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by Jez Spinks

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito were easy. But is it possible to pick the difference between another set of twins, the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ?

That’s the question CarAdvice set to answer across a range of beautifully sunlit country roads.

Our BRZ test car is in silver while the 86 is in red – good colours, even if we would have preferred brand-signature hues of WR Blue for the Subaru and white for the Toyota.

As we stand in front of the two sports coupes before setting off, the front ends are clearly distinguished besides the company badges and despite the rest of the body being virtually identical.

The Subaru BRZ adopts an inverted, U-shaped grille with cross bars and a thick black plastic section on which the rego plate sits; the Toyota 86 features a Ford-esque trapezoidal shape with honeycombed plastic for its gaping air intake.

Subaru’s coupe has a more pronounced front splitter edging out of the front bumper, and its foglight surround design is square where the Toyota’s is vertical.

Strangely, the Subaru’s panel gaps at the front are noticeably wider than the Toyota’s – a consequence of a not quite perfectly formed front bumper section we’d suggest considering both models are built in the same plant.
Our initial and then sustained feeling, though, is that the Subaru has the slight styling edge.

As we fire up the engines and roll out onto the open road, it’s time to ponder about how we came to be driving these cars: a Toyota that promises to be the antithesis of competent but uninspiring models such as the Toyota Corolla and Toyota Camry; a Subaru that contradicts an all-wheel-drive-only mantra that has governed the brand’s existence in Australia since 1997.
Toyota has been desperate to inject some excitement into its brand since the demise of sports cars such as the Supra, MR2 and Celica.

The company’s reputation for quality and durability is widely admired, though the global multi-million vehicle recall saga of 2009 had Toyota asking itself what else it had to trade on if its core values came under the spotlight.

The potentially damaging recalls episode, which did take place two years after Toyota had already initiated the sports car project, also coincided with the rise of the company founder’s grandson, Akio Toyoda, to the position of president.
Crucially, for the prospect of Toyotas that would transcend the common ‘Whitegoods on wheels’ tag applied by some to the company’s products, Toyoda-san was not only a relatively young president, but also a keen steerer who was even a certified test driver.

With Toyota’s global production plant capacity at maximum thrust with key volume models, however, it’s where the company’s 16.5 per cent share of Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru, came into play.
The collaborative talks resulted in Toyota determining it would take care of product planning and design, while Subaru focused on engineering and production.

So it should be no surprise that structurally and mechanically, the 86 and BRZ are heavily influenced by the brand with the constellation logo.

The platform beneath is new but features a rear subframe and basic suspension design concept that is similar to that of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI’s.

The engine under the bonnet is also classic Subaru: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder horizontally opposed ‘Boxer’ unit that is new but based on the engine that powers the Subaru XV and Subaru Impreza.

In both cars it produces 147kW, a worthy power output considering it matches the previous-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI that had a 2.0-litre aided by a turbocharger.

It doesn’t have a significant amount of mass to shift, either. The “Toyobaru” twins – as they were dubbed by the industry – are just 4240mm long (similar to a Golf) and weigh between 1245 and 1285kg depending on spec.

Both the 86 and BRZ are said to sprint from 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds, or 8.2sec for the six-speed auto that was (a touch frustratingly) fitted to each car. From the seat of the pants the coupes certainly don’t feel much quicker than that decent-but-far-from-remarkable figure.

The soundtrack of the four-cylinder engine won’t send tingles down your spine, either, though the aural experience improves as the rev counter needle heads towards 7000rpm where peak power arrives.

You don’t have to strain your ears much to pick out the unmistakeable throb long associated with Subaru Boxer engines.

And with just a humble 205Nm of torque – little more than that produced by a Volkswagen Polo city car – the driver soon learns revs are crucial to getting the most out of these sports cars. And provides a lesson in how driving excitement is not all about outright speed.

Subaru developed the sports car to have a centre of gravity as close to the ground as possible, so the flat four-cylinder that already has an advantage in this area compared with upright engines is mounted lower than in any current Subaru.

