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Subaru BRZ
$26,999 - $37,990
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Subaru BRZ VS Toyota 86

Subaru BRZ


Toyota 86

Summary

Subaru BRZ

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2017 Subaru BRZ with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Subaru's BRZ is a bit of an oddity - it's as good a car as its Toyota twin, but there aren't that many around. There's bound to be corners of the internet that swear blind it's completely different under the skin to the 86, but it really isn't. And that's okay, because the BRZ is a good car because the 86 is.

Thing is, there's a ton of detail differences both inside and out and that might be enough to sway you to order the BRZ online through the Subaru website (yep, they're still doing that) rather than heading to your local Toyota emporium. Before you go, though, you might like to know what the recent mild refresh of both cars has meant to the Subaru.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.8L/100km
Seating4 seats

Toyota 86

Toyota's 86 might have been a huge surprise when it burst onto the world stage, but now it's difficult to imagine a world without it. Heralding a so-far slow and steady return to more interesting cars for the Japanese giant, the 86 has steadily clocked up the sales.

The tiny sports car picked up a few specification tweaks late last year as well as a longed-for 'Performance Pack' and the mildest of upgraded stereos.

Half a decade on and with the Mazda MX-5 (in both convertible and hardtop) as a strong price rival, with an army of hot hatches nipping at its heels, is the 86 still the bargain funster we'd been missing all those years?

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.8L/100km
Seating4 seats

Verdict

Subaru BRZ7.1/10

Everything in the cabin works, nothing is overdone and it feels dependable and unburstable. You can attack that same set of corners time after time, wet, dry or indifferent and you'll know exactly what's going to happen. The car encourages and rewards consistency, the much-maligned power 'deficit' working for the driver rather than against the driving experience.

Yes, it's a bit noisy and yes, as soon as you've parked up in the sun and turned off the engine it starts heating up immediately. More insulation means more weight and a certain amount of disconnection from the car that wouldn't suit its character. You'll live. The new BRZ is a better car than the old, with a better interior, better chassis and it might just be better value than its Toyota counterpart.

Toyota or Subaru? Or Fiat or Mazda? Let the debate begin (in the comments section below).


Toyota 867.3/10

The overall score doesn't really reflect how good this car is. It's let down by silly things like the lack of a decent stereo head unit, a ho-hum warranty package and a lack of advanced safety features. Those things sort of miss the point for most 86 buyers as the sales figures suggest.

It's old school fun without all the reliability and usability issues. It's a better proposition than any bargain sportscar for decades and is never not a barrel of laughs. The best value - and most fun - is a manual GT with the Dynamic Performance Pack. It's still good value, has a bit more oomph in the brakes and suspension and adds just a little bit of spice to the 86.

Has the 86 withstood the test of time? Or have other, new options stolen your heart? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Design

Subaru BRZ7/10

The BRZ's relationship to the 86 is blatantly obvious, but there are enough styling differences to allow the average punter to tell the two apart. The 17-inch wheels are a good start (and the vibrant blue, if you pick it, is reminiscent of Subaru's nineties WRC blue cars), the front and rear bumpers are different and some of the external trim pieces are blacked out, like the blank vents ahead of the driver's door.

The BRZ also has Subaru signature shaped LED daytime running lights which are a hook rather than the Toyota's eyebrow-of-light.

Inside is basically the same, right down to the wheel, with just Subaru badges to distinguish the BRZ and Subaru graphics in the dashboard's start-up animation. The cabin has steadily improved over the years, with less scratchy plastics and better-fitting trim pieces. The gentle arch over the air-con vents still looks like it doesn't fit properly though.

The new dash pack is a huge improvement. It still has the worst analogue speedometer fitted to a car - it's cramped and unreadable - but the tacho now has a BMW-style info screen cut into it, with big, easy to read digital speed readout. No excuse for speeding fines now, officer. The right hand dial space is now taken up with another digital screen with various info options including power and torque graphs and a stopwatch. The graphics are very easy on the eye, too, not dodgy low-res '80s-style LCD figures that you still find on some Mazdas (for example).


Toyota 867/10

As ever, the 86 exterior design is tasteful - low-slung and with a mild body kit including side skirts, a modest front spoiler and a metal rear wing that nobody seems to like. The 86 has those classic sports car proportions despite its diminutive dimensions.

The rear diffuser looks good but is unlikely to do much other than house the fog light and reversing lights. The big twin exhausts look terrific, so if you want a quad exhaust, I will only ask why.

