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New Toyota GT 86 2017 facelift review

Minor tweaks to the GT 86 formula ensure that it stays at the top of the handling pecking order

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Minor tweaks have only reinforced the GT 86’s title as one of the finest handling rear-wheel drive sports cars on the market. However, since the GT 86 was launched, the finely balanced Mazda MX-5 has come in and undercut the otherwise excellent Toyota – offering the same engaging handling for a fraction of the cost.

Affordable, rear-wheel-drive sports cars are becoming increasingly hard to come by. The Mazda MX-5 epitomises the lightweight formula but is only available with a retractable roof, while its sister car – the Fiat 124 Spider – adds turbocharging into the mix.

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If you want something with a fixed roof, then your options are even slimmer. Here, the Toyota GT 86 stands proud as the driver’s choice ­– and now we’ve driven the updated car to see if enough has been done to persuade you away from a front-driven Audi TT.

Visually, the new GT 86 gets a few hard-to-spot changes over its predecessor. There’s a wider grille and new bumper design, revised fog lights and new LED headlamps. There’s also a revised front splitter and a meaner-looking spoiler on the boot lid. You can delete the latter if you favour a cleaner, less fussy appearance. Arguably the biggest update is the LED rear lights, which give the car a more distinctive glow at night.

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Inside things are slightly more luxurious. Toyota has added a smattering of leather and Alcantara to the doors and dash, while the seat stitching has been revised, too. There are handy audio controls on the steering wheel now, which help connectivity on the move, while a small 4.2-inch screen adds trip functionality and replaces the old car’s analogue fuel gauge.

Those waiting with baited breath will be disappointed to discover Toyota hasn’t seen fit to add more power or a turbocharger – meaning the facelifted car makes do with the same 197bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine. It comes with the same choice of manual or automatic gearboxes, and it’s the former we try here for the first time.

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Understandably, the new car feels much like the old one from behind the wheel. It’s not that quick, but there remains enough power to effectively exploit the taught chassis in the corners. In slippery winter conditions, nearly 200bhp feels like plenty – with the revised GT 86 successfully keeping even experienced drivers on their toes.

Engineers have made some changes to the steering and shocks to help improve agility but in all honesty, there was little wrong with it before – and the tweaks are tough to decipher without driving the old and new cars back-to-back.

Apply too much throttle mid-corner or on the exit of a roundabout and the Toyota’s tail will wag – even with the traction control switched on. Switch it all off using the car’s new Track mode and you’ll be able to execute perfectly controlled drifts at remarkably slow speeds. The steering is sharp and well weighted, and while the ride is firm, it’s not too harsh. In fact, it remains a truly satisfying and immensely engaging car to drive – whatever the situation.

The typical Boxer soundtrack is carried over, feeding seamlessly into the cabin via the engine’s intake system. It crescendos at more than 7,000rpm, and wills you to hold on to the gears right up to the red line. It actually makes you feel like you’re travelling much faster than you are – only emphasising this car’s ability to thrill at amusingly low speeds. However, the tuneful growl turns into a drone both at idle and at higher speeds, something that will grate over time.

What’s also a shame, is that the GT 86 can’t compete with its rivals when it comes to running costs. CO2 emissions of 180g/km are on the high side, while combined fuel economy of just 36.2mpg means you’ll be on first name terms with your local petrol station cashier before to long. A comparable Mazda emits only 161g/km, and costs around £6,500 less.

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