If you’re foaming at the mouth to launch jabs at joint ventures like the Toyota 86 and mechanically identical Subaru BRZ, which are nakedly co-developed and are entering their second iteration, take a moment to think about the upside. From a business perspective, sports cars such as these—along with the Toyota Supra and BMW Z4, the products of a similar Toyota-BMW partnership—wouldn’t exist otherwise. Automakers leaning on one another to help minimize development costs and sharing the workload makes fun, low-profit-margin cars like the 2022 GR 86 and BRZ a reality, even if they turn out quite similar.
And turn out they have. Late last year Subaru teased, then unveiled its 2022 BRZ, which featured an updated look with more aggressive angles and a freshened front fascia, and since then, everyone’s been wondering when its similarly updated Toyota twin, the 86, would show itself. Well, here it is, in bright red, which makes it easy to compare to the BRZ Subaru already unveiled in bright blue paint. So, just how similar are the new sports cars from Toyota and Subaru?
GR 86 and BRZ Engines: Boost Not Found
What you’d probably like to read in this particular paragraph is that although the highly anticipated turbo heart didn’t land in the BRZ’s chest cavity, Toyota execs decided to jump into the breach and demanded the GR 86 be equipped with a few pounds of boost. We hear you, and we’d like to make your day with that info, but the truth is, the turbo rumors that jumped the various social media outlets like an annual California wildfire didn’t really pan out.
Instead, the 2.0-liter flat-four from previous-generation 86 and BRZ has been upped to 2.4 liters for the new GR 86 and BRZ. While this brings horsepower numbers up a bit (by 28 hp to a healthy 228 in the Subaru, with final 86 figures forthcoming), it has a bigger impact on useable torque, especially in the midrange—even if the peak number doesn’t go up dramatically (in the Subie, the figure inches north by 28 lb-ft to 184). Toyota’s promise of a full second advantage in the new GR 86’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration sprint lends credence to the assumption that it’ll enjoy the same power figures as the BRZ. You’ll still be able to stir the shifter if you’re an outlaw and still prefer manual, though a six-speed automatic transmission remains optional on both models.
GR 86 and BRZ: Beefier Bodies
As expected, the two sports cars’ profiles are identical, with both versions getting bulging rear quarter panels that meet stylized side skirts that down and forward along the flanks before meeting a vented front fender with a body line that cuts back sharply and helps add some visual depth. The look is certainly more aggressive and substantial than before, even if it feels like that scalloped forward fender line should continue in some form along the door and toward the quarter panel to help with visual flow.
Even though the designers squeezed out a bit more attitude and what looks like increased girth, it should be noted that dimensionally, this isn’t a big departure from the previous generation model in both width and length. The same style door mirror is used on both, and even the wheels, at least with the two debut versions from Toyota and Subaru, are the same. The new aluminum roofline is a tad lower than before and sheds a few pounds off of the place you least want any type of additional weight, lowering the cars’ already admirably low centers of gravity.
GR 86 and BRZ: Facing Their Faces
The front is where you’ll be able to most easily spot the differences between the GR 86 and BRZ, provided you’re not close enough to zero in on the badging. The Subaru uses a thinner, more horizontal grille that does away with its previous generation’s highly visible solid black bumper bar, which took up the upper quarter of the grille opening and anchored the license plate. The new version still has that upper portion blocked off, though it’s a little more subtle and the plate now hangs off a small blister on the painted portion of the bumper—a less than elegant (read: more difficult to mask) solution for buyers who don’t live in front-plate states.
With the new GR 86, the front end is slightly different. The main grille opening is simple and blunt, but looks purposeful and certainly has a more Japanese-market feel as compared to its sibling. The grille uses a honeycomb-style mesh, and, like the BRZ, its upper portion is discreetly blocked off for aerodynamic reasons. The openings on either side of both bumpers are technically the same, though shaped somewhat differently, allowing the two groups to dictate the direction of their design and find some individuality. The Toyota, for example, sports little “spears” in the center of these vertical slats, while the Subaru’s have cleaner openings and get larger at the bottom rather than thinner.
Which version’s face you prefer probably speaks to your overall style preference in modern vehicles. Where the BRZ takes a more refined, slightly more aggressive approach up front, the GR 86 falls more on the cute and playfully sporty side—more like a Mazda MX-5 Miata’s smiley mug.
Back-to-Back and Inside-Out—Literally
The most surprising difference between the joint effort is that the rears of both sports cars aren’t different at all. The integrated decklid spoiler, taillights, bumper, and even the dark plastic lower diffuser, which reaches up and over identical dual exhaust outlets all look interchangeable. While the taillight internals might ultimately deviate, it would appear as though everything else—right down to the badge locations on the trunklid—will not. You’ll have to squint to distinguish the 86 and BRZ, then, by spotting those badges.
Step inside and, as with the cars’ tails, if the badging were covered up, you would have no idea which version you’ve entered. From the red stitching throughout to the short red stripe on the lower portion of the seats, and even the details of the instrument cluster, the GR 86 and BRZ share an interior. We assumed that, as before, the two cars’ cabins might look even slightly different, perhaps with specific gauge layouts, trim, or even upholstery choices, but in the end, the Toyota and Subaru remain in line with one another.
Happily, while the cabin materials used in the previous 86 and BRZ were well-documented as being less than stellar, this time around the look and feel of the surfaces, overall organization, and the general feel from a driver’s perspective have thankfully been improved. Looking back at the outgoing 86/BRZ generation’s cabin, it feels unusually dated, as well as a few notches below what we’re seeing now in terms of quality and visual appeal in the latest Toyota and Subaru products. These new models’ fresher innards might just be a case of natural progression, or perhaps the leap forward is a subtle nod to the legions of existing Toyobaru owners that were woefully uninspired by the cabin.
So, Which Would You Choose?
This redesign’s been a long time coming for the BRZ and GR 86, both of which have really pulled in a loyal following among car enthusiasts. The very minor changes that took place throughout the first models’ long initial lifespan armed the naysayers with plenty of ammunition. The real question now, after all of these changes, is whether or not the updated version will convince first and second 86/BRZ owners (and let’s not forget those few Scion FR-S owners who bought in before the model was integrated into the Toyota lineup) to sell and buy new—or whether the continued lack of a turbo option represents a huge missed opportunity that ultimately pushes interested buyers away. Joint venture or not, it’s best not to rely purely on new buyers for any sports car we’d love to see stick around.