Toyota’s GT86 has been around for nearly four years, and there are about 600 on New Zealand roads. It’s certainly a car that gets smiles when people spot one. Now there’s a facelifted version with quite a few little tweaks and improvements. It has new lights, improved interior, and in the manual version, slightly more power. I attended the New Zealand Launch of the GT86 late last year and had the opportunity to drive it on track. Now I was keen to see how I got on with it on the road.

The Range

There are two models of 86 available – the base 86 at $46,986 and the GT86 at $51,986. Both get the same 152kW/212Nm boxer engine and six speed manual transmission. Auto is available for an extra $1k on the GT only but has 147kW/205Nm. It does blip the throttle for you on downshifts though. A limited slip diff (LSD) is standard. The GT has 17” rather than 16” wheels. LED headlights and tail lights are standard, with fogs added to the GT. The GT also adds keyless entry and start, a new instrument cluster with multi-function display including lap timer and G meter. Both have ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, VSC and traction control, 7 airbags, reversing camera, and a six-speaker stereo,

Seven colours are available: Gravity Blue seen here, Midnight Black, Crystal White, Ignition (red), Burnt Orange and a couple of silver/greys. I think the 86 looks great in any colour but I prefer the brighter ones.

First Impressions

I think the 86 is a fantastic looking car, This facelifted version hasn’t changed the formula too much, and that’s a good thing. They’ve tweaked the lights and a few other bits, added a new rear spoiler, improved interior parts, but mainly left the car alone. I like that it doesn’t look too flash, but flash enough. And it has frameless doors – I love frameless doors!

It has a great stance, low and wide, but still has 130mm of ground clearance so you don’t have to worry too much about speed bumps or kerbs in car parks.

The Inside

Inside is a similar story with nice, deep alcantara and leather front seats which hug your hips. The rear seats are similar – deep buckets which feel like they put your bum about 5cm from the floor. With the front seats in a normal position for me there was maybe 7cm for a rear passenger to fit their legs in. Those back seats may be officially for two adults, but practically you can’t really fit four people in the 86 in comfort. They’re for very short trips, or smaller kids and that’s it. Also if you’re much taller than my 178cm you won’t really fit comfortably in the GT86 at all.

The dash is covered in suede with an embroidered 86 logo on one side. Doors and other parts have nicely padded areas just where you want it, to rest your elbow comfortably.

The gauges have been designed with sporty driving in mind, with a large central rev counter – designed so that the needle is vertical at 7,000rpm where the 86 makes peak power. There’s a shift-up light with audible warning so you can time those shifts just right. Inset in the rev counter is a digital speed and gear indicator. I generally found myself using that and ignoring the analogue speedo. To the right is a multi-function display with the usual odometer, trip computer etc. It can also be set up as a lap timer, G-meter (with max-values history graph), oil temp/water temp/battery voltage gauge, or even a dyno plot showing where you currently are on the power/torque graph.

The dual-zone climate control works well and is controlled by nice big knurled knobs with displays in their centres. There’s also an old-school looking digital clock and a cubby for coins, or whatever little things you like to keep in your car.

There’s a touch-screen stereo with Bluetooth, USB and Aux inputs, which is used as the display for the reversing camera. There’s a power socket in the centre console, which has a pretty big open storage cubby with a removable dual cupholder.

The boot is pretty decent too. It’s 237 litres and is a bigger space than I expected. Not very deep, but there’s enough space for a decent amount of shopping. The rear seat folds flat to allow you to get longer items in there.

The Drive

The first challenge with the 86 is getting in and out of it gracefully. The seat position is low! But once you’re in there, snugly cocooned by that bucket seat and centre console it’s a thoroughly pleasant place to be. The seats are firm but comfortable, with excellent side support. Finding the right driving position wasn’t a problem, and the steering wheel is height and reach adjustable.

Pushing in the clutch causes the start button to light up in red. A quick press and you’re ready to go. Slot it into gear with the short-throw gear lever and you’re off. I was expecting the the GT86 to be a bit of a chore to drive in stop/start traffic, but it’s not. The clutch is light and easy to use, and the shift is so short that the first couple of times I slotted it into second I double checked to make sure it had gone all the way in. This makes for a hugely satisfying shift when out on the open road. Very quick and tight.

When you’re cruising on the highway at 100 in 6th, the 86 is pretty quiet, with some tyre and wind noise, but not a great deal. It’s still a firm ride, but it’s definitely more comfortable than the previous version. There’s cruise control, which uses the usual awkwardly-placed Toyota control stalk. The cruise is pretty old-school – it doesn’t show you the set speed and doesn’t brake for you or anything like that. But it does its job. I tend to use it a lot on the boring bits of long trips to make sure I keep to speed limits.

