Deciding to buy a brand new car can be a tough decision. And deciding exactly which brand new car to buy can be even more difficult. So what happens when the two cars you’re looking at share the same engine, gearbox, platform, and damn near the same looks? What happens when the two cars you’re looking at are the 2017 Subaru BRZ and 2017 Toyota 86 GT? Which do you pick then? We hit the road, and the track, to find out.
This particular twin test has been five years in the making.
You see, back in October 2012, our then-esteemed leader, Jez Spinks, put the then-brand-new Subaru BRZup against its equally then-brand-new twin, the Toyota 86.
At the time, Subaru was asking $37,150 driveaway for the single-specification BRZ, while Toyota stunned the motoring world by launching the 86 with prices starting at $29,990. Surprisingly or not, Jez couldn’t split the pair, declaring “driving enthusiasts” as the only clear winner.
Now though, it’s 2017, and things are different. Sort of…
Although still largely identical, both the 2017 Subaru BRZ and 2017 Toyota 86 received not-insignificant facelifts at the end of last year.
Apart from subtle aesthetic changes, the updates also brought with them some pricing adjustments, power and torque increase for manual variants, minor equipment and specification tweaks, reworked suspension, and a slight change to the six-speed manual transmission’s final-drive gear ratio.
Finished here in Pure Red, the Subaru tries its best to differentiate itself from its Toyota twin via a slatted grille, unique front bumper with fog lights and faux brake vents, and model-specific ‘BRZ’-branded LED headlights.
Different front fender side strakes are also used, however, the BRZ’s standard 17-inch alloy wheels are a match for those fitted to the top-spec Toyota 86 GTS.
The Ice Silver 86 GT here though – like the BRZ – is the base model in its range.
That means refreshed 16-inch alloy wheels and a fog-light-free front bumper are standard, as is a honeycomb grille, newly restyled front fender side strakes, new ‘86’ front fender badges, and ‘86’-stamped LED headlights.
Now you can tell the two apart, we can proceed.
Obviously, the two cars tested here are road cars and not purpose-built racers. That said, we wanted to go beyond the normal road loop and push both cars equally on track.
With this in mind, we combined the best of both worlds, incorporating a day at Victoria’s wickedly cool Haunted Hills hillclimb circuit, into a 160-kilometre round trip from CarAdvice’s inner-east Melbourne headquarters.
The idea was to provide ourselves with sufficient real-world driving time, while also ensuring a decent spell at the track for photos, some sideways silliness, and some timed laps. Fortunately for us, we squeezed in all of the above.
Price and features
Back in 2012, the base Toyota 86 easily undercut the base Subaru BRZ in terms of pricing. Today though, when comparing entry point to entry point, the divide is much narrower.
Starting $800 dearer than it once was, the Toyota 86 GT kicks off at $30,790 (before on-road costs). Conversely, at $32,990 (before on-road costs), the Subaru BRZ is the most affordable it’s ever been.
So with just $2200 now separating them, what do you get for your money?
Well, given their hugely similar nature, let’s first highlight the commonalities.
Both come standard with automatic LED headlights, tail-lights, and daytime running lights, as well as cruise control, a rear-view camera, sports bucket seats, a six-speaker stereo, dual exhausts, and a limited-slip rear differential.
A five-star ANCAP safety rating, seven airbags (including curtain and driver knee airbags), and two ISOFIX-compatible rear seats are also common to both, as is hill-start assist, and stability control – the latter now paired to a new ‘Track mode’ setting, allowing reasonable slip angles to be had and enjoyed before any electronic interference cuts in.
Body-coloured door handles, power-folding wing mirrors, and a roof-mounted shark-fin-style antenna are shared too, as is a black interior headliner, and a new red-painted engine manifold.
Comparing the differences, it’s arguably the BRZ that appears the ‘better equipped’ of the two here.
Coming with 17-inch alloy wheels and front fog lights as standard – along with two-piston calipers and 294mm ventilated discs up front and single-piston calipers and 290mm ventilated discs out back – it’s the BRZ’s interior that receives the most love.
Keyless entry and a push-button start are on board, plus dual-zone climate control air conditioning, a 4.2-inch driver’s colour multi-information display with trip and engine data – as well as a g-meter and stopwatch – a 6.2-inch central infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth phone connectivity, audio streaming, and USB and auxiliary inputs, a 362mm multi-function leather steering wheel, and sports pedals with matching kick plates.
