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Cosworth GT86: Driven

Finally, a chance to drive a GT86 with some real power courtesy of a Cosworth supercharger

By Dan Trent / Friday, May 29, 2015

We've written a lot about the Toyota GT86 on these pages. And each time we do it sparks a lot of discussion. Well, call it discussion. Consensus might be closer too it. To paraphrase those - literally - thousands of comments "nice idea, needs more power". All the while Toyota has stuck to its official line that the '86 is about purist thrills not horsepower bragging rights, making the addition of

but stubborn refusal to increase power all the more frustrating. And leaving no option but to go aftermarket.

Fine for the modders but for the mainstream it's still a leap of faith. The fact warranties are nearing the end of their term and those early cars are now available for £15K or less hopefully opens up a new market for tuning the '86 and its Subaru BRZ doppelganger. At least that's what Cosworth hopes, claiming half of the GT86s/BRZs in the global market have been modded in one way or another and it's therefore the ideal vehicle to take the brand beyond the consultancy work and back into the public realm.

It's good to have Cosworth badge on a road car too. Adventures in supercharged MX-5s weren't entirely happy, compatibility issues with earlier engines not necessarily realised by all suppliers and customers until it was too late. This time around Cosworth is keeping a tighter leash on things though. And it's been fully endurance tested, the motor bench tested through an intensive 50-hour regime in which 45 seconds of every minute are at full throttle.

New wheels and brakes also for Cosworth demo

New wheels and brakes also for Cosworth demo

Shopping list

The packages start modestly with a 15hp, Β£595 Stage 1.0 comprising low temperature thermostat, panel air filter and ECU upgrade with four selectable maps. Stages 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 add various levels of exhaust upgrades (see below) up to and including a new lighter and thermally coated exhaust manifold with equal length headers, mid-pipe with 'Helmholtz resonator' (nor us) and full cat-back Cosworth branded Nameless exhaust. By now you'll be over three grand in and with 230hp to show for it.

Hold that thought and go for the £3,995 Stage 2 supercharged kit instead and you're looking at a much more serious 260hp. This includes a burly looking crackle finish intake manifold built using Cosworth's proprietary lightweight Coscast technique, an intercooler and all the necessary ancillaries. A relatively modest 0.5bar of boost means this can all be bolted on without any changes to internals, compression or transmission, 280hp the maximum available if you open your wallet wide and pair the full exhaust system with the supercharger. This is on the conservative side we're told and there is more to come but Cosworth wanted to make sure the kit was safe and reliable with the base engine in its stock form. While still offering enough of a boost to unlock the potential we all hoped was there from the start.

The car you see here is the 'all-in' option with every upgrade, plus the additional £1,750 AP big brake kit, a suitably slammed KW suspension set-up and some 18-inch Rays wheels with a very 'scene' stretch to the sidewalls. The look may not be to all tastes but, clearly, you can choose how far you want to go down that route. And as our Cosworth man admits, they are engine men but wanted a bit more presence for the demo car.

Well as engine tuners go...

Well as engine tuners go...

One for the road

Driving impressions should probably carry that caveat too. Namely each to their own and the speed bump scraping slammed ride height may or may not be your thing, even if the spring/damper combination actually works well out of town. Depending how brown you like your adrenaline you'd probably want to at least consider a bit more rubber on the road than the standard eco tyres; that these relatively modest 18s pack out the '86's arches nicely proves you needn't go too mad either.

It's a pleasant reminder of just how good the fundamentals are in the '86 too. The driving position is lovely - low-slung and stretched out while still keeping the wheel nice and close. Add the delightful short-throw snickety gearbox and well-positioned pedals and you've got a great workspace; excellent visibility over the low bonnet and little peaks on the wings help you position the car into the corners, all helping confidence. The electric steering is even nicely weighted and its speed well-matched to the car. Lovely.

Supercharger at 0.5 bar of boost here

Supercharger at 0.5 bar of boost here

Scene set how is that engine? In keeping with the unapologetic looks you're not sheltered from what's going on under the bonnet, the note purposefully mechanical and aggressive if not exactly stirring or inspirational. It's not quite as feral as the old 2ZZ-GE supercharged Toyota engines used by Lotus in the old Elise SC and four-cylinder Exiges but a sense of that zing is present and it likes to rev.

There's just a hint of the forced induction but the lag-free power delivery of the supercharger and absence of chuffs and whooshes could convince you it's just a bigger motor rather than a boosted one. Credit to Cosworth for the calibration and set-up here; even in the most aggressive of the four available maps (selected via the cruise control stalk) there's an initial softness to the power delivery that helps maintain traction but from there it really takes off and pulls hard and consistently all the way to the redline. There are some gimmicks too, the most extreme map including rev matching for downshifts and a flat upshift mode that lets you keep your foot buried and engine ba-ba-ba-bapping against a safe limiter as you drop the clutch. Fun but we spent most of our time in map three, preferring to do the fancy footwork ourselves.

Go go GT86!

Go go GT86!

True to the spirit

Regardless, the power band really gives you a lot to play with and you can let it pull from low revs or flick around the close-ratio 'box to unleash the top end fury. If not especially cultured the engine always makes its presence felt without ever dominating proceedings. It's sympathetic to the overall spirit of the GT86 while making it a whole lot more potent and fun too. Let's just say it unleashes the hooligan in both car and driver... Never far from your mind is the sense it feels built for silliness from the start.

So that inherent balance is still there. But with it the kind of overtaking punch and general gusto that enables you to leave the B-road bludgers behind and really enjoy yourself. In this environment it's absolutely stellar too, the relatively short gearing and options offered by the wide power band meaning you can zing up and down the gears and generally have a bit of a riot without entirely losing grip on reality. A bit more bite to the front end and perhaps a little less rubber would let some of the throttle adjustability back in but that could all be fine-tuned according to preference.

Is it as fast and cultured as something like a Cayman? No. Is it more relevant and fun to the kind of driving you'll get to enjoy on British roads? Arguably, at a cost if you tick every box. At heart this is what we wanted though. A GT86. Just faster. And underpinned by proper engineering rigour and a badge with real pedigree.

Stage 1 normally aspirated
Stage 1.0; £595, 215hp (Panel filter, ECU upgrade, low temperature thermostat)
Stage 1.1; £1,120, 220hp (Cat-back Cosworth by Nameless exhaust system)
Stage 1.2; £725, 225hp (Resonator and mid-pipe)
Stage 1.3; £1,295, 230hp (Thermal coated four-two-one exhaust manifold)

Stage 2 supercharged
Stage 2.0; £3,995, 260hp (Stage 1.0 plus supercharger, inlet manifold, intercooler)
Stage 2.3; £7,235, 280hp (All of the above!)

[Prices are exclusive of both VAT and fitting, full Power Package details here].

Cosworth FA20 upgrades

And see here for dealer information.

 1,998cc flat-4
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 151@6,400-6,600rpm
0-62mph: 7.6 sec
Top speed: 140mph
Weight: 1,240kg
MPG: 36.2mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 181g/km
Price: £24,995


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