While I was cruising along I had a play with the stereo. Bluetooth connection worked perfectly, and everything did as it should. I even managed to use the voice control to make a call. It’s a pretty basic unit, no Apple Carplay or Android Auto, no satnav, and the sound quality is, well, okay. There’s decent bass, but no matter how much I fiddled with the settings I could never quite get it to sound as I wanted. So I turned it off and listened to the engine noises instead. If you look at the photo of the engine you’ll notice a pipe which leads from the side of the airbox towards the firewall. This ends up in the cabin by the pedals and is there to transfer intake noise into the cabin. It actually works really well – it’s not too loud, but loud enough to transfer the car’s nicest boxer sounds to your ears, enhancing the experience for the driver.

But this car isn’t about cruising on the highway or crawling along in traffic, it’s a sports car. It belongs on twisty, hilly roads. And when you get to those roads it really starts to shine. There are very few cars which have made me laugh out loud with glee, but this is one of them.

When my wife and daughter were in the car with me I realised that it’s very difficult to drive the GT86 smoothly. My wife hated it. She gets car sick at the best of times, and the low seats, hard suspension, and my failed attempts to shift smoothly, did not help. She made me turn around and go home to swap to our family car. It’s probably best as my six year-old had to sit cross-legged to fit in the back.

The GT86 is a car that you need to take by the scruff of the neck and drive. And when you’re on your own in there – or with a fellow car enthusiast (my six year-old in the front seat for example!) then it’s a thoroughly rewarding experience.

152kW isn’t a huge amount of power, but this car isn’t about pure speed, it’s about the drive. Combine that power with a great torque curve, rear-wheel drive, relatively skinny tyres, and that wonderful six speed manual, and you have a recipe for an engaging and fun drive.

The steering is quick – only 2.5 turns lock to lock – and there’s plenty of feel. The brakes work well, and there’s lots of grip if you want it, but if you want to have a play it’s easy to overcome that with a prod of the throttle. The traction control has been tweaked in this facelifted version to be less intrusive, and it lets the rear slip a bit before catching it for you. This gives a wonderful feeling as the car rotates around corners or roundabouts. It can be turned off of course, and there’s a new Track Mode if you’re feeling brave, or confident. Having driven the 86 on a wet track in normal mode, I wouldn’t turn it off on the road, as we had a few spin-outs and skids on-track with it turned on.

On a winding road the GT86 is so much fun. The growling boxer engine note as you accelerate, the quick, accurate steering, the tight and oh-so-satisfying gear shift, the ability to brake smoothly and quickly. Just the sheer pleasure of blipping the throttle and making that perfect downshift, or feeling the rear wheels push you out of a turn as the car rotates just-so.

And to those who insist it needs more power, or forced induction, it really doesn’t. It’s a great formula, well executed, and you really need to drive it to appreciate what Toyota have done. Respect to them for sticking to their guns and producing a great driver’s car.

The Competition


There’s not really any direct competition for the GT86. Even the MX-5 isn’t really the same sort of car. It takes the same formula but in a different direction.

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h Price Highest to Lowest
Arbarth 124 Spider 1.4l 4 cylinder turbo 125kW/250Nm 6.4 6.8s $52,990
Mazda MX-5 Limited 2.0l 4 cylinder 118kW/200Nm 7.4 7.3s $52,990
Toyota GT86 2.0l 4 cylinder boxer 152kW/212Nm 8.4 7.4s $51,986

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Great handling
  • Looks good
  • Tight gear shift and quick steering
  • It will make you smile!
  • Hard ride
  • Basic cruise control
  • Back seats only for short trips or small kids

What we think

I love this car. Sure it has some compromises, but there aren’t many cars like this. If you like to really drive your car, with as few driver-aids as possible, I don’t think there’s really another choice of new car.

Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5

Vehicle Type 2+2 Sports Car
Starting Price $51,986 + on-road costs
Tested Price $51,986 + on-road costs
Engine 1998cc Boxer 4 cylinder DOHC, Naturally Aspirated
Transmission 6 speed manual
0 – 100 kph 7.4 seconds
Kerb Weight 1239 kg
Length x Width x Height 4240 x 1775 x 1285mm
Cargo Capacity 237 Litres
Fuel Tank 50 litres
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined – 8.4 L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  9.5 L / 100km

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 stars
Warranty 5 years

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Rob Clubley
I love everything about cars! Driving, looking at them, modifying. It's great to see what people do with cars, the different car cultures. If I was rich, my garage would be bigger than my house!


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