The BRZ also scores a full-size spare wheel and an exterior boot release button – although, the latter will only operate when the proximity key is within range.
By comparison, the 86 GT is notably more basic, with 16-inch alloy wheels joining smaller 277mm ventilated front discs and 286mm solid rear discs, manual air conditioning, a 6.1-inch central infotainment touchscreen, a button-free 362mm leather steering wheel, and a space-saver spare wheel.
For those keen on the Subaru but after a little more kit, there’s the $34,490 BRZ Premium ($1500 more than a base BRZ), which adds heated leather and Alcantara seats to the mix, although oddly, ditches the standard car’s full-size spare wheel.
Stick with Team Toyota, and the $36,490 86 GTS ($5700 more than a base 86) boosts standard equipment to include keyless entry and a push-button start, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, a 4.2-inch driver’s colour multi-information display, satellite navigation, heated leather and Alcantara seats, a multi-function leather steering wheel, rear privacy glass, LED fog lights, 17-inch alloys, larger brakes, and a wing-type rear spoiler.
And, of course, auto buyers are also catered for by both brands, with an optional six-speed automatic transmission costing an additional $2000 if you go with the Subaru, or $2300 if you choose the Toyota.
Cabins and practicality
Clearly, being all but identical, there’s not a lot to split the two-plus-two Subaru BRZ from the four-seat Toyota 86 GT when it comes to interiors. That said, there are differences…
Feeling the more upmarket of the two, the BRZ’s cabin is treated to red contrast stitching, chrome and silver highlights, gloss-black and faux-carbon-fibre details, black-faced instruments, a leather passenger-side dash trim element, a rimless rear-view mirror, and sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors.
More ‘stripper’ than ‘stunner’, the 86’s cabin is a lesson in simplicity, with a sea of black only really broken up by white stitching on the seats, steering wheel, and gear knob, a white-faced central tachometer, and a faux-carbon-fibre passenger-side dash trim element. The Toyota also misses out on the Subaru’s handy – and shall we say, ‘drift-friendly’ – centre stack and door-mounted ‘knee pads’.
The BRZ’s slightly larger infotainment screen is more modern and has a better user interface than the 86’s older, more basic unit, while techier fans will appreciate the BRZ’s standard inclusion of steering wheel-mounted controls and a multi-information digital driver’s display.
Although upholstered in marginally different materials, both cars’s simply-styled bucket seats are largely identical, and not only attached to a near-perfect seating position, they’re also vastly comfortable and do an excellent job of holding you in place.
Space for ‘stuff’ is addressed equally no matter the car, with door pockets, gloveboxes, and adjustable/removable transmission tunnel-mounted cupholders/storage trays all providing varying levels of usefulness and practicality.
Speaking of ‘varying levels of usefulness and practicality’, although the BRZ/86’s one-piece folding rear seat back is convenient when filling the back of the car with spare track rubber, rear-seat passenger comfort is not a strong point of either car, with the second row best reserved for bags or emergencies. Still, at least there are back seats, if you ever need them.
As previously mentioned, the BRZ boasts a full-size spare wheel over the 86’s space-saver item. However, the catch comes in the form of luggage capacity: 218 litres plays 237L, respectively.
But, while the boot aperture itself is still rather narrow and slender regardless of the badge on the bum, at least in the BRZ, you’ve got a better back-up if things do happen to go pear shaped while out for a night drive in the hills.
On the road
With not a whole hell of a lot separating our two contenders to this point, the drive could very well be the crucial element in this particular test. But with so many similarities, what will prove to be the deciding factor?
Well, while there’s obviously not a lot between them, the BRZ and 86 do run different suspension tunes (according to both manufacturers), the BRZ has the larger braking package of the two tested here, and last but far more least, the rubber connecting the cars to the road beneath them is unalike.
Riding on its larger-diameter 17-inch rims, the Subaru is equipped with 215mm-wide 45-aspect Michelin Primacy HP tyres all around. The Toyota, on the other hand, has all four of its 16-inch alloys wrapped in narrower 205mm-wide 55-aspect Yokohama db decibel E70s.
Hardly make or break, at 1282kg, the BRZ is also 43kg heavier than the 1239kg 86 GT.
Fortunately, as we know, both are propelled by the same naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine. And, with revisions to the non-turbo FA20 ‘boxer’ engine’s intake, exhaust, pistons, and cylinder block, in both cases, power and torque are now listed at 152kW at 7000rpm and 212Nm between 6400-6800rpm.
