Toyota GT86 review. A lovely car for the enthusiast.

Well now, Dear Reader in the interests of saving you some time I've gone out of my way for you and have test driven a Caterham 7 1600 Supersport, a Toyota GT86, a Mazda MX-5 and a Mercedes Benz AMG 6.3. You think blogging is all virtual work and that's it? Nah, us bloggers play in the real world too....

Firstly let me say I've nothing to do with the car trade at all, and I certainly don't work for Toyota. Scallywag that I am these tests and drives were blagged. My own personal cars these days are rarely worth more than their equivalent weight in used snot. Please bear this in mind. You don't believe me? How about a Volvo 340 bought for £170 and run for a year. Or the following Volvo 360; over two years, bought for less than £400. My current Fiesta is worth perhaps a grand.

Now I'll admit that my tests aren't that exhaustive. They are blagged after all. I've no real idea of mpg's or luggage capacity or servicing costs. But that sort of information is cock anyway; these are going to be bought as third or fourth cars in an household. They weren't tested like for like either; the Caterham on a track [Dunsfold], the Toyota around Reigate, and the MX-5 several hours in the country around West Sussex. The Mercedes was also on a track for a day so not real world at all. But really you don't need to go far to discover 90% of what you need to know about a car; I once went to test drive a Honda HRV Joy Machine - started it, drove it literally five feet, stopped it and got out. Hated it, and this for a car I'd waited eagerly for a month to drive. Anyway, I digress, as usual. Which is best?

Well let's get the elephant out of the room first. Looks. The GT86 I think as ugly. Perhaps it'll grow on me over time but for now, no thanks. The Caterham is a classic, especially in yellow and green. The MX-5 of any age is just a looker, even rusty with different coloured panels. The AMG looks like a Berlin taxi.

So, to drive.

The Caterham is a hoot. Silly fast, handles insanely and is as close to a motorbike on four wheels as you want. I loved it. But boy does it look compromised on the road, even as a toy third car. You never see them on the daily commute for instance, or on holiday anywhere. Shopping? Ha bloomin' ha, no way. It's purely a toy. If you lived near some curvy, Police free roads or loved doing track days, then it's top of the list. I loved the day I had with one but as a daily driver I'd be wary of looking like a complete cock. You can take a hobby too far.

Also, in the Caterham:
  • It was designed when people were 8 stone and 5 foot 6 inches tall. Bigger than this? You'll not fit.
  • I could only drive it wearing socks. Shoes fill the footwell and cover two pedals. I'm not sure driving just in socks is stricyly legal in the UK.
  • Getting in with the hood in place is a challenge.
  • In winter you have to wear all of your clothes to drive it.You'll still be cold.
  • Where do you put your bike?

The MX-5. Hmm, always wanted a go in one. Had one for three hours or so, hooning around the lanes. Fast car, surprisingly so - but this may have been more to do with being low down than any real speed. It's not Ferrari or Aston Martin fast is it? But with the right driver on a good road it'd give some 600cc motorcycles a run for their money. Here I speak from a degree of experience, having been a motorcyclist for some years - motorcyclist on unknown Welsh roads against a local in an MX-5 you'd not stand a chance when traffic free or raining. So it's got the beans to do the job but I never came away thinking I'd like one. Far from it. For one the window frames were merrily rusting away on this two year old example. This was a cosseted third car never used in winter. Secondly it just came over as being a bit, well, mid life crisis for me. It was too safe, too nice to the driver. It lacked gnar. It was Sandy Shaw when you wanted Angelina on a bad nasty day.

Oooo, the Mercedes AMG 6.3. I'm not going to say much other than I WANT ONE NOW! Honestly if you could serve that engine up on a plate I'd be sitting here licking it or arranging tissues in a semi-circle. Sit in the car, pootle around, it's OK. Nicely put together, as you'd expect for £70k I guess. Pootle around a bit more, still OK. Get to a spot where you can accelerate a bit...... OH MY GOD IT GOES AND THAT NOISE WHAT'S HAPPENING TO MY WORLD IT'S ALL GONE A BLUR AND IT'S OVER WHAT HAPPENED THERE BUT I WANT SOME MORE OF IT!

Yup once you floor it and hear that engine note that's it, you want one. Apparently the magazines don't rate the car at all, but they're spoilt journos. A Monaro may well be better though. Plus in the AMG you'd look like one of those guys you see in places like Varna on the Black Sea, know what I mean?

GT86. I didn't want to like it. It's a Toyota, gonna be boring as hell. Probably slow, probably ultra conservative. I'm going to look like a middle manager.

