BMW 120i coupe vs Toyota 86 GTS

10 July 2012

BMW 120i coupe vs Toyota 86 GTS

BMW 120i coupe and Toyota 86 GTS go head-to-head in this comparative review.

Value

BMW 120i coupe

from $47,400

This is one of the cheapest BMWs on the market and it's still more than $10,000 over the 86. It's not precisely a rival for the Toyota, but its sports-bred suspension, two-door coupe design, six-cog gearbox and front engine-rear drive layout with an aspirated 2-litre engine make it a natch. Standard fare is similar but Toyota gives you more. The 120i has Bluetooth with iPod/USB connectivity, 17-inch alloys, leather upholstery and auto aircon. The slightly more potent 125i is $55,600 and has a six-cylinder engine.

Toyota 86 GTS

from $35,490

Stunning. The $29,990 opener brought the house down and even hardened Toyota salesmen wept openly with joy. The entry-level GT gets cruise, limited slip diff (manual only), electric windows and mirrors, seven airbags, 16-inch alloys and Bluetooth with iPod/USB links. It's the basis for a weekend track machine but for the rest of us, the $35,490 GTS is a better buy, adding sat-nav, LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloys, sports seats and so on.

Design

BMW 120i coupe

There's a lot more room in this compared with the 86 and the boot puts it firmly in the family-friendly class. It clearly follows the BMW design theme but lacks any visual impression of sportiness - but the muscular 1M nails it - which almost dilutes the car to near-invisible status on the road. But the dash design is simple and reflects quality components while the seating and access to the rear rate well for this type of vehicle.

Toyota 86 GTS

It looks good but isn't startling, more an evolution of the 1990s Celica than a fresh sketch. No doubt it turns heads. The low, low seat and wide sill test body flexibility and, depending on your perspective, is either a big no-no or yes-yes for girls in short skirts. The boot is small though the useless rear seat can fold down as one piece, greatly boosting stowage. Dash treatment is simple tending to basic (but GTS is a winner) and seats are good, not terrific. Visibility is actually acceptable despite the knee-height driver position.

Technology

BMW 120i coupe

The drivetrain balances technology with the need to keep emissions low. BMW is a master at high-efficiency and this little 2-litre reflects top-notch engineering with a 115kW/200Nm output achieved at comparatively low revs - 3600rpm for the torque compared with the 86's 205Nm at 6400rpm - to claim a 7.9 L/100km average. The suspension is multi-link, the brakes are four-wheel vented discs and the steering is hydraulic while the tyres are run flat units (no spare needed).

Toyota 86 GTS

This is spelt with an "S" for Subaru, who supply all the running gear and stamp most of it with its name. The 2-litre engine is aspirated - no turbo yet and none planned from Toyota - but is enhanced with direct petrol injection, variable valve timing and a high compression ratio for a 147kW/205Nm output. The six-speed manual is from the Lexus IS - as is the six-speed auto - while the brakes and suspension are Subaru (MacPhersons at the front, double wishbones at the back) and the steering is electric-assist rack and pinion. Engine at the front - tucked up against the firewall so no chance of all-wheel drive - and drive at the rear. Simple.

Safety

BMW 120i coupe

This is a five-star crash tested coupe with six airbags, all the modern electronic aids - brake assist, stability and traction control, corner braking and brake emergency display that flashes the brake lights in a panic stop - and automatic wipers, rear park sensors and a tyre pressure sensor.

Toyota 86 GTS

Toyota assumes a five-star crash test rating. The coupe gets seven airbags, ABS brakes (four-wheel vented discs on GTS), brake assist, traction control and a three-mode switchable electronic stability control system. These modes are normal; Sport; and off though "off'' comes back "on'' over 50km/h. A space-saver spare is standard though the test car had a full-size spare that only intruded about 30mm above the boot floor.

Driving

BMW 120i coupe

The 120i coupe shows all the ingredients of being in the same classroom as the 86 but it's not the case. The 120i is quietly sitting up and paying attention at the front of the class while the 86 is raising hell at the back of the room. You sit on the BMW seats and it feels more like a sedan with two doors rather than a coupe. The engine is keen and will run to 100km/h in a respectable 8.6 seconds (7.6 seconds for the 86) so can induce a smile. It's forte is corners. That rear-drive and front engine combo with an active ESC system make it quite lively and very predictable through the bends. The ride comfort was expected to be softer than the 86 yet is about on par, only rutted bitumen showing up the 86. It's a good coupe, not a great coupe and will be bought more for its sporty assumption and its badge rather than its performance potential.

Toyota 86 GTS

It feels exactly like a sports coupe should - almost RX-7 in its wheel and pedal placement. The button start signals the entrance of Subaru and though the exhaust note has been worked, there's no hiding the subtle off-beat note of a flat-four engine. A nice, short-throw gearshift with suitable notchy character, surprisingly positive electric steering and very good visibility - helped by pronounced humps over the front wheels - make the driver feel at ease. It can stumble off the mark if the revs aren't sufficient and from there, the power flows smoothly to dip about 3000rpm then rise again at 5500rpm. From there to 7000rpm is the fun part. Yes, you initially think it needs more power but its agility through corners and its ability to react to your input make it such a sweet package you'd fear more front-end weight would wreck the dream. The GTS gets much better brakes - bigger discs with vented units at the back - and one more inch in the wheel diameter. It's worth the extra cash.

Verdict

BMW 120i coupe

Toyota 86 GTS

I don't care if I have to be lifted in and out of the 86 - it's the one to have. End of story.

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Published 10 July 2012

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We compare, head to head, two similar models of competing manufacturer cars. Which do we prefer? Why? Find out in CarsGuide's Head To Head showdowns.