Price: From £24,995
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre naturally aspirated
Power output (PS @ rpm): 197 @ 7,000
Top speed (mph): 145
0-60 mph (seconds): 7.7
Fuel economy (mpg): 36.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 181
In the snug racing seat to my left my friend Jason is grinning from ear to ear as we whiz along empty country lanes. He's a real car nut, has escaped the rat race to live out in the Home Counties (where there are plenty of tight corners and short lanes to thrash his old BMW along) and probably watches Top Gear religiously. I'd promised to give him a spin in the new Toyota GT86, the latest rear-wheel-drive road-brawler to hit the market, and he's clearly enjoying himself as I drone on about its 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine and low centre of gravity.
There's been a lot of buzz about the new coupe and savvy petrol heads like Jason are already forming a queue outside Toyota dealerships for the first proper sports car the company has produced since the days of the Celica, Supra and mid-engined MR2. It's a four-seat coupe in the classic formation (engine at the front, drive wheels at the rear) and it's just stupendous.
The engine's start-up note isn't particularly brutish and its looks, while certainly pretty, are hardly heart stopping, but it is on the road where its brilliance becomes clear. Hit a corner fast and the nose comes round swiftly without much in the way of body roll and if you dare push down your right foot, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful flick of the tail. It doesn't have buckets of power – its engine is just shy of 200bhp and you'll need to keep it above 4,500rpm to get the best of the engine – but there's more to having fun than mere power.
Don't get me wrong, the GT86 is fast enough, but its development team wanted to create a car for those who are bored with cars that are too powerful, have too much grip, cost too much and don't let the driver have any fun. And the Japanese boffins certainly got it right. Take the GT86 for a Saturday-morning blast as Jason and I did and you'll be able to push it further than any supercar you can't afford.
There are plenty of performance cars out there; Aston Martin, for example, has just announced the all-new Vanquish, which has set the motoring pulses racing in the last few weeks. It is powered by a 565bhp 6.0-litre V12 engine and will hit 60mph in just 4.1 seconds before topping out at 183mph. I'm sure it will be fantastic and grace the bedroom walls of many young boys, but you really need to be a millionaire with a racetrack or access to wide, open roads of southern Europe to justify owning one.
Whereas the GT86 costs just under £25k and is made by Toyota so will be fairly inexpensive to run. At the same time, it rewards real skill behind the wheel and bravery when throwing it at corners and challenging the rear end to follow. It is a car for people who enjoy driving.
Jason got married last year and has just bought a cute little cottage so it's not the most practical of cars for him – the rear seats are nothing more than a practical joke. They suggest you might be able to fit someone in there but you'll come away with groin strain and a bad back if you actually try to insert yourself (there's certainly no room for a child seat). He'd do better with something like a Ford Focus ST or Vauxhall Astra VXR hot hatch. Both are just as fun and very fast but boast such luxuries as proper rear seats and a decent-sized boots for practical things like the weekly shop, DIY supplies and a buggy. I can tell he'd rather have the GT86, though, and so would I.