Finding something properly sporty for less than $35k just got a little harder. We compare the very different Peugeot 208 GTi and Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ.

THE TOYOTA 86 has become an instant classic, jumping to the top of the budget sports market on release and pretty much staying there even three years later, along with its twin the Subaru BRZ which features here in the title photograph.*

On the other hand, the Peugeot 208 GTi hasn’t had the same attraction but it is the latest in a long line of front-drive hot hatches from one of the original hot hatch manufacturers.

The base model Toyota 86, the GT, is about the same driveaway price as the 208 GTi. They’re both budget and sporty, but very different in execution. So, which one is best?

Let’s start with the specifications:

 Toyota 86 GTPeugeot 208 GTiDifference
Engine2.0L 4-cylinder boxer1.6L 4-cylinder inline 
Power147kW @ 7000rpm153kW @ 6000rpm+6kW
Torque205Nm @ 6400rpm300Nm @ 3000rpm+95Nm
Kerb weight (kg)12571160-97kg
Power/weight (kg per kW)8.67.6+1.0
0-100km/h (sec)7.66.5-1.1km/h
Gear ratios (man)660
Speed in 2nd95km/h106km/h+11km/h
Top speed226km/h230km/h+4km/h
Fuel consumption (combined)7.8L/100km5.4L/100km-2.4L/100km
Fuel tank size50500
Range (+20%, 50km reserve)484km722km+237km
Fuel type98RON (recc, 95 ok)95 RON 
SpareNone (can take full)Full sized alloy 
Length (mm)42403973-267mm
Width (mm)17751739-36mm
Height (mm)13001460+160mm
Wheelbase (mm)25702538-32mm
Turning circle (m)11.410.6-0.8m
Cost (approx driveaway)$ 34,000$  35,000+$ 1,000

The 86 is a rear-drive coupe – long, low and wide. The Peugeot 208 GTi, on the other hand, is a front-drive hatchback, shorter, wider and taller.  The 86 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with no forced induction (turbo or supercharger), whereas the 208 uses a 1.6-litre four-cylinder with a turbocharger. Very different designs, and that plays out in the driving.

Day-to-day practicality

The 86 is practical, for a small coupe, but it will never win against a hot hatch. The 208 GTi seats 5 not 4 people, and all in considerably more comfort – put passengers in the back of an 86 and both the driver and front seat passenger will need to bring the front seats too far forwards for comfort.  Not only are the rear seats far more spacious, but access is easier too. The boot is bigger, and is a full hatch access not a boot. The turning circle on the 208 is much tighter, a problem made worse on the 86 by the fact it is 267mm longer. Visibility on the 208 is all-round better. The 86 is lower, so you need to watch for scrapes.

The 208 is also an easier drive around town. The clutch is more forgiving, the engine is more tractable (another 100Nm of torque), more powerful, and the gearshift is slick and easy even from cold. It is quieter and more refined.

In short, the 86 is liveable as a daily round-town driver but is beaten rather soundly by the 208 on every score across the board. There are people who have sold 86s because they were too hard to live with, and I cannot see that happening with a 208. That said, there’s plenty of others (me included) who use 86s as daily drivers.

The Toyota 86 has been described as a car of the ’90s in 2015, and that’s very true not only of the handling (good) but the interior (not so good). Compared to the 208 GTi the 86 is low-rent, lacking colour, design and quality.

The drive

The 208 GTi is quicker than the 86. It accelerates faster, grips better, stops shorter, is lighter and has suspension that can handle different surfaces more readily. I can’t think of a race where the 208 GTi wouldn’t come out ahead, from motorkhana to racetrack.

But mere speed is not what these cars are about, but rather driver involvement. Do you, as a driver, become engaged in the experience of driving, does the car demand and reward skill? Here the difference between these two cars is stark, and finally, finally, there is a win for the 86.

The 86 beats the 208 GTi on every aspect of driving fun. Starting with the sensations – the engine note is better, you feel like you’re in a cockpit, the gearshift is shorter and noticher, and the large revcounter is prominently central. The seats enclose, whereas the GTi’s merely wrap.  In the 86 your view to the front slopes away with the front wheelarches prominent. The 208 GTi has a tiny steering wheel, but not as small as that in the 86.  The 86 feels like a sportscar, it has a sense of occasion from exterior looks to the feeling inside, whereas the 208 feels like a rapid family car.

That’s even before we drive. Then you are reminded the 86 is rear-drive, so there’s a whole new world of mid-corner fun from minor adjustment to full-on drifting (Torsen rear LSD) that the GTi will never, ever be able to achieve and this particular one is not set up for wild lift-off oversteer enjoyment. The 86’s throttle response is sharply immediate, the steering is quicker and more direct than the GTi, and it corners flatter. The 2.0 engine has a flat spot, but you generally keep the revs above that, and you feel more of a climax when reaching redline. 

The harder you drive an 86, the more alive you and the car feels, the harder you drive the GTi the faster you go, competence without undue thrill. You have to work harder in the 86 and when you get it right the car high-fives, slots and shoots, get it right in the GTi and there’s merely a murmur of quiet acknowledgement.  The 86 doesn’t punish but it does expose, the GTi covers and smoothes over.

Bottom line

Both of these cars are superb. The choice is simple; a tradeoff of driving pleasure vs practical daily living. If you merely want a fast, livable and sporty car then the 208 GTi is the logical choice. The Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ only makes sense if you’re really going to get into driving in such a way which exploits the cars very real sporting capability, but once you experience what it can do then you may well put up with its practical shortcomings. 

Read our 208 GTi review here, and our long-term 86 report starting here. There’s also an 86 vs WRX comparison.

*Disclaimer: Yes, the photos include a BRZ not a Toyota 86. I didn’t have my 86 handy, it was getting its brakes rebuilt (again).  The comparison here considers the base model Toyota 86 as it’s close to the same price as the 208 GTi.  You can go for the higher-spec 86 GTS or the Subaru BRZ which add extra equipment but don’t change the engine or anything else to do with performance, kind of like your local takeaway trying to do silver service, so you won’t have the fit and finish of the 208, just a slightly better equipped 86.


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1 comment

  1. A good unbiased review, especially considering that you own an 86. If your brakes are cooked from too much use, then I’d suggest that you have definitely bought the right car for you…

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