Voices

For fun : Subaru WRX vs Toyota 86

Robert Pepper gets a bunch of mates together to see whether all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive produces the most fun… Subaru WRX Vs Toyota 86.

IN A NUTSHELL The WRX is great fun until you drive the 86, and the 86 might be considered a practical sportscar until you try the WRX.

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS There’s no loser here, just two choices between daily-drive livability and smile-a-mile fun.

TWO SPORTSCARS, BOTH UNDER $40K, and both from Subaru, even if one has a Toyota badge.

What’s the difference?

The WRX is a four-door sedan, the 86 a coupe. The WRX is all-wheel drive with a 50/50 torque split front/rear, the 86/BRZ is rear-wheel drive. The WRX has a turbocharger, the 86/BRZ does not. The WRX is larger – it’s about 355mm longer, 200mm taller, 20mm wider and 200kg heavier than the 86. Power to weight is different – each kilowatt in the 86 has to move 8.3kg of car, but it’s 7.4kg for the WRX.

We’re talking here of the Toyota 86, but everything is true of its sister car, the Subaru BRZ. There’s a new small differences between the twins; the Subaru has a slightly different suspension tune and a better interior spec than the base Toyota GT86, but when you’re focused on your drive those differences become irrelevant.

Comprehensive Car Insurance

So despite the price similarity, the 86 and WRX are fundamentally different designs and that very much plays out in the driving experience.  To find out exactly what that means behind the wheel we lined up an GT86 and a 2015 Subaru WRX, both manuals, then let seven keen drivers form an opinion about the cars from a driving fun perspective. We had an ex rally driver, several track-day enthusiasts and others who had never tracked a car but just enjoy a sporting drive, and ages ranted from mid twenties to north of sixty. Yet despite the differences in experience, the comments were all along the same lines:

What they said

“Can’t believe the WRX’s grip, it’s so much quicker and easier than the 86”
“I can’t keep up with the WRXs!” [ driving the 86 uphill through tight bends ]
“This feels like a sportscar” [ 86 ]
“I really feel connected to the road” [ 86 ]
“Fast or fun, that’s your choice.”
“The Toyota 86 was a lot more immediate. You put your foot down, straight away there was a response. The WRX has a little bit of lag.”
“The 86 was a more raw, less refined drive, but in an exciting way”
“You’d pick the manual 86 if you were a real enthusiast.”
“The 86 reminds me of cars from the ’90s, but in a good way, modern cars are too insulated”
“I really like the 86. The 86 is fun. What everyone says about it….the car really does live up to the reputation.”
“Driving the 86 feels like you have a direct connection with the road, I really felt that. The car kind of got out of the way and you just felt the road. The WRX doesn’t do that, instead it has the comfort and assistance.”
“[As a driver’s car] the 86 would be my choice, it fits you like a glove. Wonderful engine note, you don’t have to go fast to enjoy yourself.”
“Unquestionably the 86 is more fun to drive than the WRX, it is a more immediate driving experience, you get the feedback, and the sound. That said, by no means is the WRX is an average car. You would not be disappointed with either unless you are a real purist and know precisely what you want.”
“In the WRX you need to be going quick before you feel you’re going quick.”
“The 86 is designed to be a very enjoyable car and for the driver to feel they’re a big part of it. Everything is very tactile, and I like that.”
“The WRX is more about speed, easier to drive, more capable. More trickey going on under the car to ensure you’re going quickly. The 86 is a much more precise drive, it’ll reveal your mistakes, bite you when you’re not watching, keep you on your toes.”
“For fun the 86 is the way to go.”
“I liked the 86’s engine sound, the WRX’s was a bit muted”
“The 86 feels like a sportscar, in comparison the WRX feels like a fast normal car.”

