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Toyota GT86 launch New Zealand

A couple of years ago I got behind the wheel of the Toyota GT86. I had it for a week and used it to commute and basically domesticated it. I enjoyed the car, liked its simplicity and although I understood that Toyota designed the 86 to be a ‘Driver’s Car’, a rear wheel drive, front engined sportscar that leant on its racing heritage, I did find the ride a little hard and struggled to understand why it had such a cult following so quickly – yeah I know. Anyway, last week I attended the launch of the 2017 version and I rapidly realised that it would appear that my original thoughts on this car may have been the opposite of right.

So what’s changed (aside from my mind)? Well quite a lot it would appear. Outside, the whole car has a broader, lower more aerodynamic body. Aluminium raised rear boot spoiler (increasing handling) and black resin fins surround the fog lamps. Bi-LED headlights (LED all around in fact). All while sitting on (with the GT) 17”Alloys. Inside, Grand Luxe upholstery and Carbon-look accents adorn the cabin, with less sheen to annoy the driver. The Steering wheel has been reduced in size to 362mm diameter and yet Toyota has added audio and display function switches to ensure you keep your hands on it. It has a 4.2”colour LCD information display with G meter, Stopwatch and Torque curve displays and 7,000 rpm (the fun spot) is at the top of the dial. There are some helpful aids too, such as Hill Start assist, and a reversing camera.

But it’s the seemingly subtle (on paper anyway) changes that have made the biggest impact as far as I am concerned, they are harder to see but I sure did feel the difference. Although still attached to a 6-speed box, the 2L Boxer engine (in the manual option) now produces 152kW and 212Nm plus the manual now has a Track Drive mode. The coils and shocks have been tuned too, somehow giving greater stability and handling but also providing (for me) a more comfortable ride – the Toyota engineers are genii.

The launch event was held in the heart of the North Island, Taupo and (as is becoming the norm when I visit there for a motoring event) it was raining. It kicked off with a quick road drive circling the town but (as the TRD racing was on) was more swayed towards the track, a place to let my inner racing demons run free.

We had both the Manual and the Auto to play with and they both performed admirably (however there is something about the manual that rounded off the experience). With a Toyota representative beside us, we had a few re-acquainting laps and on a very sodden track – it’s been a while. However, it wasn’t long before we were released under our own reconnaissance. The GT86 felt naturally at home on the racetrack, hugging the corners and happily getting up into the plus 160kph down the straight. I have to admit to being happy that it had a very capable traction control system as there were a few times…The smaller steering wheel provides a great ‘feel’ for the road and is, of course, ultra responsive.

Next up was a ‘traction control off’ session, a chance to wag the GT86’s tail as we drifted and hooned around the soaking wet course. It was a gloves off affair that even had a barrel there to doughnut past if we wanted to – and I really wanted to. Even in these atrocious (but obviously safe) conditions, the GT86 performed brilliantly. It allowed plenty of scope to venture outside your comfort zone and yet let you reign it all in if needs be. I was a little enthusiastic around the barrel it would appear but no lasting damage (I believe).

Finally, a hot lap in one of the racing 86’s riding shotgun, the perfect way to end the day and an ideal way to see what these cars (ok with a bit of modification) can do. I exited the car agog at how it (and of course the driver) was able to handle the track. It seriously shouldn’t be able to grip the tarmac that way should it?

The 2017 GT86 is still a rear wheel drive, front-engined driver’s car. It’s still got a very low centre of gravity and (with its lightweight Exoskeleton) it’s still got a high power to weight ratio but having spent a day driving this car hard on the track I can happily say that I have certainly changed my tune about it. It’s a smile-inducing, high revving, town and track car that really exceeded my expectations – I’m a big fan.

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