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Affordable fun! - First drive: Toyota GT 86

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The Toyota GT 86 is probably the most anticipated sports coupe in years... and we've put it through its paces.

 'People are bored with cars which are too powerful, have too much grip and don't let the driver do enough,' says Toyota development engineer Yoshi Sasaki.  So the Toyota GT 86 coupé, spearhead of the company's new pledge to make all its cars fun to drive, has no turbocharger and no four-wheel drive. It's back to basic engineering with a front engine, rear-wheel drive and a mission to give its driver riotous entertainment.
 
That front engine is a 2.0-litre, 200bhp flat-four, which tells you there's a Subaru connection. It's true; Subaru has announced a near-identical twin called BRZ.
 
The last time anyone made a flat-four, rear-drive sports car was when Jowett brought us the Jupiter 60 years ago. Toyota hasn't drawn on that as inspiration, citing instead the 1960s 2000GT for the glasshouse shape and the 1980s AE86 Corolla Twin-Cam with rear-wheel drive and a strong facility for tail-out amusement. Such simple pleasures are scarce for new-car buyers today, with the Mazda MX-5 the sole lowish-cost representative of a once-obvious formula. The GT 86/BRZ twins put this right, and add a lower-than-a-Cayman centre of gravity to the mix.
 
Just how brilliantly is shown within half a lap of the Sodeguara circuit outside Tokyo, sinuous and right now rather wet. The flat-four reaches its 200bhp power peak at 7000rpm with maximum torque of 152lb ft not far below at 6600rpm, so you know this engine with its Alfasud rasp overlaying a muted Subaru throb is going to be revvy. But the power build-up is progressive and the throttle response super-crisp, so when you discover how deliciously easy the GT 86 is to steer on the throttle you're in a whole world of tactile, balletic delight.
 
The balance is fabulous, gentle understeer transparently morphing to gentle power oversteer as you meter more energy to the rear wheels; a Torsen limited-slip diff and quite supple suspension help here. You can drift and powerslide on a damp track with an easy confidence hard to summon in grippier, snappier cars, just because it's so easy to feel the limits. Yet the power steering is electric; that it conveys such subtlety of feel – it's rather better than the new 911 here – is a miracle.
 
It's not scorchingly quick, but plenty quick enough with 0-62mph in just under 7sec, a top speed of 143mph and six forward gears to keep the engine in its sweet spot. It looks low and keen, and the two-plus-two cabin is well finished in a no-frills way.
 
Verdict? It's the best affordable fun car in years.

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