There is something slightly absurd about trying to choose between the 2022 Subaru BRZ and 2022 Toyota GR86 sports cars. After all, these coupes are virtually the same, sharing engines, transmissions, structures, and more. And with affordable rear-wheel-drive sports cars not exactly spilling forth from today’s automakers, placing either of these in “last place” feels like a disservice to the noble cause of ensuring such vehicles remain available. The answer to the question of whether to buy a BRZ or a GR86 should be: yes.
The more nuanced answer comes with another question: What do you plan on using your relatively cheap, rear-drive Toyota/Subaru sports car for, exactly? Will you spend most of your time on the street, or are you looking forward to often visiting autocross events or racetracks, where lap times and consistency matter? To help you choose between these seemingly identical coupes, we gathered up manual-transmission versions of both, and drove—and tested—them head-to-head.
What’s New and What’s Different?
Building on the original Subaru BRZ’s and Toyota 86’s compelling shared formula, the 2022 models remain lightweight, rear-wheel drive, and wonderfully affordable. Both swap their 2.0-liter engines for new 2.4-liter units producing 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Each car also benefits from new body-stiffening measures, updated styling, and upgraded interiors. How are they different? Subaru and Toyota install their own headlights and bumpers, with the BRZ adopting a few more creases, vents, and such on its nose compared with the GR86’s cleaner appearance. Toyota also gives the GR86’s rear a more pronounced ducktail spoiler that, on the up-level Premium model we tested here, is even taller.
Tuning-wise, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86 diverge more widely than before, lending each model a distinct character you feel when driving them back-to-back. Toyota stuck with the old 86’s rear suspension setup, or at least the basics, keeping that car’s subframe-mounted anti-roll bar and more playful spring rates. Subaru changed more underneath the BRZ, going with stiffer front springs (by 7 percent) and softer rears (by 11 percent) compared with the Toyota, as well as installing a 1mm-thinner rear anti-roll bar and mounting it directly to the BRZ’s body. Add in a hollow front anti-roll bar and aluminum front knuckles, and the Subie’s firmer front end delivers more neutral balance. The Toyota’s tail is more willing to step out, and does so more gradually than on the Subaru, which can feel snappier at its limit.
It’s the Handling, Stupid
We can (and will, don’t worry) run through all our test numbers and compare which one is better by different objective measures, but the suspension setups are hands-down the biggest differentiators here. What better baseline could we ask for than for both of our test cars to weigh within 5 pounds of one another and ride on their available Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires (relegated to the GR86’s Premium trim and the BRZ’s Limited model), leveling the playing field where the rubber literally meets the road?
Despite the identical power, weight, and tire offerings of each, the Toyota GR86 just edged out the BRZ at the test track, posting higher grip on the skidpad (0.98 g vs. 0.93) and reaching 60 mph 0.1 second quicker, in 5.8 seconds. On our figure-eight course, the GR86 was a full second quicker. Providing a hint of its stiffer front end, the Subaru stopped from 60 mph 1 foot shorter than the Toyota, in a solid 107 feet, its only objective dynamic win over the GR86, though both models suffered from brake fade during our track session. Upgrade the pads or fluid or both—or perhaps find a way to introduce more cooling to the existing brakes—if you plan on participating in a track day.
The BRZ is no slouch, of course, but consistency is its forte. With its more planted rear end, the Subaru is easily the more reliable lap-time partner of the two. In the Toyota, you’ll have too much fun to care much about lap times, though it’ll out-perform the BRZ if you’re willing to exercise your skills a little more. That’s because the GR86’s butt slides around a lot more, but its movement is telegraphed to the driver’s southern cheeks, allowing even novices to easily approach and cross over the grip threshold at sub-felony speeds. In short, overcook things in the Toyota and it’s easy to reign the tail back in.
In the Subaru, recoveries take a little more attention; though its tail hangs in there longer, it lets go less gradually. Think of it this way: The BRZ’s ultimate rear-end grip is like the GR86’s, but with a narrower window between having that grip and losing it. You can drift the BRZ, but it takes more precise steering and throttle inputs from more experienced pilots to get there and stay on that edge. In both cars, by the way, there is an in-between stability-control setting and a full-off option right there on the center console.
