It’s -15C. Yep, minus fifteen degrees centigrade. And we’re stood staring at the brand new Toyota GT86 – which positively radiates its warm blood red coat of paint against the snowy Finnish backdrop – wondering what on earth could possibly go wrong when drifting a rear-wheel drive car around an ice and snow track. Nothing, right? Right?
As it turns out, with a helping hand of expert supervision, this proposed mad spectacle turns into a theme park fun-ride and shows off just what a degree of control the GT86 offers in such unequivocally tricky conditions. A bit of snow might shut down the rail network, but it’s not going to shut us down.
The GT86 is far from the first rear-wheel car we’ve ever driven, of course, having sampled both the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat 124 Spider(which is built on the same chassis). These alternatives might seem like slightly alien competitors, given they’re soft-tops, but they’re similar-sized and similar-priced.
Point being there’s a lot of choice on the market – not to mention hot hatches and cars like the Audi TT vying for space – so can the Toyota GT86 facelift still cut it in 2017’s affordable sports car landscape?
Toyota GT86 2017 review: What’s new?
With red and black body work sat stark against white snow it’s immediately clear which facelift design features are apparent for the 2017 model: the front grille is larger and sportier; the rear houses a revised and more aerodynamic spoiler; new alloy wheels are a sizeable 17-inches; while all the headlamps now feature LED arrangements, including the indicators.
The whole car is a snarling, sporty Japanese vision – and we’re glad it’s stuck to this design language and not delved headfirst into the more, let’s say, “unusual” experimental aesthetics of the Toyota Mirai or new Prius. Nope, the GT86 is sticking with its heritage and pushing things forward. It’s one good-looking beast.
Toyota GT86 2017 review: Standard or Pro trim?
Step inside – which we do as quickly as possible, given the outside temperature – and the GT86 is a lovely place to sit. Well, it is for two passengers as, despite its 2+2 arrangement, the rear seats are really just a place to chuck bags or tiny people.
There are two models, the standard and Pro trim, the latter adding black leather and Alcantara upholstery, buckskin-pattern dashboard and door trims, leather trim to the driver’s armrest, and heated front seats. That lot adds an extra £1,150/$1,725 to the price.
Otherwise the GT86 and GT86 Pro are one and the same car: built around a four-cylinder 2-litre engine, delivering 197bhp at the peak 7,000rpm point. There’s no nonsense, no turbos, just good old fashioned fun. On ice, but of course.
However a four-cylinder isn’t the most exciting sounding thrum you’ll get from a sports car. It’s fairly static in its sound delivery, so don’t expect the ultimate aural pleasure.
Toyota GT86 2017 review: How does it drive?
Like a drifter’s dream. Anyone who ever talks about a Mazda MX-5 always goes on about “getting the back end out”. It’s just the same with the GT86 – it can slip and slide around like a front-wheel drive simply can’t – without it feeling as though imminent death is about to come knocking.
Not that we’re endorsing driving like an unmitigated maniac, of course. Herein lies the benefits of Toyota’s traction control. The GT86’s on-board computer works really hard to keep you safe, so you’ll frequently hear a shuddering-like sound as the car controls the wheels to stop you sliding out of control. There’s a track mode that allows some leeway, or switch everything off entirely at your peril – hugely fun peril if you’re on a private track and can afford a few snow bank plants or 360-degree spins.
Off the track and on the road that four-cylinder engine might not be the best sounding in the world, but it’s got ample pep, with a top speed of 140mph. Just go easy on the lower gears, as it’s all about swift quick changes for get greatest control. The six-speed manual box is a little sticky when trying to quick-shift between gears, but does the job. An auto model will also be available.
Even with the frost lashing away at the bodywork, the GT86 is a cosy, cosseting place to sit – and the heated seats of the Pro model certainly come in handy over our full day with the car. This is as low-slung as Toyota seats get; the way the 86’s headlamps can be seen peering over the bonnet like watchful eyes and the easy-to-view driver’s dials all feel perfectly placed, while the dinky steering wheel is race-car small.
Toyota GT86 2017 review: Bolted-on bolstered tech
The facelift GT86 also comes with a new multimedia setup, with a 6.1-inch touchscreen sat pride of place to the centre dash. It’s just about reachable for driver and passenger, even if it does demand the occasional lean forward to get at it. This is the hub for media and satnav.
Other controls are good ol’ switches, buttons and knobs: the air conditioning utilises most of the dash options, which are arranged like you might find in a fighter jet.
It’s not the most luxe looking tech suite compared to the trim of the interior – the screen looks like it’s been bolted on separately, rather than all considered as an integrated arrangement of tech. We like the trio of classic light-up dials beyond the driver’s wheel though and there’s a certain old skool charm about it all, just as we said of the Mazda MX-5.
In the world of the Mazda MX-5 the Toyota’s £26,410/$39,615 might sound like a fair few grand more than its Japanese competitor, but by the time you’ve specced the Mazda up with all the necessaries (even basics like air con) it’ll be touching the £25,000/$37,500 mark anyway. Besides, we prefer the Toyota’s refined looks and comfort.
The 2017 Toyota GT86 is a hugely enticing and affordable sports car prospect, if you’re comfortable with the 2+2 arrangement which, realistically, will only seat driver and passenger comfortably. If you’re looking to cart extra bodies around then something more practical and, daresay, more boring like a Golf GTi might fit the bill.
We might’ve driven the facelift GT86 in -15C temperatures, but even with its snarling looks it warmed our hearts. As rear-wheel drive sports cars go we might’ve just fallen in love.