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And when you’re not having fun…

A pretty clear verdict, but that’s just the in-the-seat thrills.  Sadly, for many people sheer driving fun is not the only car buying criterion and when it comes to daily-drive livability the WRX is a clear winner all the way, although by the standards of coupes, particularly small ones, the 86 is extremely practical. The WRX wins because it’s got four doors, seats five not four (the 86 is really a 2+2), has more space in the front row, a much larger boot, sits a little taller with better all-round visibility, is less prone to grounding, has Subaru’s excellent all-wheel-drive system and could in general very much work as a docile family hack, carrying anything from babies to aged parents. It also feels larger, more robust and safer, and is more of an all-rounder. There’s little touches too, such as a slightly tighter turning circle and in the manual, a hill-hold feature for easy starts on inclines.

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So if I was to tour Australia I’d take the WRX every time, and as one driver said “I wouldn’t feel comfortable piling the whole family in the 86 and going for a rural drive.” My own family demanded I sell my 86 for a WRX on the basis they liked the four doors and space, but I’ve declined that invitation. It’s also worth mentioning the WRX needs 95RON, and the 86 lives on 98RON so guess which is going to be easier to find outside of the cities.

There there’s the dirt. Not many sportscars get tested on dirt, but in Australia not all our roads are sealed so I took both cars out into state forests to see how they handle. The 86 requires constant work to keep in a straight line, and that’s perma-grin driving, but nevertheless it would be frustrating if you just wanted to get from A to C without sliding via B. In contrast, the WRX is, and here comes the cliche, is a rally car. It manages to be both extremely rapid and yet exhilaratingly rewarding, a car you could drive for hours on unsealed roads either in cruise mode or fun mode, because not only does it grip any terrain superbly but the suspension handles the rough well too.

The wrap

Here’s how to choose between the WRX and 86 – if you want a pure driver’s fun car, take the 86, but don’t think you’ll get that purity without compromise. If you need practicality but also want a goodly measure of quick fun, go for the WRX because it’ll do everything a normal sedan would do, but you’ll enjoy the drive far more and frankly, life’s too short to be driving boring cars. There’s also the WRX STi which is just as practical as its plainer little brother, but even quicker and more involving in every way although it still doesn’t match the 86 for fun-factor.

I’ll leave the final comment to one of the testers: “You’d think the WRX was a great driver’s car if you’d never driven an 86”.

TOYOTA GT86 MANUAL

ENGINE 2.0L boxer 4 cylinder, 147kW @ 7000rpm, 205Nm @ 6600rpm
DRIVETRAIN Rear-wheel drive, 6-speed manual, Torsen limited-slip differential
PRICE $29,990 (+ORC)
SAFETY 5 STAR ANCAP
BODY 4240mm (L); 1775mm (W); 1320mm (H)
WEIGHT 1257kg
TIMES 0-100km/h 7.6 seconds
THIRST 7.8L/100km (ADR 81/02 combined), 50L tank capacity, 98RON fuel
TURNING CIRCLE 11.4m
WARRANTY 3 years / 100,000km
VARIANTS GTS, same basics, better trim. BRZ, same base car from Subaru, different and more highly specified. Paddle-shift six-speed automatic an option for both.

SUBARU WRX MANUAL

ENGINE 2.0L turbo boxer 4 cylinder, 197kW @ 5600rpm, 350Nm @2400-5200rpm
DRIVETRAIN All-wheel drive (50/50 front/rear split), 6-speed manual
PRICE $38,990 (+ORC)
SAFETY 5 STAR ANCAP
BODY 4945mm (L); 1795mm (W); 14750mm (H)
WEIGHT 1469kg
TIMES 0-100km/h 6.0 seconds
THIRST 9.2L/100km (ADR 81/02 combined), 60L tank capacity, 95RON fuel
TURNING CIRCLE 10.8m
WARRANTY 3 years / unlimited km
VARIANTS CVT automatic transmission, or Premium variants which adds driver’s electric seats, sat-nav and other trim items. The quicker STi version has a 2.5L engine, even more responsive steering, better brakes and other performance tunes.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!