TOYOTA GT86 ZENT ROAD TEST

TOYOTA GT86 ZENT ROAD TEST

Posted by Matthew Bell on 18th November 2019

The Toyota GT86 isn’t a new car but we wanted to revisit it with a fresh take on the little sports car. This time Toyota has loaned us a lightly modified version to whet the appetite.

Let’s start with the obvious. It’s another car with a livery on, I’m quickly becoming popular with my neighbours, let alone the local constabulary. What’s this GT86 all about? In total there are three GT86s all featuring race liveries and were originally built to take along to the Le Mans 24 hours back in 2018 and were inspired by Toyota’s most thrilling performances in the endurance race. This car, the Zent liveried car, harks back to the Toyota TSO20, better known as the GT-One, which competed in 1998 and 1999.

I had the choice of three, the Casio car, Zent, or the Denso car, which features the latest race livery. For me, Zent is the most iconic and mainly because of my love for Gran Turismo and how I would obsess over the space-aged GT-One.

Toyota GT86

Sadly, this car hasn’t just adopted similar levels of performance… Instead, we’ve still got that 2.0-litre boxer engine from Subaru and it still only produces around the 200bhp mark. But there’s more to this car than meets the eye.

Underneath, things have been changed ever-so-slightly, but add up to make noticeable differences. First up, the exhaust. Out of favour is the standard backbox, in place is a stainless-steel system from Milltek, which adds in a tougher, more aggressive tone low-down in the range but produces a hint of rasp at the top to add in a sense of exotic nature about it. The cold start helps it sound meatier than it really is, and trundling about town, inside, at least, is quiet yet purposeful when you want it to be. Arguably, the best soundtrack comes from inside of the car when going through the gears. It’s loud enough to be dominant in the cabin, but not so loud that you get p***ed off on any length of journey, which is useful!

Toyota GT86

The addition of the big wing is as a result of the Aero back that was offered on the GT86. While it looks aftermarket, you could genuinely order that from factory, although that is no longer true, sadly. You’ll also notice the wheels, they are by Rota and help the car by offering a size up in tyres, meaning you can ditch those Prius-sized tyres for some decent rubber that will aid grip. Don’t worry, though, it’s still far too easy to sling sideways.

Last up, the ride height. None of us like arch gap and even on a low-slung sports car like the GT86, it still exists in buckets. This benefits from some VMAXX lowering springs to create a flusher finish.

Toyota GT86

So, what do all those additions mean? Time to find out.

THE DRIVE

Turn traction control off, select first, lift the clutch and hit the throttle, simple. The GT86 is a back-to-basics sports car, so let’s treat it like one. With the rear scattering away off the line, the car eventually settles as you notch it into second. It’s surprising that with wider-than-standard rear tyres and just 200bhp that they spin up at all, but that’s the very nature of this car, it’s almost built into its DNA that it just wants to have fun.

Toyota GT86

Hunt for the redline and with the change of exhaust the car sounds more willing to do so. In standard form, you get this odd humming noise from the engine that just sounds like you’re strangling it. It doesn’t have that higher-pitched note you associate from holding onto gears. Those with stock GT86s, get out and buy an aftermarket exhaust, thank me later.

The next thing you’ll notice is the stunning gear change. Nice high positioned lever which shifts with a nice short, but confident throw. It feels heavy but reassuring, you won’t miss a shift here. That moves me on to my favourite aspect of the GT86, the seating position. To put it bluntly, it’s brilliant. You sit nice and low but with enough visibility to maintain confidence when driving.

Toyota GT86

The steering wheel has reach and rake adjustment meaning you can get yourself positioned beautifully. This feels like a proper sports car, while many other cars in this category fall short of that aspect. But that’s also its downfall. From the moment you get in you’re expecting a snarling performance machine, instead you get a tepid sports car that’s crying out for more power.

The chassis feels as if it can deal with the addition of forced induction, although we’d be inclined to work on the rear end being twitchy… Even with wider tyres the traction control light flashes more than a page 3 model. In turn, switch the system off and do it yourself, you’ll be much happier. Especially as that front-end grips so well and entices you to be generous with the throttle.

We’d be looking at adding swapping out the suspension for a coilover that encompasses road and track driving. While the lowering springs did a great job of lowering the ride height, it also did a good job of making the ride crashy. Something with revised damping settings to suit the lower springs would be ideal as you could offset the crashy nature with compression.

In terms of practicality, you might be thinking this is terrible. In truth, it’s not. While you wouldn’t want to be a rear passenger for any longer than two minutes, the front two seats are comfortable and the cabin is fairly spacious. The boot is large enough for your weekly shop or your week-long holiday and economy wise you’ll be able to hover above 30mpg without much trouble.

You also get a decent infotainment system, cruise control and the regular safety systems found across the Toyota range. Best of all? As we tested this in mid-October when temperatures were dropping, the heated seats were firmly in the on position. So, while you’re sending it sideways in the snow or rain, you can do so with a warm arse. Happy days.

VERDICT

I like this GT86. While it definitely could do with some extra oomph, the general characteristics of the car have fun at the heart, and that’s what a sports car in this category should be. The additions of the Milltek exhaust and lowering springs have livened that car up to create more of an event. The soundtrack has been significantly improved while not impairing day-to-day usability.

Tech specs:

Performance: 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 6400rpm-6600rpm
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Top Speed: 140mph
Engine: 2.0-litre Boxer engine, six-speed manual, Limited-slip differential
Chassis: 8.5x18inch alloys, McPherson Strut (front) Double Wishbone (rear)