In Between the Numbers
Now that we’ve covered what separates the 2022 Toyota GR86 and 2022 Subaru BRZ, let’s build these two sports cars back up with the greatness they share. The new 2.4-liter engine is a highlight, largely eliminating the old 2.0-liter’s odd torque drop-off in the middle of the rev range, and delivering notably better torque and noise. You can forget the old cars’ rattly, tractor-like sound; the new engine speaks in a more guttural voice and revs more eagerly.
The standard six-speed manual transmission delivers better feel and more positive engagement, and the driving position in both cars—a highlight before—remains perfect. You sit legs-out, square to the small-rimmed steering wheel, and the pedals are located for easy heel-toe downshifting. With their newly stiffened bodies and nicer interiors, the BRZ and GR86 are far more livable daily, though the Toyota rides a smidge smoother. Road noise is reduced drastically, and though both sports cars greet bumps and expansion joints firmly, their structures absorb impacts better than before.
Can you fit anyone in the rear seats? Not really, unless they’re children or legless, but you can still fold those rear seats down and shoehorn a full spare set of wheels and tires (mounted, of course) between the back seat area and trunk. For people seated up front, the experience in the new-generation BRZ and GR86 is much nicer, with higher-quality materials, better touchscreens, and a nifty new gauge cluster with a configurable digital display. BRZ Limited and GR86 Premium models come standard with niceties such as heated seats, aluminum pedals, and an eight-speaker audio system on top of the base models’ dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift boot, and standard limited-slip differential.
So, What’ll You Use ‘Em For?
Having outlined the advantages and disadvantages of the Subaru and Toyota, we’ll repeat that your use case should determine which one you buy. But because it’s our job to choose one over the other—we don’t do ties in two-way comparison tests—we select the GR86. We picked it over the BRZ at our 2022 Car of the Year competition, voting the Toyota into the finalist round because we preferred its on-road hooliganism to the BRZ’s more stoic handling behavior. Simply put, you can slither the GR86 all over your favorite back road without breaking the speed limit, and have a riot doing so, as you enjoy a more comfortable ride and—we know this is subjective—better looks. Oh, and did we mention the Toyota costs slightly less than the Subaru?
If your designs for an affordable sports car include track days, autocross events, and the like, pick the BRZ. We preferred the Subaru on the racetrack over the GR86 in our 2022 Performance Vehicle of the Year competition precisely because of, well, its precision, though we ultimately matched our Car of the Year pick and voted the GR86 into the finalist round. The more planted chassis will serve track-lappers and those attending timed events better, though you’ll pay for it with less daily comfort and less playfulness in everyday driving.
2022 Subaru BRZ Limited
- Stable rear end
- Same power upgrades as GR86
- The better choice for track days
- Noisier, firmer ride
- Sharper rear-end breakaway
- Pricier than the GR86
The slightly less fun of two impressively fun-focused sports cars.
2022 TOYOTA GR86 PREMIUM
- Accessible handling
- Cleaner styling
- Better ride
- The ducktail-spoiler look isn’t for everyone
- Driftiness isn’t as lap-time-friendly
- The less serious of the two cars
If you’re considering a car like this, why not go all-in on the fun factor and not worry so much about lap times?
|2022 Subaru BRZ Specifications||2022 Toyota GR86 Specifications|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Port- and direct-injected DOHC 16-valve flat-4, alum block/heads|
|DISPLACEMENT||2,387 cc/145.7 cu in|
|POWER (SAE NET)||228 hp @ 7,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||184 lb-ft @ 3,700 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||12.4 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||11.6-in vented disc; 11.4-in vented disc|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 18-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||215/40R18 85Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4|
|TRACK, F/R||59.8/61.0 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||167.9 x 69.9 x 51.6 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||35.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT (DIST F/R)||2,822 lb (56/44%)||2,817 lb (56/44%)|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.0/33.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.5/29.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||53.6/51.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||6.3 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.0 sec||2.1 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.0||2.9|
|QUARTER MILE||14.3 sec @ 99.8 mph||14.3 sec @ 98.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||107 ft||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.93 g (avg)||0.98 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.7 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)||24.7 sec @ 0.76 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2,600 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$31,490||$31,325|
|AIRBAGS||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||2 yrs/unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||13.2 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||20/27/22 mpg|
|EPA RANGE, COMB||273 miles|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|