Up 5kW and 7Nm from the previous figures of 147kW and 205Nm, Subaru claims the BRZ will now hit 100km/h from a standstill in 7.4 seconds, down from 7.6s. Strangely, Toyota makes no such performance claims for the 86.
Both use the same notchy and somewhat rubbery six-speed manual transmission, and, while it may not sound like much, the revised final-drive gear ratio from 4.1:1 to 4.3:1 helps both the BRZ and 86 feel much, much punchier than ever before.
No joke, within the first few seconds of being behind the wheel, you can immediately feel that while previous BRZ/86 iterations hated revs dipping below 4000rpm, now, you can short shift at 2000-2500rpm with zero issues.
Stronger, meatier, and with greater flexibility both down low and in the mid-range, you no longer feel you have to wring the thing’s neck to its 7400rpm rev limit every time you want/need decent acceleration.
Sure, regardless of the cabin you’re in, the engine itself still sounds tinny and a bit hollow, but the fact you can at least hear what the engine is doing at any particular point in time, is a big positive for keen drivers.
Even if the noise itself isn’t particularly classical or what you’d call ‘evocative’, you can hear exactly if and when revs start to rise or fall, maintaining ever-important communication between car and driver.
A consequence of the engine’s newfound sprightliness, though, is a bump up in claimed fuel consumption, from 7.8 litres per 100km to 8.4L/100km.
Claims aside, over our combined 160km road and track loop, we averaged 12.5L/100km in the BRZ and 12.7L/100km in the 86.
On the track
And with that, my friends, we’ve reached possibly the most telling element of this comparison: the track.
Notorious for cold weather and damp conditions, we arrive at the 1.3-kilometre Haunted Hills hillclimb circuit – otherwise known as Bryant Park and the home of the Gippsland Car Club – greeted by bright sunshine and a dry track. Surprising, but indeed most welcome.
So as to best get a feel for both cars, we head out for some non-timed reconnaissance laps, before switching gears for some very-non-timed sideways laps.
It’s funny, no matter how many times I get to drive a BRZ or 86, I’m always impressed by just how super involving and engaging the car immediately is – from the second you turn the key (86 GT) or push the engine start button (BRZ).
Secondly, I’m always in awe of how insanely good the steering is in these cars.
Seriously, without a shadow of a doubt, the electric power-assisted rack and pinion system used in the BRZ and 86 is still easily one of the best going around. Weighting, balance, feedback, accuracy, it’s all there, and it’s all bang on.
Throttle response too, is immediate – on or off – quickly reminding you of the halcyon days of naturally-aspirated engines, before comparably ‘laggy’ turbocharged units were all the rage.
Getting to play with three pedals is also something to be celebrated in the BRZ and 86, with all three pedals perfectly positioned for rifle shot-quick heel-and-toe shifts.
And although the clutch in both cars is quite light and light on for feel, with a high take up point taking some getting used to, shift throws are well matched to clutch pedal travel, making the whole process of manually changing gears easy enough to master.
A more than reasonable and highly liveable compromise between daily comfort and outright dynamic ability and potency, the BRZ/86’s ride and handling balance is commendable and neatly measured.
Neither car particularly loves trundling down a rutted or tram track-riddled road, however, nor is either one track-car stiff or unnecessarily firm.
Upping the pace and increasing the angles, it quickly becomes apparent that, when it comes to grip, the BRZ’s Michelin tyres aren’t a match for the 86’s Yokohamas.
Sliding the two cars about back-to-back, we discover that, although you can pretty much throw the 86 around at will, enter the same corner at a similar speed in the BRZ, and the Subaru simply understeers, it’s front-end audibly protesting while pushing wide.
Initiate a rear-wheel slide at a certain point in the 86, and the Toyota’s Yokohama tyres break traction more progressively than the Subaru’s Michelins, meaning you have more control of the car, of the slide, and of the angle, than you do in the snappier and less predictable BRZ.
More control, more predictability, and more consistency not only leads to more fluid sideways action, it also helps build confidence more quickly, which can therefore result in greater trust between car and driver.
Moving into our timed laps, further lessons are learned.
With the stopwatch now running, we record two two-lap sessions in each car, Session One starting with the BRZ and ending with the 86, and Session Two running in reverse – starting with the 86 and ending with the BRZ.
Interestingly, we find that while the Toyota has superior grip under throttle and putting power down, say coming out of a corner, the Subaru has the advantage when it comes to lateral grip when pushing through corners – the latter perhaps a result of the Subaru’s wider Michelins playing their part against the Toyota’s narrower Yokohamas.
