Toyota AE86 v GT86
Hooray for modern cars. They are in every measurable way safer, greener and faster than at any time before.
Look back to cars a decade or two ago and it feels like stepping back a century, so comprehensive has been the evolution of the motor car.
Just take this Toyota AE86 we're testing. It is less than 30 years old but it's a far, far, far cry from sports cars like its modern-day successor - the GT86. In this Corolla coupe you use elbow grease to wind down the windows, get only the essential information from the analogue instruments and listen to whatever stations the wire radio antenna can get a fix on - unless you have some cassettes handy.
The closest the AE86 comes to high-tech is the infernal Clifford alarm system, which goes off when it sees fit and insists on an arcane sequence of button presses before you can start the engine.
So why on earth are we so smitten with this car after spending a day driving on road and track?
When you drive the AE86 you instantly sense the absence of weight that comes from its compact size but also from its lack of technological titbits that burden today's cars. The 1.6-litre 124hp engine would struggle to win a drag race with a modern city car and at low speeds the unassisted steering feels as if it's attached to a dumper truck. However, none of that matters, because the AE86 transmits feelings to the driver you just don't experience any more, unless you buy something like a Caterham.
The steering wheel writhes in your hands, a negotiator between you and the tarmac, filling you in on every last morsel of detail. This means you know when to commit, when to back off, when to keep the throttle steady. You drive according to your senses, not whether some complicated electronic system deems it acceptable. Driving the AE86 is like controlling a machine rather than a bank of computers. It puts the driver firmly in the driving seat. It's rewarding and pleasurable because it relies on skill to drive even a low-powered car like this successfully.
Real unadulterated fun
With the raucous aftermarket exhaust exposing the 1980's disregard for sound insulation and the driven rear wheels threatening to break loose at modest cornering speeds, the AE86 is real, raw, unadulterated fun.
Can the same be said of its newborn brother, the Toyota GT86? Like the AE, the GT uses the same principal of lightweight, low power and rear-wheel drive to provide the thrills. But of course 21st-century legislation has intervened, and so you have traction control, anti-lock brakes, air bags, crumple zones and myriad other systems and creature comforts that we take for granted nowadays. All of which add weight.
But not too much weight because the GT86 tips the scales at a less-than-portly 1,275kg, little more than a Ford Fiesta. It's also on thin Prius tyres, which means you go everywhere looking out of the side window in a blur of tyre smoke. If you turn off the two-stage traction control that is. Most of the time it's best to drive it in 'Sport' mode, which turns off a bit of the traction and allows more slip at the rear wheels. It's much more sophisticated than the system in the AE86: your right foot.
The interior of the GT86 actually feels more compact than the old car's. There are two rear seats, best suited to dwarves only and the plastics used on the centre console aren't from the premium pile, but it's a relatively simple working environment.
The six-speed manual gearchange is a lovely thing to use, short in action and with enough bite to let you know when it has slotted in. It's perfectly suited to those times when you feel like ragging the car. Which you will need to do quite often. With only 197hp at 7,000rpm from its 2.0-litre Subaru engine and a paltry 151 lb ft of torque, don't go squaring up to any hot hatches, or fast diesels, at the traffic lights.
But that's missing the point of this car. Because find a B-road and the GT86 comes alive and it's actually fast enough to have a huge amount of fun without running much risk of losing your licence for a few months.
Obviously Toyota could never truly replicate the rawness of the AE86 in the modern world - but it came mighty close with the GT86. If you love driving, you'll love this car.