YOU don’t need an abacus to help you count the number of affordable rear-wheel drive coupes available to buy in the UK. Even if you choose to include Mazda’s MX-5 – so long as you fit the hard top roof – it’s a small number.
With nearly everyone now focused on cutting emissions and squeezing as much as possible from a litre of fuel, it would be easy to think that fun has taken a back seat in the minds of the car makers.
To a certain degree it has, as it’s much more advantageous for a car firm to build yet another low CO2 car that will earn it copious gold stars among the green lobby. And all the while this is happening, Mazda’s MX-5 remains unchallenged.
This situation could be about to change, as a partnership between Toyota and Subaru has produced something that was commonplace a few decades ago: a rear-wheel drive, front-engine coupe promising thrills for sensible money.
Toyota has more form in this department than Subaru thanks to generations of modestly powerful coupes and roadsters, and its GT86 model boasts a last generation Celica-esque footprint and edgy, wedge-like profile.
It’s a Toyota with a twist, however. The corporate-level connection between the two firms resulted in Subaru sharing development responsibilities and donating its trademark flat four ‘Boxer’ petrol engine. The end result is a thoroughly modern Toyota inside and out powered by a quirky 2.0-litre Boxer motor that’s got more in common with a turbo-nutter Impreza than a Prius.
One thing is missing though, and that’s a turbocharger. Toyota – and Subaru – have eschewed forced induction in a bid to keep the engine’s power output at a sensible – read insurance and wallet-friendly – 197bhp. Predictably with such an engine, most of the action kicks off once past 4,000 revs, which means you’ll need to work hard for your thrills. Fortunately the GT86’s manual gearchange is short and accurate, which makes keeping the motor on the boil a straightforward activity in any of the six gears. Opt for the labour-saving auto ‘box and you get gearchange paddles and a funky throttle blip on downchanges.
Despite the promise of tuning bits from famed Japanese tuner TRD, Toyota isn’t offering any go-faster engine parts for the GT86. If you want more power you’ll need to look to the aftermarket tuner community. Thankfully you won’t be starved of choice or expertise as many have earned their spurs on Subaru’s Impreza and Legacy models.
Why the focus on power? It’s fair to say that the GT86 could easily handle a dollop more of the stuff; its base set-up is pleasingly neutral and the car’s compliant ride is never in the mood to bite you despite the rear-wheel drive layout. As such you can hoon to your heart’s content confident that sideways action can be caught quickly and safely, thanks in part to the car’s impressive composure and accurate and communicative steering.
If you want to fully appreciate what the GT86 can do you’ll need some track time. Here the car comes alive as you have the space to extend the engine and tap into its modest torque band located at the top end of the rev range. You can play it neat and tidy or hang it out on every bend - either approach will make you smile.
While this is all great news for track day fans, you still have to live with the car. In this context Toyota has done a good job with the cabin; dark soft-ish touch plastics abound and you sit suitably low down in supportive seats. The main controls are simple and intuitive to operate, and there’s enough storage space for phones, drinks, maps and the like.
In a nod to everyday motoring the GT86 comes with two rear bucket seats but, realistically, their existence is more for decoration. Fold them down and you’ve got a straight-through loadspace that’s usefully flat and leads back to the easily accessible boot.
Factor in a good level of standard kit – electric windows, decent audio, climate control, Bluetooth, keyless ignition – and the only remotely essential extra is sat-nav for a few hundred pounds if you don’t fancy coughing up for leather seats.
The GT86 isn’t Toyota’s replacement for the Celica, and neither is it a direct rival for the countless hot hatches that have appeared since that car’s demise. This rear-drive coupe is, however, an intriguing and affordable alternative to the likes of Nissan’s 370Z plus Volkswagen’s Scirocco and the other compact German luxury coupes that are in a higher price bracket and can’t match the Toyota for agility and driver involvement.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Toyota GT86, from £24,995 (£26,495 for auto variant).Engine: 2.0-litre petrol unit developing 197bhp.Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.Performance: Maximum speed 140mph, 0-62mph 7.7 seconds.Economy: 36.2mpg.CO2 Rating: 181g/km.