Inside is as minimally thoughtful as ever. There's nothing especially wrong with it but there is little to commend it with a mix of materials and various cop-outs to save money. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, given the car's intentions, but if you're expecting a premium interior, you're of out luck. Having said that, the suede-like panel in the GTS looks pretty good.

Practicality

Subaru BRZ6/10

For two people, the BRZ is not bad. Despite a long drop to very comfortable seats, you've plenty of head and leg room, two each of bottle holders and cupholders (although bigger cups will cop an elbow during gear shifts) and if you lift out the cupholder/phone holder, you have a long shallow tray for other bits. A small slot under the climate controls could be used for the key if you like losing it.

The rear seats are hopeless, with a falling roofline, head-to-glass interface for the passengers and virtually no headroom at all. There's a pair of baby seat anchors for those who just can't give up the BRZ.

Boot space is a distinctly weedy 218 litres, the floor suffering from bootus interruptus where the full-size spare has been placed in the middle. Thoughtfully, it has been installed face down so the inside of the wheel acts as a fairly handy shopping bag restraint. You can flop the rear seats (snigger) forward to slot in a suitcase or two if you so desire. Or four wheels and tyres, as per its amateur trackday intentions.


Toyota 866/10

Interior photos reveal a cosy space for driver and passenger. The rear seats are almost entirely pointless, although you can get small kids in. Like really small - I'm just on 180cm and drive closer to the wheel than most but I could still only slot a laptop computer in the 'legroom'.

The front seats are split by a narrow console with a moveable tray with two cupholders and a slot that holds a smaller iPhone or Android phone. There is no armrest, but that's for practical gear-shifting reasons. Those in the rear don't get a cup holder at all.

People always ask how many seats Toyota has crammed in, and the answer is four, but it's really a 2+2.

Boot space isn't terrible at 223 litres and if you fold down the rear seats, you've capacity for a set of four wheels and tyres. Which might be handy given there is no longer a spare tyre, so a tyre repair kit might be in order...

As you might imagine, ground clearance isn't off-road spectacular but the 86 does pass my driveway test. In other words, I can get it up my driveway - some SUVs don't even manage without that stomach churning scraaape.

Price and features

Subaru BRZ8/10

The BRZ is priced at $32,990, a price cut of $1230 over the MY16 car. You save more if you go for an automatic, which is now $34,990, a price cut of $1735. But seriously, an automatic sports car?

The BRZ arrives from the internet (that's how it works, yeah?) with 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, a new 7.0-inch touchscreen for the six speaker stereo head unit, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, cruise control, LED fog lights, leather shifter and steering wheel, cloth trim, limited slip diff, power windows and mirrors and a full-size spare.

You can choose from seven colours, and all of them are no-cost options (hooray!). You can also add the Premium Pack which covers the seats in leather and Alcantara and adds heating.

The six-speaker stereo is run from a Subaru-branded 7.0-inch touchscreen, with the most basic interface imaginable and no sat nav. Irritatingly, despite it being far better than its predecessor and infinitely better than the Toyota head unit, the simple inclusion of CarPlay and Android Auto has been missed. That kind of thing adds to the value proposition and just isn't hard. The sound is fine and the interface finicky-but-useable, but I guess many buyers rip it out and replace it with something fully sick/hectic/ill.

By comparison, the 86 is $30,790, has smaller wheels, single-zone air-con and a genuinely terrible stereo head unit. And if you don't want red, you have to pay $450 for a different colour. So the pricing of the BRZ does include more stuff as well as exclusivity - the arrangement with Toyota apparently restricts sales of the Subaru to a tenth of 86 sales.


Toyota 868/10

There are still only two trim levels these days, if you discount the racing version. The Toyota website suggests the 'Apollo Blue' is a separate model, but you'll soon see that's a bit cheeky. Our brief comparison features RRP straight off the price list. The drive-away price is obviously between you and your dealer.

The GT opens the range at $31,440 for the manual and $33,740 for the auto. It's not the sub-$30k bargain it used to be, but remains cheaper than its Subaru BRZ sister car and the Mazda MX-5.

Standard features include 16-inch alloys, a limited-slip diff (manual only), LED headlights and daytime running lights, reversing camera, 6.1-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, power windows and mirrors, electric power steering, air-conditioning, floor mats, hill start assist, a sound system with six speakers, Bluetooth and USB, cruise control and cloth trim.

