TOYOTA had been making cars for 30 odd years before venturing into the sports car market in the mid-sixties with the Sports 800 and GT2000.
Although I’m getting on a bit, I’m not quite old enough to remember this dynamic duo, although a quick foray on Google reveals that the latter in particular made quite a stir.
With a blend of European styling and thrilling performance it became an instant hit with enthusiasts and hailed a successful period of Toyota sports car manufacturing which, with strange symmetry, spanned the next 30 years, give or take.
Subsequent models such as the Corolla GT, MR2, Celica and Supra all proved successful with Toyota dabbling with mid-engined and the now more common front-wheel drive set-ups along the way.
By the mid-noughties, though, the appetite for Japanese sports cars in Europe was waning and the company decided upon a tactical withdrawal – until this year that is.
Now they are back with a bang – and going back to their roots in search of the classic sports car experience.
The new GT86 shares the same dynamic front-engined, rear wheel drive format of the GT2000 and, the Japanese firm hopes, will have a similar impact.
First impressions are good as this motor certainly looks the part.
Low and lean with a long bonnet in relation to its overall length, a muscular grille, narrow headlights, powerful rear haunches, spoiler and twin exhausts, it conjures up the archetypal image of a sports car.
Inside too the design traditions of the type are upheld. You sit low to the floor behind an almost vertical dash and instrument panel with minimal knobs and dials to distract from the steering wheel.
It is undoubtedly a driver-focused machine and it doesn’t disappoint on the road.
With a 0-62mph sprint time of 7.7 seconds and top speed of 140mph from the 2.0 litre, 197bhp boxer petrol power pack there are plenty of sports saloons, hot hatches and even performance SUVs that’ll match it for pace.
But the GT86 isn’t just about pure speed. It’s about excitement and feeling totally engaged in the driving experience.
It’s taught chassis, low centre of gravity and the even weight distribution of the rear wheel drivetrain keep it balanced and ensure sharp and nimble handling while the steering is precise and offers plenty of feedback.
The engine loves to be revved and offers up a satisfying growl and hearty response when you put your foot down.
But extra grippy sports tyres and overly intrusive driver aids (there is a stability control system but it can be totally disengaged with the flick of a switch) have been shunned.
How much fun you have really depends upon how far you’re prepared to push the GT86’s limitations – or perhaps your own.
As you’d expect though, the sporty set up does make for a very firm ride and, although the sports seats are snug and supportive, they offer little by way of cushioning from the ravages of our less than perfect roads.
Other than that, my only minor gripe is the slightly notchy six-speed manual transmission which can sometimes hinder the driver’s enjoyment.
Fancy equipment is fairly sparse but you do get dual zone climate control, electric windows cruise control and the sporty push button starter switch.
The car I drove also featured a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system incorporating DAB radio, satnav, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a rearview camera as well as leather upholstery and heated front seats, which are all cost options for those who can’t do without their creature comforts.
Although the GT86 is a 2+2 the rear seats will be of little use even to children as legroom is almost non-existent if those in the front are to remain comfortable – but the same is true of most compact sports coupes.
By way of compensation the boot is actually a good size for this type of motor and even managed to swallow a relatively large family shop when I treated my wife to a trip to Tesco in the shiny new sports car – a mundane trip which, like most others, was made much more enjoyable by the GT86.
Mechanical: 197bhp, 1,998cc petrol engine driving rear wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission
Max Speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 7.7 seconds
Combined mpg: 36.2
Insurance Group: 29
CO2 emissions: 181g/km
Bik rating: 26%
Warranty: 5 years/100,000 miles