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Write what you drive

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

The Return of Aspiration at Toyota Pt. II

Following on from my last article, I managed to secure a drive in a Toyota GT86 so I could decide for myself if the "wonderfully involving car to drive" statement I accredited to the motoring press was deserved.

The car is probably better looking in the metal than in the press pictures, with muscular rear haunches and sleek low roofline. The welcome omission of continuously adjustable electric seats in favour of the old lever and ratchet system allowed me to find a comfortable driving position far more quickly than in most modern cars. My girlfriend was even reasonably comfortable in the back whilst the man from Toyota delivered his patter from the passenger seat.

I found myself driving the car confidently very quickly - the user friendly controls (almost disconcertingly so in the case of the very light clutch pedal) and confidence-inspiring chassis putting me at ease along the A and B roads.

The man from Toyota described, not in so many words, what I assume is an induction symposer that channels some intake noise into the cabin above 3000rpm. He said that whilst the dealer would remove it prior to delivery, most customers stuck with it. I didn't find the tone particularly pleasant and never having been a fan of the cheating required to give modern engines a more characterful sound; I have to say I would be tempted to request it is removed.

The quoted 0-60 mph time is 7.6 seconds, which is co-incidentally the same as my old NA MR2, and 2 seconds slower than my current Turbo. Having said that, a less powerful engine (without a turbo charger) can make a car faster point-to-point than something with better headline figures and a less useable power delivery - my Ford Puma being a prime example.

The biggest disappointment I found was how flat the engine felt in 2nd gear; I can only imagine it has been made longer to allow the car to reach 60 mph without a further gear change and aid what, even so, is still a fairly underwhelming time. There just didn't seem to be an awful amount of immediacy; the sort of kick in the back you'd expect from a simple sports car - a point handily illustrated as I followed an Audi RS4 off a roundabout. I pinned the throttle in second and was still easily embarrassed by the big German. The lack of go only serves to make the false induction rasps sound more puerile and whilst I wouldn't expect my Turbo to keep up with a 4.2L V8, it would cling on far more gamely.

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That said, the 0-60 time belies how keen the car feels in 3rd and 4th gear, which is where it really matters for satisfying B-road progress. I found myself going much faster than I realised, even given the digital speed readout, urged on by how planted the car felt and the positive messages I was getting back through the beautifully weighted steering wheel.

My mid-engined MR2 can almost be too communicative, feeling a little nervous and twitchy through the steering wheel as the light front end reports every ridge back to the driver. The GT86 doesn't relay information about anything you don't need to know about - filtering out twitchiness to provide you with positive messages and urge you on.

I'd love a GT86 - it's definitely a car you sit in rather than on, and is weighted perfectly front to back to make to make you feel part of the machine rather than a middle-man who just pays the finance instalments and plants his foot to let the ECU, gearbox and traction control sort out the actual driving part.

I think that my ill-conceived suggestion at the end of my last article of a GT86 Turbo would probably ruin the cars benign, confident nature and turn it into a bucking bronco intent on spitting you off the road when your talent runs out. Supercharging seems like a more 21st Century solution to the straight line speed issue and is not quite as unlikely as you might think since Lotus have been strapping superchargers to Toyota base engines almost at will over the last few years (even if this is technically a Subaru unit).

Would I buy one...for £25k+ (or at least my signature on an agreement worth that much)...no. I really admire Toyota for the honest-to-goodness nature of this car but I fear it may be fundamentally flawed as a big seller.

The problem is that the target market for this car (the enthusiast; whoever he is) are also likely to be comfortable testing their mettle in the used car market. This wasn't an issue 15-20 years ago in the era I talked about in the first instalment of this article, because the used options were a fairly crappy selection of '80s rust buckets.

In 2013 however, the used options available for this sort of money are pretty good; if you don't have the cash, you could still sign your £25k finance deal on a Porsche Cayman. Or for about the amount Toyota would want as a deposit you could own a Lotus Elise outright.

The kind of customers buying Sciroccos and Mini Coupes who just want a slightly flashier car than the equivalent hatchback to roll around in are unlikely to be impressed by the interior (which certainly doesn't feel £25k worth), absence of luxury toys and lack of Toyota brand cachet. I'm not saying this is the correct decision, but I believe it is the one that most will make.

The GT86 was Top Gear (Magazine) Car of the Year 2012, and if you can pick one up in 15 years' time for the £1k I bought the 1997 winner of the same title for, you will be an extremely happy driver. Whilst I won't be buying one in 2013; I sincerely hope that others shun the FWD competitors and do. I think I'll wait for that supercharged version...

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