Drives: fat cars are still boats
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: compensating a fat car with horsepower is like giving an alcoholic cocaine to sober him up.
GT86 is Top Gear’s Speed Week Champion!
Top Gear spent a week with 25 “incredible cars” with the aim of whittling that number down to one overall victor – and the honour went to a newcomer already widely-considered as the king of entertainment, the GT86.
The Toyota’s first Speed Week challenge – featuring cars that “make everyday a little brighter” as opposed to fast performers in the traditional sense – was to overcome rivals in a pool of “real-world heroes”: the Vauxhall Astra GTC VXR, Ford Focus ST, and Suzuki Swift Sport.
First impressions don’t give the GT86 an ideal start though, thanks to its “anodyne” lines. “Honestly, how has Toyota managed to make a coupé look this plain?” writes Ollie Marriage. In the end though, there’s little contest. “It’s not slow – it really isn’t – it’s just that you have to work to get performance from it. It sounds sweet, is smooth and has the best throttle response of anything here.
“And I’m sorry, Ford, Vauxhall and Suzuki, but the Toyota is just better at corners than all of you. It’s nimble and light and has such a sweet balance of power and grip – sweet enough to be able to overlook the underwhelming cabin. And, yes, those narrow [Prius] tyres mean the RWD GT86 is excellent at skids, but even if that isn’t your chosen angle of attack, it really doesn’t matter – the GT86 is as keen that you enjoy the experience as the Swift.”
As Top Gear heads to northern Scotland for the final “showdown”, the GT86 takes on a distinguished shortlist: McLaren MP4-12C, Porsche 11 Carrera S, BMW M5, Lotus Exige S, Radical SR3 SL and Ford Focus ST. “Not the definitive winners of our Dunsfold face-offs, but the cars we thought could best handle the 500-mile slog north, and then do the business on Scotland’s roads as well.”
Debating the merits of each car, Marriage and Sam Philip end up focusing most of their attention on the back-to-basics Toyota.
SP: “For driving thrills, this is my sort of performance car. Good steering, nice crisp gearchange, revvy engine, You can find its limits, slide it around, without fear of being inadvertently deposited in a loch and devoured by otters.”
OM: “Technically, it does suffer a few issues. The ride isn’t as supple as it should be, there’s vibration through the gearlever and it all feels a bit unsophisticated.”
SP: “It’s old-school, yes. But do not try to pretend that you did not totally adore it.”
OM: “I love how lightly it treads. The BMW is a blunderbuss, the McLaren is too focused on speed, even the Porsche feels a bit heavy-handed in comparison. The GT86 is dainty and maximises the benefits of its layout and low centre of gravity. It asks why you need to go round a corner at a zillion miles an hour. You don’t. Even pottering around, it’s different and interesting: the steering is unfashionably weighty, the rear end heavily sprung. Though
the boxer engine lacks torque, it’s no hardship to cane the bejesus out of it. It has delightful balance. It shows the real benefits of a simple front-engine/rear-drive lay-out combined with a good old-fashioned mechanical diff. It just works well. Sod torque-vectoring. This is better.”
This raises the “zeitgeisty issue” of whether flat-out speed is enough in a performance car.
OM continues: “Acceleration is fun, but the noise is as important as the kick in the back, and I’d rather spend 30 seconds wringing the GT86 up to speed than three seconds being pummeled by the McLaren. You have more time to enjoy it, you feel more like part of the process and you don’t put plod’s nose out of joint so easily.”
In an “unscientific show of hands”, the 911 and Exige take joint-second. Although they are both “fantastic, they’re very slick examples of the formulas perfected by Lotus and Porsche over generations. The GT86 is a new, different recipe – or at least an old recipe car companies forgot about for the last decade or so.”
And so the GT86 – “the slowest, least powerful, second-cheapest car here” – is declared Speed Week Champion. Marriage adds: “Rightly so. The Toyota was the car everyone kept jumping into for ‘one last quick go’, and the one they got out of with the daftest smiles on their midge-bitten faces.”