The second level of the road going range is the GTS, starting at $36,640 for the manual and $38,940 for the auto. To the base model you can add bigger rims at 17 inches, dual-zone climate control, an info display in the dashboard between the gauges, privacy glass, heated front seats, stereo controls on the steering wheel, keyless entry and push button start, fake leather seats with Alcantara trim inserts and GPS navigation system with SUNA traffic info.

The GTS's tyres are markedly better Michelins.

For the GT and GTS you can choose from six colours: 'Tornado Grey', 'Storm Black', 'Ice Silver', 'White Liquid', 'Gravity Blue' and 'Ignition Red'. If you go all in on a GTS, you can also have Apollo Blue. Fans of orange and yellow are out of luck. Only Ignition Red is a freebie, the rest will stick you with a $450 bill.

The GT and GTS also offer the 'Dynamic Performance Pack' option. How much does it cost and what do you get? Sadly, no turbo or increase in engine size or improvement in engine specs for a bit more speed. I know many of you pine for more horsepower to improve the 86's stats, but Toyota won't help out.

So, the $2200 (GT)/$2900 (GTS) pack includes a darker set of alloy wheels, SACHS suspension and a set of Brembo brakes. GTS buyers can also specify Apollo Blue as the exterior colour, raising the price again to $39,950 for the manual and $41,890 for the auto.

The 6.1-inch infotainment screen that runs the sound system is an ongoing disaster. Too small, terrible software, it's an afterthought. To add insult to injury, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto despite the Subaru version managing to fit a stereo with exactly that feature. It's a perplexingly bad decision to leave them out, especially when it's a basic double DIN unit that's easy to replace.

Accessories include interior lighting, rear parking sensors and a bootliner. Missing from the list are a towbar, HID headlights (the standard LEDs are excellent) and, unsurprisingly, air suspension.

Conspicuous by their absence are a roof rack and sunroof. Despite a soft top concept a few years back, there isn't a convertible either. If you want a subwoofer, you'll have to go aftermarket.

The waiting time for your 86 is a thing of the past - stock levels appear solid around the country.

Engine & trans

Subaru BRZ7/10

The gravelly Subaru 'flat' four remains unassisted by turbos or superchargers, but has had a small hike in power to 152kW (+5kW) and 212Nm (+7Nm). The 0-100km/h time is still a handy if not blistering 7.4 seconds for the 1282kg rear-driver.

Power is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual.


Toyota 867/10

The Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre 'boxer' four soldiers on and in the six-speed manual produces 152kW/212Nm, both high in the rev range. Annoyingly, when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission, you only get 148kW/205Nm.

One of the reasons for the boxer engine is that it sits nice and low, which works for styling and packaging. Even getting the battery lower in the chassis means an improvement in handling.

The power heads rearwards (purists love rear-wheel drive) and is apportioned by a limited-slip differential.

There are no known common issues with the 86's boxer four. As to whether the engine features a timing belt or chain, the good news is that it's a chain, meaning lower long-term ownership and servicing costs.

The engine has been around forever and there are no common engine issues that I could identify, except perhaps the lack of a turbocharged option or supercharger.

The manual transmission doesn't seem to suffer any widespread complaints or issues and the automatic gearbox seems similarly reliable. If you needed to settle the manual vs automatic argument, that's yet another reason to go with the manual gearbox. As well as the lighter weight. And better performance figures.

There is no 4x4, front-wheel drive or AWD version, nor is there a diesel motor available. Although that would be interesting...

For some reason, the 86 comes in for criticism for its 0-100km per hour acceleration time, which is a swift seven-ish seconds.

Toyota does not offer a towing capacity figure, perhaps for obvious reasons.

Fuel consumption

Subaru BRZ7/10

Subaru claims 8.4L/100km on premium unleaded, we averaged a creditable 8.9L/100km in scorching hot temperatures and a mix of, "See, sweetie, it's a sensible car and I am being sensible" and "How good are these corners?" driving.


Toyota 868/10

Fuel consumption is quite different between the transmission types. The manual's claimed combined cycle figure is 8.4L/100km while the automatic's is 7.1L/100km. Usually mileage figures are closer between transmissions, so if fuel economy is at the top of your list, it's the automatic.

Fuel tank capacity is 50 litres and you have to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded.

The official figures, for once, aren't a bad guide - my most recent week with an 86 manual returned 9.3L/100km.

Driving

Subaru BRZ8/10

Even just starting the BRZ, you know you're in something special. It's because you're sitting low, peering out of the windscreen over what feels like a wide, low bonnet (low, yes, wide, not really). The BRZ always looks bigger than it is in photos and when you sit in it, you're instantly reminded that it's tiny. You're below the window line of most SUVs, even a Mazda CX-3 or our long-term Honda HR-V towers over it (the BRZ's total height is just 1320mm, the HR-V 1605mm).