To be clear, we didn’t intend for this comparison to digress into a mini tyre test, but as any racer will tell you, at the end of the day, regardless of the car, tyres will often make the difference. So did they?
Well, in short, it would appear so.
The fastest time set in Session One was the Toyota 86, with a 1:07.90, just fractionally ahead of the Subaru BRZ’s quickest lap of a 1:07.93.
Despite reversing the running order for Session Two, the Toyota again took out the fastest time, with the 86 stopping the clock in 1:07.42 – 0.25s faster than the BRZ’s best of 1:07.67.
Now, to be fair to both cars, some significant factors need to be considered here.
Yours truly is no paid racing driver – just a keen track hack – thus the times are not necessarily representative of each vehicle’s outright performance potential. But it is a reasonable guide, and both cars were driven identically in identical conditions.
Further, although the BRZ has the larger brakes of the two cars, it also weighs fractionally more, so perhaps weight too, played a minor part.
Narrow lap-time differences aside, both cars largely handled themselves well, were huge fun to drive, and felt just as communicative and engaging as each other.
Also, anyone who believes the BRZ/86 needs a turbocharger to make it ‘slide-able’, needs to take one for a proper drive on a racetrack with stability control off (or even in Track mode for that matter). Promise.
Warranty and servicing
Purchase price is of course a big consideration when deciding whether or not to buy a new car, but so too is cost of ownership and on going servicing costs.
Here, things remain close, however, key variances do exist.
Covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and 12 months road-side assist, the Subaru BRZ’s recommended service intervals are every nine months or 15,000km, with scheduled services fixed at $224.55 per service for the first three years or 60,000km. That equates to a total of $898.20 in servicing costs for the first three years of ownership (not including additional service items).
The Toyota 86 is also covered by a three-year new-car warranty, although, it’s limited to a maximum of 100,000km, and a comparable 12 months of road-side assist will cost you an additional $78.
Matching the BRZ with nine-month/15,000km recommended service intervals, scheduled services for the 86 are fixed at $180 per service for the first three years or 60,000km, totalling $720 in servicing costs for the first three years of ownership (not including additional service items).
So the Subaru offers a better warranty and greater support, but the Toyota is cheaper to service. Another close call then…
Understandably, when the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 first burst onto the Australian market, it was no surprise that just about everyone wanted one – a ‘proper’ rear-wheel-drive two-door sports car that was attainable for a great number of people.
Now though, five years on, and with distractions such as the Ford Mustang and new Mazda MX-5 joining the fray, you really do have to want a BRZ or an 86 to buy one.
Whichever you’re keen on though, to commit to buying either, you have to be the type of individual who favours fun, entertainment, and engagement over features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and the latest infotainment technologies – and even a decent stereo, to be honest.
But it is precisely that simplicity and ‘basic-ness’ that make the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 so appealing and so addictive. And, considering they share those traits in common, it is difficult to pick a definitive winner. Difficult, but not impossible.
Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to call out that, even five years on, this relatively affordable joint-venture sports car delivers Porsche-like sharpness and response, for Toyota Corolla money, and that’s cool.
Easily still one of the most fun, entertaining, and engaging cars on the new-car market, regardless of price, the BRZ/86 is a car that rewards good driving and penalises bad driving, but in a good way.
It’s a car that teaches you to drive better, and to be a better driver. It encourages any existing passion for driving and enhances it. And if you love driving for all the reasons ‘enthusiasts’ are said to love driving – getting every element as close to perfect as you can lap after lap – it’s about as ideal as it gets.
Moreover, with the facelift upgrades on board, the latest versions of the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are the best either car has ever been.
In the end, for me, I believe there are two winners here – and that’s not just some cheesy line.
What I mean by that is, if a bit more equipment and a few more features fulfil your brief, the 2017 Subaru BRZ wins hands down. For not too much more money, the entry-level BRZ represents a nice stepping-stone between the base 86 GT and the significantly dearer 86 GTS.
That said, the base 86 is possibly the most undiluted, unfiltered, and pure example of a two-door sports car on sale today. And that’s why it wins here.
It’s the cheaper of the two to buy, it proved the faster around the track, and it was – albeit fractionally – the more exciting, reliable, and dependable when going sideways.
I’m also a simple man, so I’d buy a base 86, and spend the little bit of extra cash over the BRZ on either some marginally improved brakes or perhaps some stickier rubber. But hey, that’s just me…