I'd be happy with one. I'd say it's more fun on the road than a Caterham would be at sub legal road speeds, especially if you have to mix it with traffic. The Caterham you'd be 5/10's and in licence losing territory yet it'd be asking for more, egging you on to nutter land. People would be expecting you to drive it properly all the time and you'd be considered a wuss otherwise. The GT86 is just raw, slightly innocent fun. It runs on narrow Prius tyres that spin up at will. And when you hit the loud pedal the noise it makes is addictive, a lovely growl. To me though, it sounded as though somebody had put a CD into the stereo. Apparently this sound is from the actual engine and not the stereo as some cars are wont to do these days - I will check to make sure it's not an artificial noise but for now it's lovely [turns out it's some kind of flap to introduce induction noise into the cabin, so it is entirely artificial in a way]. And the car is not totally a jittery bag of nerves to drive on UK roads. Not smooth at all, but not horrid - controlled may be the word I'm looking for. It doesn't fight the driver, just tells them what is going on, all the time, which is nice. It's different to that felt when running wide tyres through lorry ruts for example; that's just crap. Most cars now you turn the steering wheel and it is as if you are asking a committee to do the work. The car will turn, but you're not convinced it was because you asked it to; try a Honda Jazz for instance. The Toyota GT86 has lovely, direct and informative controls, but not so direct as the Caterham does - sneeze and you're going somewhere else in that car. The GT86 was also easy to drive. A lot of cars you get into and find the engine stalls when you pull away, or third gear is hard to find. No worries here at all, easy.

Is it fast? Fast enough Dear Reader, fast enough. You'll be mullered on an Autobahn pretty quickly I'd guess, as it is only a 2 litre after all. I've no idea what the top speed is, but I'd guess you'd have to be either sneaky or silly to find out on the M1 for instance. Most sporty cars these days seem to get up to 150mph - I read of a Renault Megane topping out at an indicated 163mph, but that's got way more power then the GT.

And the looks? Well when you drive it you suddenly realise that the lights are up in the air as guides to what the nose is doing; it is meant as a drift car anyway. You can drive it with a good degree of accuracy unlike cars where you can only see the base of the windscreen. In other words it looks better once inside. Talking of which, it is a sportscar so pretty low.

It will also do 31mpg driven reasonably hard on the road. Actually that's a bit crap isn't it? Again most likely a ball park figure for 2 litre cars.

So, ugly it may be, but if given the choice between a Caterham 7, AMG 6.3, Mazda MX-5 and Toyota GT86 which would I have? Not the MX-5. It's good, and you'd wash it just to caress that body, but it's not engaging enough for me. It's the kind of car for a person who enjoys motorway service station hotels or team meetings or who takes life advice from magazines but who at the same time never buys a car magazine. The Caterham 7 I'd love; I'd have one now, right now, instantly. But it's too much isn't it? Wife would hate it and I'd be driving solo without shoes cursing the weather Gods. People would ask "why?" all the time and I'd have a lame answer. Eventually I'd stop driving it. The GT86 wins it for me*. If you want to experience fun yet retain your licence and you are big enough to ignore so-called sage advice from others, then that's the one to go for out of this little group. I'm not sure it'd be a relaxing thing to own long term, that flap'd annoy, but you'd never be bored in it. It's a stealth car; one where people look at the badge and think "hybrid, save the planet, go slow" yet you'd be sitting there all smug and happy having just broken 27 motoring laws unnoticed. It's the kind of car a Police officer would see you hooning around in but then discount the sighting - any magistrate would laugh such a thing out of court. "You'll be telling us about Martians under your bed next won't you officer? Toyota being ragged indeed. Case dismissed". Just don't expect to be able to spot it in a car park.

*I'm lying here naturally. Any person would have the AMG 6.3 if they had the cash to splash and didn't have to pay fuel bills. Really, that engine. There's also another elephant in the room though isn't there? My wife had a go in a 1 series BMW and rather liked it. Seems they do a 300bhp version for roughly the same price as the GT86. 200bhp or 300bhp for the same money? But then you're off down a dangerous road of comparisons - a Mondeo would trounce the BMW in every area, so that would be a more reasonable buy. But do you see? Now I've moved from a £25k sporty coupe to a boring 2 litre rep mobile in two steps. Kind of shows my hidden desires don't you think? Family man with bikes to carry and all that.

Now Dear Reader I am at heart a cyclist. Not a revolutionary one, but a cyclist all the same. Spend money on cars instead of bikes? Hmmm, think not. But there are alternatives out there that are just as much fun to drive on the roads as the cars above. Not the same quality, reliability, performance or street cred, but fun in the right circumstances all the same. Go bag yourself an £800 Daewoo Matiz for starters and then find an industrial estate to play in, or a mini roundabout to make yourself sick on. My children still talk about the one we had. Same goes for a £300 Volvo 360. Ugly as hell but an utter hoot to rag around, especially in the snow. Fit a Clio engine and for £1,000 you've a 200bhp sub 1,000kg car that hoons. You can get similar cars for less than the price of one month's depreciation on a GT86 [and it will depreciate - it's not like Toyota wont make a gazillion of them is it?]. Rag them, trash them, put them in a skip and get another. My neighbour took my Volvo 360 out to drop his kids off at the local pool a mile away. They came back about 5 hours later, him with a thousand yard stare and the kids all wild, going on about how fast the car was. He'd emptied the tank. Now I'm not daft enough to equate that with a £300 car being a quality item, but if you want some fun then why not?

I liked the GT86, I really did. It's a fun car and about time we saw more rear wheel drive, small capacity sports cars. But it does look like one of those Mitsubishi FTO imports......