The long gear shifter slots easily into first and the initially snatchy-feeling clutch gets you moving without needing too many revs. Turning a corner for the first time in a BRZ feels like the first time I turned the wheel in a Peugeot 205 - instant, predictable response, the promise of plenty of fun.

And it really is. There's an identifiable bounce to the suspension, like a Mini, that's attributable to the short travel on the springs and dampers. You soon discover it takes very little for the rear tyres to chirp when you punt it out of a corner. It's all still the same - low grip, quick change of direction, fun times.

The shell of the coupe was recently given a few minor tweaks to improve things, mostly at the back. There are more spot-welds for more rigidity which in turn meant tweaks to the springs, dampers and sway bar. All of this adds up to a transformed driving experience.

Actually, no it doesn't. That's what's great about this update. Current owners will notice the difference, as did I, but it's subtle. The rear feels tauter, you can't detect as much (or any, really) flex at the back which was minimal anyway. It just feels tighter, but you can still swing the tail out in the same way as before.

The joy of this car is the lightness and the feel, much like its compatriot, the MX-5. With wonderfully direct and subtly assisted steering, this is a car that revels in its purity. It's old-fashioned in a good way - you have to work the engine and gearbox when you're out having fun. You'll be having that fun at low speeds, too, leaving your brain plenty of time to make decisions. The new Track mode loosens the reigns a bit and the engine's software has been re-mapped for better response.


Toyota 868/10

Every time I drive the 86, I am struck by the same things. The first is just how small it really is. Its road footprint is tiny, the Toyota dwarfed by just about everything. That means it's great in the city for ducking in and out of gaps and if you keep the left arm busy on the shifter, you'll be able to use its momentum to carve through the dawdling idiots infesting our roads.

The steering is always a delight - fast and direct, you know what's under those skinny front tyres and the weighting is near perfection. Coupled with the finely-tuned chassis, it's super-predictable and a huge laugh out of damp roundabouts.

The best bit is the balance - you can really feel the car underneath you. When you strip it all back, ignore the rackety engine and plasticky interior, it really feels like a car twice the price. The whole experience is centred around fun but without abandoning the needs of daily driving - the soft suspension allows for body roll which is both fun when you're thrashing but delivers a bearable ride on the school/work run.

It's a bit tinny, it's missing some obvious bits and pieces but few cars put you in touch with the purity of driving like a manual 86.

The automatic - largely ignored - is still fun, but it's not really what the 86 is all about. For me, I once had an auto 86 and it was an opportunity to show my manual-shy wife what she's been missing.

Safety

Subaru BRZ7/10

Standard safety inclusions run to eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, and brake assist.

The BRZ scored five ANCAP stars in July 2012, the maximum available. It was tested under the niche vehicle policy, which means the manufacturer conducted the test, with ANCAP supervision and approved test facilities.


Toyota 867/10

The 86 arrives with a decent level of safety features. They all have an airbag count of seven, ABS, stability and traction controls, reverse camera and hill start assist.

If you can squeeze in a baby seat, there are two ISOFIX points and two top-tether points.

The maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating dates way back to 2012.

Ownership

Subaru BRZ7/10

Subaru offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with the first 12 months joined by roadside assist. 

Service intervals are nine months or 15,000km. A three-year service plan is available for $898 and covers the first three years or 60,000km of servicing and covers you with roadside assist for the duration, a loan car and all the usual guarantees. The plan seems to cover everything, so three years for $300 per annum is reasonable.


Toyota 867/10

Toyota still offers a three-year/100,000km warranty and roadside assist is an extra cost. Many customers understand that a key Toyota value proposition is reliability, but the three-year warranty club is almost as small as the full-term Prime Ministers club has been in the last decade.

Resale value appears strong, no doubt helped by a distinct lack of common problems, gearbox problems, issues, faults or complaints about the car. A second hand 86 should be easy to come by - since its launch in 2012, Toyota has shifted around 20,000 cars.

Service cost is capped at $180 per service and you're expected to visit the dealer every nine months or 15,000km, which is kind of odd.

The owners manual is packed with useful details like oil capacity and type.

Another question I'm often asked is "Where is the Toyota 86 built?" - the answer is Subaru's Gunma plant in Japan. Some also ask "Is the Toyota 86 discontinued?" - that's a firm no, although the US Scion sub-brand version, the FR-S, is no more.