Journalists, eh? We bang on about the dearth of naturally aspirated, front-engine, rear-drive cars with modest grip, and when we finally get one, all we do is find fault. Many of the initial reviews for the Toyota GT86 were less than glowing, criticised for the rather lacklustre engine. Even the handling came in for flak. Others, though, raved about the little Toybaru, and we’ve since recognised that, with a few well-chosen mods, it can indeed be the drivers’ car it always wanted to be.
The Subaru boxer engine, in this case a naturally aspirated 2-litre with a Toyota fuelling system (featuring both direct and port injection) sits well back and low down in the chassis to aid agility and drives the rear wheels via a choice of conventional six-speed manual or six-speed paddleshift auto gearboxes, with a Torsen mechanical limited-slip diff and switchable VSC three-mode stability control as standard. In fact you got plenty of standard kit for the £24,995 list price (the auto was £1500 more), including 17-inch alloys, bi-xenons, dual-zone air-con, Bluetooth and LED daytime running lights.
Which one to buy?
The first thing to know is that the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 are essentially the same car, although, out of the box, the Toyota has softer springs at the front and stiffer ones at the rear, promoting extra playfulness over the Subaru’s keener turn-in and extra stability. It must be galling for Subaru, whose hardware underpins both cars, that its own version is outsold in most markets. In the UK, the ratio is almost ten to one.
The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) special edition was introduced in March 2014 at a steep £31,495 for the manual. It was chiefly a cosmetic exercise, though its bigger, 18-inch alloys and Yokohama Advan Sports in place of the regular car’s Michelin Primacy eco tyres brought a newfound edge to the handling.
The automatic gearbox is best avoided – despite the paddles behind the wheel, it’s an old-style slushbox and the manual is much better suited to the character of the car.
For 2015MY Toyota introduced a number of variants, including the heavily bewinged Aero (an extra £2500) and the entry-level Primo (£2500 less than the regular car at £22,495). We’d be happy with a regular GT86/BRZ. Just think of it as the starting point…
Performance and specs
Engine 1998cc, flat-four
Power 197bhp @ 7000rpm
Torque 151lb ft @ 6400-6600
Transmission Six-speed manual (six-speed auto optional), rear-wheel drive, LSD
Top speed 140mph
Insurance group 33
Fuel consumption 36.0mpg
Dimensions and weight
• The flat-four is pretty much bombproof, experts agree. Mark Gillam of tuning specialist Abbey Motorsport says there have been a few minor issues: noisy high-pressure fuel pumps, oil leaks from the rear of the driver’s side cylinder head, a misfire under load that’s cured by an updated engine map.
• All should be covered by the five-year warranty, though they are getting tougher on cars that have had forced induction.
• While reliability isn’t generally a problem, power delivery is – particularly the dip in the torque curve at around 4000rpm. ‘More a valley of death,’ grimaces Iain Litchfield of Litchfield Imports. A remap, possibly together with a freer-breathing intake and exhaust, will help here, while adding up to 20-30bhp and a shot of character. Many remaps come with extra goodies like throttle-blips on downchanges. EcuTek is widely regarded as one of the best.
• Then there are the various forced induction options. ‘If you do a lot of track work and want to hold a drift, you really need the extra power,’ says Iain. Both Litchfield and Abbey Motorsport favour superchargers over turbos, as they put less stress on the engine and don’t overwhelm the rear tyres.
• Around 300bhp is a safe bet. ‘We’ve done 35 to 40 conversions so far and not had any problems,’ says Mark Gillam. ‘The thing is, it was built as a tuner’s car.’
• Both the manual gearbox itself and the clutch are proving robust, even on tuned cars. On some cars the gearshift can baulk going into second, especially when cold. It’s possible to improve the shift with an oil change and/or clutch adjustment.
• Various suspension packages and wheel and tyre upgrades are available. ‘It kind of lurches in and out of oversteer in standard form, but it can be made much more benign and predictable,’ says Iain Litchfield.
• Ditching the standard eco tyres is probably the best upgrade you can make, followed by springs and anti-roll bar. Abbey’s Mark Gillam warns against over-tyring a car that hasn’t been tuned, but for a tuned car, stickier rubber is essential. He also recommends a Hunter four-wheel alignment.
• Standard brakes are fine for road driving, even with up to 300bhp, though it’s not unusual for them to squeal – a change of pad compound usually fixes it.
• Look out for rust bubbling up at the bottom of the quarter-light pillar on both front windows. Paint chipping is common, as is water in the rear light clusters.
• The driver’s seat side bolster is prone to wear, and many cars suffer annoying rattles. Anything emanating from within the dash is likely to be tricky to fix.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
The GT86 and BRZ are actually resisting depreciation pretty well. Very few cars have yet dipped below £15k, which is a realistic starting point for higher-mileage privately advertised 2012 examples. Up to £17k gives you a wide choice of 2012/13 cars with low miles and full histories, including from within the official dealer network. Options worth looking out for include leather/Alcantara trim with heated front seats (£1600 when new) and Toyota’s ‘Touch and Go’ infotainment system and satnav (£750).
Words: Peter Tomalin/evo magazine