Despite having a classic front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, many car enthusiasts complain the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are too slow. It’s time to stop.
You just can’t please some people. In this case, “some people” refers to the relatively small subset of car owners known as enthusiasts, and I say this because it is the enthusiasts who are most vocal with their opinions. In an effort to cater to this niche group, Toyota and Subaru joined forces to create the 86 and BRZ twins way back in 2011. It was a sports car that definitely looked the part with a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, some really stellar handling dynamics, and a relatively low point of entry.
And yet, the enthusiasts found a reason to complain about things. With the 86/BRZ (as we’ll refer to them from here on out), it was the engine that was the problem. Being a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine, it wasn’t the most potent powertrain – 200 PS and 205 Nm of torque – and this was deemed too slow by the pundits. There were calls to develop a turbocharged version or put in a different engine, but Toyota and Subaru refused to yield - at least for the first gen.
There’s a fairly good reason for it too. Upping the power would mean strengthening every other component in the driveline and inevitably changing the driving dynamics of the car. From factory, even on those gripless excuses for tyres, the 86/BRZ was a fantastic car to drive with balance and poise never before seen short of BMW M Cars or Porsche’s range of coupes and convertibles.
While we could dive into what could have been, let’s look at what is.
Torque dips aren’t a problem
One of the quickest issues that came to light was how the 86/BRZ had a massive torque dip between 3200 and 4500 rpm, which many people enjoyed blowing out of proportion. It was made to sound like the 86/BRZ was practically undriveable, but the reality is that if you knew how to work the gears properly and run each gear out to redline (like you should), you would never have the engine speed fall into the torque dip. In simple terms, it trained you to drive better to get the most out of it.
Light and nimble
There are massive advantages to keeping weight low, and the 86/BRZ weighs in at between 1200 and 1300 kg. In comparison, the average Volkswagen Golf GTI could start at around 1300 kg and go as high as 1500 kg – and the difference in weight can be noticeable. Despite being down on power, an 86/BRZ has a power-to-weight ratio that isn’t all too incomparable with a Golf GTI – which is perfectly accepted as being a quick car by a broader community.
While the 86/BRZ may not be mind-blowingly fast in a straight line, one of the biggest influences on straight line speed is your speed coming out of the previous corner – and that’s where these coupes excel. Drive an 86/BRZ long enough and you’ll have the confidence to attack and exit corners at much higher speeds being fully in control. This results in a much higher speed by the time you get to the end of the next straight.
While enthusiasts are quick to complain about the 86/BRZ, they happily accept the Mazda MX-5 – which really has comparable performance and metrics. This may be a result of the MX-5’s long and cheerful history, but ultimately it shows a double standard as people cannot accept the 86/BRZ for what they are. In a time when rear-wheel drive sports cars are really reserved for those with plenty of money to spare on a second car, the 86/BRZ twins are a cost-effective alternative that can offer you pure driving pleasure without having to sacrifice too much financially.
The price of fun
One of the problems with owning a performance car is that if you truly want to enjoy it, you are going to have to pay for consumables – whether that’s engine oil and other fluids, or tyres and brake pads and brake discs, you can’t run away from the costs of these various items that you will burn through or need to replace more often. The good thing about the 86/BRZ is that the costs are relatively low compared to other performance cars – even if you wanted to go drifting every other month. Cheap tyres are widely available in the sizes that you need, and other consumables aren’t too pricey either.
Ultimately owning one of these cars may take a little bit of getting used to as the straight line speed doesn’t quite match the looks, but the 86/BRZ is a car that will teach you as you go. Not only is it easy to approach for newcomers, it also has high performance potential once you really get the hang of driving it on the limit, as well as a vast aftermarket selection of parts to modify your car in a way that suits you. It may not be the last word in speed, but you will almost certainly not regret having one in your garage.