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It seems like this car has been speculated over and reported on for years, but finally this Toyota coupe, and its Subaru sister, are here in final production form.

Known in Toyota guise as FT 86 ('Future Toyota') up to now, the car you'll be able to buy from June 2012, with prices starting around £25,000, is now called GT 86. Subaru's version, the BRZ, differs only in the shape of the front air intake, trim details and some suspension settings.

The GT 86 is that now-rare concoction, a simple, affordable, rear-drive coupé designed for pure driving amusement without being burdened by excessive technology – a sort of faster, sharper MX-5 with a coupe body. It uses Subaru-flavoured componentry, specifically a 1998cc flat-four engine and a platform derived from that of the just-launched new Impreza, but the idea of a front engine and rear-wheel drive is a welcome return to what used to work so well.

GT 86 development engineer Yoshi Sasaki says the GT 86 is for those who are bored with cars that are too powerful with their turbo engines, have too much grip with their huge tyres and four-wheel drive, cost too much and don't let the driver do enough. 'A fun car,' he says, 'is a car that you control.'

Technical highlights?

There's 197bhp at 7000rpm on offer here, but the fact that the 152lb ft torque peak arrives at 6600rpm tells you much about how this engine is going to feel. It has both indirect and direct injection, switching between them as needed, and a high 12.5 to one compression ratio. The six-speed gearbox is borrowed from the Toyota Altezza (Japanese-market Lexus IS), or you can have a six-speed, torque-converter auto from the Lexus IS-F.

Suspension is by struts at the front, double wishbones at the back, there's a Torsen LSD and – cue flash of techno-anxiety – the power steering is electric. Weight distribution is slightly rear-biased, total weight is 1190kg and the centre of gravity is said to be lower than a Cayman's.

What's it like to drive?

It restores your faith in cars. No excuses, no unsaid undercurrent that makes the best of the fact that cars are generally becoming more synthetic and less involving to drive. The GT 86 is a complete cracker.

Here's why. Our encounter took place on the Sodeguara racetrack outside Tokyo, full of bends and dips and lightly coated with rain. You need a car with sensitive controls for a track like that, and within half a lap you feel completely at ease in the GT 86 as rush right up to its limits. Via possibly the best electric steering system we've yet encountered, with much more subtle sensitivity than the new 911's system and a more mechnically-connected feel about the centre, you can exploit a balance perfectly tunable with the tiniest throttle inputs. Take a corner briskly and there's stabilising understeer; accelerate a bit and the understeer vanishes as the tail starts to dominate. From there to a drift is a land of opportunity with abundant signposting. Seldom is a car so up for a friendly game.

The brakes are similarly progressive, while the engine does its best work at high revs where it emits a beaty rasp somewhere between the sound of an Alfasud and a regular Subaru, but without the bass throb. Six closely stacked gear ratios make the best of the engine's peakiness. The auto alternative works well enough, if without quite the smappiness of a double-clutcher, but the manual is obviously the one to have.

Obviously we will have to wait to get one in the UK to deliver the definitive verdict on how it copes with real, bumpy roads - but on first impressions, it's brilliant.

How does it compare?

It makes a Scirocco seem synthetic, an RCZ anaesthetised, a 3-series Coupé over-complicated. This is a pure driving device like an Elise or an MX-5 with sharpened sinews. This is how a proper sporting coupé should be. Toyota intended it to embody elements of the 1960s 2000GT and the 1980s rear-drive Corolla Twin-Cam (AE86), and it does.

Anything else I need to know?

It's a two-plus-two, but Yoshi Sasaki says hopes the rear space will be used to carry trackday wheels – it's that sort of car. The interior is functional and well-finished, with a low driving position and no unnecessary gadgetry.

It's also the first front-engined, rear-drive, flat-four sports car since the 1950s Jowett Jupiter. Tell that to your mates at the pub. (On second thoughts, don't.)

The car looks better in the metal than in pictures. And if you drive one, you'll want to own one.




















Evo Magazine.
 
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