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Toyota remembers when coupes were simple, rear-wheel drive and designed to give the person behind the wheel a good time. Their GT86 returned us to those days - and now can be had with a wider model range starting from a lower price point. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Toyota remembers when coupes were simple, rear-wheel drive and designed to give the person behind the wheel a good time. Their GT86 returned us to those days - and now can be had with a wider model range starting from a lower price point. Jonathan Crouch reports.

The GT86 formula is simply classic: a snarly, high-revving four-cylinder engine in the nose, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2 seating, a swoopy body, a stubby gearlever and a cosy cabin with low-slung sports seats. Subaru's version of this design, the BRZ, is mechanically identical but looks a little different, plus there is a third version for the American market called the Scion FR-S which has been subtly altered again. Common to all the variants however, is a 197bhp, 151lb ft flat four engine that uses a Subaru block and Toyota-designed cylinder heads that's been designed to spin to 7000rpm and direct its output to the road via a six-speed manual gearbox - though auto transmission is an option. So it's Old School with a modern execution. At launch, only the £25,000 asking price put some buyers off, decent value though that was in comparison to potential rivals like the Volkswagen Scirocco R. So Toyota has widened the range, introducing a 'Primo' entry-level model costing from £23,000. The top Aero variant meanwhile, gets a full bodykit. Otherwise, the recipe is much as before.

Weighing just 1180 kilos, you might expect the GT86 to make rather more of its 197bhp and 151lb ft of torque than the estimated headline performance stats of 140mph and 0-62mph in 7.6s suggest. But this car isn't just about raw power. Its lean kerb weight plays just as big a role in the way it handles and rides. A limited slip differential is also fitted as standard, reaffirming GT86's essential "driver's car" character. And, in this respect, all the ingredients look especially promising: quick steering (2.5 turns lock to lock), a limited slip differential and, perhaps most importantly of all, ESP that can be fully turned off. The emphasis here is on keenness of response, agility and the ability to adjust the cornering attitude as much with the throttle as the helm. Meanwhile, 17-inch versions of the low rolling resistance tyres that can also be found on the Toyota Prius should ensure that outright grip never overwhelms the desire to play the angles, should the driver so wish. Back-to-basics fun was always at the heart of the brief for this car. The driving environment should certainly help get you in the mood with its low-slung bucket seats and driver-centric control layout, not to mention the drilled pedals and footrest. Disappointments? A short-throw gearchange that's a tad notchy and a six-speed auto option that, while smooth, lacks the snappy alacrity of the best double-clutchers. But that's about it.

Of the two versions of this design (Subaru's BRZ is the other), Toyota's aesthetic approach has been the more conservative. Hence the introduction for more extrovert buyers of an 'Aero' model at the top of the range with a full bodykit including a huge rear spoiler. Whatever variant you prefer though, this remains a very good looking car indeed and if the styling of the entry-level version isn't daring enough for you, then optional side, roof and bonnet decals are available in black or silver to add an extra dimension to GT86's sporting appearance. The 2+2 cabin further emphasizes the essential character of the GT86, with a cockpit designed around the driver, front sports seats, aluminum pedals and contrasting red stitching around the black leather trimmed steering wheel, gear knob and parking brake. Access is easy thanks to the Smart Entry system, and the cabin environment can be programmed for comfort with dual-zone air conditioning. The six-speed automatic transmission available for GT86s includes paddle shifts to give the driver the option of making manual gear changes.

With the introduction of an entry-level manual-only 'Primo' variant, pricing now starts from just £23,000, with further dealer deals often available on top of that. The standard version still prices from about £25,000, with a £1,000 premium for the automatic version. That looks good value against obvious rivals like VW's Scirocco R, the Peugeot RCZ THP 200 GT and the MINI Cooper Coupe JCW. If you want the extrovert 'Aero' version with its full bodykit, pricing starts at around £27,500. Even at entry-level, equipment levels run to 17-inch alloys, a limited slip differential, aluminium sports pedals, air conditioning, power-folding mirrors, front foglamps, twin tailpipes, the Toyota Touch media system, Bluetooth and a tyre pressure warning system. To this tally, the standard GT86 model adds features like a rear spoiler, keyless entry, cruise control, climate control, auto headlights and LED daytime running lights. Beyond that, the flagship 'aero' version gets the bodykit and larger 18-inch Ultraleggera alloy wheels. Active safety provisions include a switchable VSC stability control system, which can be adjusted through three driving modes to suit driver preference, and a torque-sensing limited slip differential. Seven airbags are provided, including a driver's knee airbag.

With steady demand and Toyota's (mostly) unblemished reputation for reliability, this car has achieved strong residual values. Decent economy and emissions are another strong suit with the manual model managing 36.2mpg on the combined cycle and 181g/km of CO2 in combined driving. Go for the 6-speed automatic and those figures actually improve - to 39.8mpg and 164g/km.

Could this car be any better? Of course, it could be faster, grippier, quieter and of better quality inside. But personally, we wouldn't really want it to be. All of those things would dilute the very qualities that make this GT86 what it is. Sportscars always used to be this way, light, low powered and modestly rubbered. We had fun in them then and we can have fun in this one now. The chassis is excellent, the controls are brilliant, the driving position nigh-on perfect and the engine, if not aurally exciting, is revvy and fun. So, what we have here is something to savour; one of those rare machines that involves you so much that you don't need to be travelling at three figure speeds to have fantastic fun. Factor in the affordable running costs, high residuals and the now more affordable pricing and this becomes a very tempting proposition indeed. In years to come, it'll be a landmark car for Toyota. Get one and you won't regret it.

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