Combined with a weight distribution that is fairly evenly split – 53/47 front/rear – the 86 and BRZ are cars that drive from corner to corner pivoting like they’re balanced on a central axis.

With neither car blessed with an excess of power, the engineers have sensibly ensured the sports cars aren’t over-tyred. Quite the opposite in fact, as both the 86 GTS and BRZ are shod with the 17-inch tyres from the Toyota Prius i-Tech that are focused more on reduced fuel consumption, through low rolling resistance, rather than grip.

The result is a very playful balance between tyre grip and engine power, though those enthusiasts harking back to the drifting days of the Toyota Corolla AE86 that inspired the name for this Toyota will find going sideways takes plenty of encouragement. And not simply by stamping on the throttle pedal.

You could think of both the 86 and BRZ as a kind of Fisher Price ‘My first Rear-wheel-drive car’ as even a semi-skilled driver will get to appreciate the distinct handling trait of a rear-driven car without likely getting into trouble.

Yet there’s still plenty for experienced steerers. Central to the brilliance of the two cars’ handling is the steering.

A grippy, small-diameter steering wheel immediately and physically suggests you’re in a sports car, as does the low driving position and snug bucket seats.

It’s a quick and responsive steering rack, too, with the coupe’s turning in with immediacy and from there little steering lock required to adopt whatever cornering line is desired.

The BRZ is apparently a touch stiffer in the springs than the 86, but we couldn’t detect any significant difference in the way the two sports cars cornered or rode (surprisingly compliantly for the latter).

Only our video cameraman would later reveal that footage from the 86’s onboard camera was a touch less jumpy than the footage from the BRZ’s cam.

Maybe a racetrack would be the only place to expose any subtle differences.

If you’re at least hoping there are some variations between the cabins, then bad news. The interiors are also clones, with only some odd specification differences.

So they share the same cramped rear seats and same narrow boot. One key difference here, though, is that our 86 came with a boot liner whereas the BRZ didn’t, and we believe that’s the explanation for the Subaru’s cabin being a tad noisier than the 86’s on the road.

This advantage will have disappeared by the time you read this comparison, however, as Toyota Australia is controversially dropping both the liner and the full-size spare (the latter in favour of a tyre repair kit).

The Toyota will still lead on price. The two-tier Toyota 86 range starts at $29,990 for a base model fitted with 16-inch tyres, though the single-spec BRZ is a more natural match for the better-equipped GTS that costs from $35,490.

On-road charges need to be added to those figures, though Subaru has adopted an unorthodox approach by selling the BRZ online only and providing driveaway pricing only – $37,150 (or $39,780 if you want the auto version).

You have to pay an extra $1500 to get the BRZ to match the 86 GTS’s colour touchscreen satellite navigation system that adds a welcome dose of sophistication to an interior that is more functional than fancy, as well as premium heated sports seats.

Subaru’s servicing plan is more generous, though – free for three years or up to 60,000km.

You may find yourself struggling to get your hands on either, however.

Subaru has already sold out its measly 2012 allocation of 201 BRZs (though about a quarter of those are being used as dealer demonstrators), while a waiting list is continuing to lengthen for the 86.

It’s already been too a long time since an affordable rear-wheel drive sports car was available, so another few months could be trying for some.

But these nimble, finely engineered coupes are worth the wait. And in this comparison, there’s only one clear winner: driving enthusiasts.

 

Toyota 86 GTS
Price: $39,858.38 (driveaway, Sydney)
Engine: 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder
Power: 147kW at 7000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 6600rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual or 6-spd auto
0-100km/h: 7.6 seconds (8.2sec auto)
Fuel consumption: 7.8L/100km (7.1 auto)
CO2 emissions: 181g/km (164 auto)
STAR RATING: 4.5 STARS 

Subaru BRZ
Price: $37,150 (driveaway, national)
Engine: 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder
Power: 147kW at 7000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 6600rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual or 6-spd auto
0-100km/h: 7.6 seconds (8.2 auto)
Fuel consumption: 7.8L/100km (7.1 auto)
CO2 emissions: 181g/km (164 auto)
STAR RATING: 4.5 STARS 

 

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