You could argue that the Toyota GT 86 is Toyota's most important new model for years. Important not in terms of numbers sold, but because of what the car means for the brand.
Toyota has always made its money from its hatchbacks and saloons, but in years gone by, it also offered one or two sporty models. These added sparkle to its range and enhanced the firm's image as a serious engineering force.
The last cars to play this role the Celica coupe and MR2 roadster were discontinued in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Toyota's product portfolio has looked a little lacklustre ever since. The sexy new GT 86 coupe should definitely help to change that.
It's a four-seat coupe that's focused on providing pure driving pleasure. To do this, it combines low weight with the classic sports car layout engine at the front and driven wheels at the rear.
Power is provided by a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine (no turbochargers here) and transferred to the road via a limited-slip differential.
What's the 2012 Toyota GT 86 like to drive?
Take a look at the GT 86's muscle car-like lines, and you might expect rip-snorting performance. However, while it's quick if you drive it in the right way, it doesn't offer the sort of acceleration that'll take your breath away.
The engine peaks at a lofty 7000rpm, and its modest 151lb ft of torque is also delivered at very high revs. The result is that the engine really only comes alive when you reach around 4500rpm; dip below that and you'll wonder what happened to all the go.
On the other hand, if you manage to keep the engine on the boil (despite the notchy, imprecise gearshift) the GT 86 will definitely have enough pace to keep you entertained. The 0-62mph sprint takes 7.7 seconds and top speed is 140mph.
However, the GT 86 was never designed for straight-line speed; it was designed for handling prowess. That's where the engineers from Toyota and Subaru, (who developed this car in collaboration with Toyota, and will offer its own version, called the BRZ) have played a blinder.
Central to the GT 86's design brief was for the car's weight to be distributed evenly front-to-back. The heavy bits (namely the driver and engine) are set as close to the ground as possible, too, which keeps the centre of gravity low.
The result is a car that changes direction with impressive balance. It's helped by fast throttle responses and quick, meatily weighted (if not overly communicative) steering, which make the car feel even more alert. Granted, there's a little bit of slop in the suspension when you turn in initially, but the body is solidly controlled thereafter.
As good as the GT 86 is, though, we think it won't match an Audi TT along your average British B-road. It doesn't feel quite as sharp, as agile or as precise as the TT, or offer the punchy acceleration that you get from the Audi's turbocharged engine.
Put the GT 86 on a track (which Toyota reckons many buyers will), however, and things aren't so clear-cut. The rear-wheel-drive layout lets you have a huge amount of fun in this environment; give the GT 86 a bootful of throttle in tight corners and you can get the back end sliding in proper hooligan style.
As for the ride, it seemed firm but fair on the smooth Spanish surfaces we were travelling, but we can't be sure until we've driven the car on the UK's less pristine highways.
What we can say now is that refinement is totally acceptable; there's some wind noise at the national limit, but the engine isn't overly loud and road noise is impressively isolated.
What's the 2012 Toyota GT 86 like inside?
There's plenty of space upfront, and lots of adjustment for the steering wheel and driver's seat, but the high shoulder line of the car, combined with the (albeit pleasant) low-slung driving position, means you feel a little hemmed in.
The back seats are next to useless; rear seat passengers much over five feet nine inches tall will find their head is pressed against the rear window, while legroom is even tighter. Most adults won't have a prayer of fitting in.
Still, the boot is a decent size at 243 litres, and the load space is long and wide, if a little shallow.
You can also drop the rear-seat backrests to boost volume, and it leaves a flat floor, although the one-piece nature of the backrest limits versatility.
As for the interior design, you'll either love it or hate it. The toggle switches, orange digital clock and carbonfibre-effect plastic dash inserts look like they belong in a car from the 1980s.
The touch-screen system that controls the stereo, phone (and, if specified for an extra 750, satellite-navigation) lends a modern twist, but it's a nightmare to use because of confusing menus and small on-screen icons. Thankfully, the rest of the switchgear is simple.
The interior quality isn't bad, either. Some panels feel a little cheap, but most are reasonably smart and tactile. The assembly also feels incredibly solid you'll start creaking before the car does.
Should I buy one?
The GT 86 comes in one trim, and it costs 24,995. That makes it slightly more expensive than the entry-level TT coupe, but 2145 cheaper than our favourite 2.0 TFSI version.
Toyota gives you plenty of standard equipment, too, including alloys, climate control, keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth and seven airbags.
Running costs aren't so impressive. The GT 86 has an average economy of 36.2mpg, which is 6.6mpg down on the more powerful Audi TT 2.0 TFSI. Its CO2 emissions rise respectively, putting the Toyota in higher bands for both road tax and company car tax.
If you're planning to do track days with your coupe, the GT 86 is probably still the way to go. However, if you'll be limiting your driving to the public highway, we reckon the TT is the better buy.
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