Subaru's old BRZ was always subtly but noticeably different from its Toyota GT86 cousin, so what's the new one like?

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In 2012 'Toyobaru' was the nickname given to the first Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ very-nearly-identical twins.

Now the two front-engine, rear-drive coupé peas in a pod have been co-developed once more for a new generation, although this time in Blighty there’s a key difference: we’re getting only one of them.

That car is the Toyota GR86, lauded over by our own Matt Saunders just last week. But what of the Subaru BRZ? Our mainland European friends have been lucky enough to find it on price lists. Just 300 were offered, all snapped up very quickly, as happened to the GR86 here.

The differences were always marginal between the first-generation Subaru BRZ and the original Toyota GT86 pair last time (no bad thing, mind), yet the gap is greater this time, says engineer Satoru Sugiyoma. He describes the GR86 as the  “aggressive” one, and the BRZ as the “sophisticated” one.

Subaru brz 02 side panning

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That greater sophistication comes through a different tune for the suspension, the steering and the ECU, as well as a different mounting for the rear stabiliser. There is also more aluminium used for key suspension components in the BRZ, rather than the steel parts used in the GR86. The differences, notes Sugiyoma, aren’t night and day, and are easier to feel when you drive than to describe. No pressure for yours truly, then…

We’re driving the very first European-spec BRZ to make it over to this side of the world, and doing so only on the confined proving ground of Inta, near Madrid. It doesn’t take long to notice a difference between the two cars. It’s in those first few metres, the first turn of the wheel or bump in the road, even, after a back-to-back test between the GR86 and the BRZ.

The new GR86 feels a more grown-up car than its predecessor, even if so many of the original’s thrills remain, and this maturity is what’s pushed further on the Subaru. There’s greater compliance to the ride, extra heft to the steering (with no loss of feel, mind) and a touch less roll when cornering. It actually feels a bit Porsche like in some regards, in its maturity. On one particular gnarly run of bumps on the high-speed bowl at Inta, the GR86 sends your head flying towards the roof, whereas the BRZ keeps it more at ground level.

Subaru brz 04 headlight

But this is no sensible sports car: far from it. As with the GR86, the bassy 2.4-litre flat four feels a much stronger engine than the 2.0-litre unit in the BRZ before it, and is hugely tractable. Sounds great, goes even better, and that silky-smooth six-speed manual gearshift and heavy clutch pedal are things to cherish, because we won’t experience their ilk for much longer. It's tough telling any difference here from the GR86, though.

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Our run of corners and acceleration tests extended to a concrete field with some cones, but the BRZ turned it into Disneyland with its ability to roll through a slalom on the throttle in second gear, oversteering one way and then the next. Just like the GR86, the speeds need to be higher than before to reveal its playfulness, due to the extra grip of the bigger wheels and tyres.

As with the Toyota, the interior inadvertently reassures you that all the money has clearly been spent on the oily bits you can’t see, due to its old-school look and feel. Still, it’s nicely laid out and perfectly usable. This is the sort of car where you buy the chassis and engine, and the rest come free.

Alas, we can’t buy the BRZ, though. Which is a shame, because making it available here would instantly have increased the UK’s Toyobaru offering. Subaru Europe is saying the 'never say never' line, yet with legislation in Europe already set to kill the pair off in July 2024, the narrowest of windows is unlikely to ever come ajar.


Wonderful chassis | Strong, powerful engine | Brilliant ride quality


Handling isn't as accessible at lower speeds as the previous BRZ | Low-rent interior | You can't buy it here

Subaru brz 03 front tracking

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Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.