listened to the radio and one CD though and it's possible the audio settings had been badly tuned by the dealer staff member who commutes to work in the car. This will require further investigation on a second test drive. It is of course miles better than the Saab or any normal car, but mildly disappointing considering the heritage of JBL and the number of speakers and amps. Driving Impressions
I've read thousands of words of reviews about the GT86 since I fell in love with it four years ago at the Goodwood Festival of Speed launch. Most reviewers talked of superb handling but lack of torque so I was braced for that. Coming from a TVR Griffith with 275lb/ft of torque nothing short of a Lamborghini or Mclaren was likely to be in the same ballpark! The GT86 though surprised me with its urgency - especially for the first 10-20mph. It absolutely leaps off the line like a scalded cat to a degree that it takes some mastery to accelerate from rest cleanly without wheelspin. It really does feel like a car that wants to charge. The car feels surprisingly urgent at any speed in practically any gear and on the A3 at 80mph dropping into fourth and flooring it saw us swept to 100mph in a wave of torque that most definitely pushes you back into your seat. It's an enjoyable sensation and took me by surprise. There were no obvious flat spots to the acceleration - it pulls harder than my 3.2 litre jag did and much harder than the Saab 9-3 turbo diesel does too at all points in the rev range. It doesn't have the outright blistering savagery of a TVR that literally scares you when floored but it's a rewarding car to drive. The engine makes some satisfying sounds too when driven enthusiastically (augmented I think by some kind of Toyota sound pipe). The downside to all this however is the cabin noise. Being a hardtop I expected the GT86 to sound quieter than my convertible Saab diesel but it was louder, considerably louder at motorway speeds. The engine is quiet around town, rewarding to hear when driving enthusiastically but the 'road noise' (rather than engine noise) on the motorway at 80mph was a surprise. I was genuinely disappointed by this because it felt as if you had to turn the radio up quite a bit to listen to radio 4 etc. My overall experience with cars has been that refinement has been increasing in the past 20 years so that if you drove a 20 year old Golf your ears would be assailed whereas the latest generation would emit barely a whisper in the cabin. Well the GT86 puts you right back in a 1980's golf! Would it stop me buying the car - no, but it was certainly the biggest disappointment with it given I have a 42 mile motorway commute to work. One thing worth stressing is that the A3 road surface does vary quite a lot around here and we drove a different section of it on the way out compared to the way back. On the way out the cabin noisel level was unbelievably high but coming back it was noticeably quieter. I think that part of the issue might have been the road surface so a further test drive is needed to evaluate that.
Aside from the engine and road noise other aspects were good, the gear change was superb barring some reluctance to engage second gear when the oil is cold. The gears are very closely spaced so you do need to be very mindful of which gear you are engaging but I feel this feel would improve with time and experience with the car. Gear changing though was at all times highly rewarding and the car made some lovely 'changing down' sounds. In many ways the engine reminded me of a motorbike engine - it is very free revving indeed and I was left feeling that we have all been driving lazy diesels for too long and have forgotten how much joy a well engineered pentrol engine brings. There's a musicality and freedom to such engines that makes driving them a much more rewarding experience.
In terms of interior trim there were as you would expect absolutely no rattles or squeaks - it is a Toyota after all! Handling
The GT86 from the off feels wonderfully planted. The car feels very much 'one' with the driver in the same way something like a Lotus Elise does. You absolutely do feel what it's doing and it transfers this information with unerring accuracy to the driver. The GT86 actually sits on quite narrow tyres to enable you to turn the traction control off and enjoy yourself although that will have to wait until a second test drive. I did however hurl it around a couple of roundabouts and it cornered far more predictably than the Griffith with the traction control on. You can certainly corner very hard and the traction control did eventually dive in and start braking some of the wheels when I deliberately provoked it - with the system off I think you could certainly have a few brown trouser moments quite easily!!
On the downside the ride is very definitely firm - firmer than my Griff (which is actually quite soft and comfortable by sportscar standards). This results in a slightly annoying bobbing sensation over potholes, level crossings and bumps in the road. The suspension travel is necessarily short and stiff and the damper rates seem quite high. It is nowhere near as good as the Saab at soaking up bumps in town. To its credit it doesn't make crashing noises over potholes or anything like that but it's not the most relaxing ride I've ever had and is the polar opposite of my Jag which was like riding on a magic carpet while being massaged by Amy Adams wearing a mink glove... In Conclusion
I'm very glad indeed I booked a test drive to answer the question that's been bugging me for four years - what's a GT86 actually like? Overall I really liked the car - it's extremely pretty, has the best seats in the world and would enable a keen driver to really enjoy their workaday commute as well as having enough performance to enjoy a spirited drive at the weekend. It's a wonderful amalgam of what a Passat does and what a TVR does and part of the appeal for me is to be able to get some of my performance fix everyday. Another aspect that appeals is the fact that in this I really could plan a huge trans-european thrash (a la Top Gear) to Le Mans or the Alps and have every expectation of getting there rather than ending up on a recovery truck which is an ever present risk with saomething like the TVR - or indeed any older classic.
It's fuss free motoring at it's best and offers the potential for driving enjoyment everyday at sensible cost. I'm not sure there is anything else out there that provides this. The NIssan 370Z is butt ugly and too expensive on fuel, the MX-5 is too effeminate, the Audi TT isn't as pretty and by all accounts not as rewarding to drive.
I'm waiting for the dealer to provide a finance quote but he reckons he can put one on my drive for less than £300 a month new. If we're in that ballpark I will certainly take the missus and arrange a second test drive. Delivery would be around September and the complicating factor is that the model refresh should be happening around the end of the year. This means I will need to negotiate a pretty hard bargain on the old shape via Drivethedeal or Carwow or wait for the new shape to arrive and probably in truth pay more. From what I've seen I prefer the lines of the current model as they've redesigned the front grille to be more aggressive and I think it's a bit OTT. I'm more interested in what they're doing to the interior with supposedly better fit and finish.
Anyway that's all from me - hope you found it an entertaining and balanced read!