GT 86 vs BRZ: who 'owns' the Toyobaru?

A lot of the early noise about the GT 86/BRZ was clearly going Toyota's way, with the first drives and spec and pricing information all hailing from that side of the partnership. Somewhat under the radar, Subaru has managed to get us out on the road before Toyota has run its full launch for the GT 86, the press and marketing battle now that the car is finally close to market launch meaning the partners in the process are now effectively rivals.

Toyota's explanation of the development
Toyota's explanation of the development
So who 'owns' the Toyobaru? It's a thorny question and one not helped by the typically guarded Japanese corporate culture. At an interview with Toyota's GT 86 development boss Tetsuya Tada at the Geneva show earlier in themonth he showed us a very interesting flow chart explaining the design and development process from conception through to production and marketing. It credits Toyota with the product planning and design process, Fuji Heavy Industry's involvement only starting at the development stage, taking over completely for 'engineering design' and then both companies finalising the car to their preferred final spec at the evaluation stage. Slides of the Toyota Sports 800 (a tiny, boxer-engined coupe from the early 60s) and AE86 Corolla GT were also waved at us in an attempt to underline the GT 86's credentials as a true Toyota. Fine: Subaru was simply contracted in to develop and build the thing and given the right to sell a few of its own badged up as a BRZ.

And Subaru's own take on the same
And Subaru's own take on the same
But then you get in the BRZ and, if you've any familiarity with Subaru products of the past 10, maybe 20 years, you'll feel very much at home. And while the brand's signature four-wheel drive is missing the boxer engine and much of the feel is very much Subaru in essence.

The two brands have worked together for some time now, Subaru building the US-market Camry on its production line. But amid the presentations for the BRZ Subaru seemed to suggest the emotional heart of the project belongs to it, not Toyota. Certainly, images of an early test mule from 2007 built on a chopped down Legacy and a second using Impreza underpinnings would appear to suggest a bit more Subaru in the package than Toyota would care to admit. See the video below for Subaru's slightly provocative take on the story.

Legacy and Impreza-based test mules
Legacy and Impreza-based test mules
And what of the engineering? We were told that the BRZ/GT 86 is an entirely new platform and yet one of the information boards at the press conference proclaimed the rear suspension is based on that of the Impreza and the front uses a similar basic design, albeit with the lower arms reversed. That engine is pure Subaru too, designated FA and based on the latest FB generation boxer 2.0-litre introduced last year - the point where Subaru announced it had now built 12.5m boxer engines. The FB is significantly undersquare though, the BRZ's FA getting equal bore and stroke to help encourage that revvier nature, further aided by a shorter inlet tract with a front-facing inlet manifold. This is possible thanks to the improved positioning - 120mm lower and 240mm further back than an Impreza - that dropping four-wheel drive allows. The D4-S direct injection system, meanwhile, is Toyota's most obvious contribution to the engine and drivetrain.

BRZ Super GT racer does get a turbo
BRZ Super GT racer does get a turbo
The rumoured differences in suspension are harder to pin down. As mentioned in the BRZ review, Subaru engineers told us there are differences in spring rate - the BRZ stiffer at the front slightly while the GT 86 is stiffer at the rear - and damping rates too. The actual numbers weren't about to be shared but the differences were summed up to us as 'nuance' so not that significant. Perhaps surprisingly, given Subaru's enthusiast following, we were told this means the BRZ is more 'stable' than the GT 86, in keeping with Subaru brand values. Not too stable, thankfully, as the lead photo on this story should confirm!

So what of future developments? Questions about STI's involvement in spicing the BRZ up are met with evasive smiles from Subaru execs but they don't deny that the STI concept shown lastyear at LA will, in some form, come to fruition. Will that include a turbo and a serious power hike? You can imagine that might be politically difficult if Toyota has different plans so, for the time being, the STI upgrades may be more aesthetic. But Subaru is running a turbocharged Super GT car, emblazoned with 'Proud of Boxer' and the execs confirmed that R&D work is under way on turbocharging the new 1.6-litre flat-four, suggesting a greener downsized turbo engine may eventually feature in the range. With Peugeot and Mini using the same 1.6 turbo in the RCZ and Coupe (both BRZ/GT 86 rivals) and the VW Group using smaller forced-induction engines in the Scirocco and TT, it's not a huge stretch to see this coming to fruition, if not in the immediate future.

As far as production goes there's no word yet on how many of the maximum 100,000 cars per year due to be built will wear Toyota badges and how many Subaru ones. Or who'll get priority if - as we'd like to hope - the car is a huge success and demand outstrips supply. Certainly Subaru needs the BRZ more than Toyota does, sales slipping to just 2,700 here in the UK as the age of the hot Impreza draws inexorably to a close.

But will Toyota be willing to let it have a greater allocation if struggling Subaru dealers get a potential lifeline with a flood of BRZ orders? That decision will have been made in a boardroom in Japan - Subaru UK being very much at the mercy of it and admitting that however many it gets "it won't be enough" with the overall number of cars coming to the UK "in the hundreds" when things are fully up to speed but somewhat less than that initially.

Will Toyota get first priority for production?
Will Toyota get first priority for production?
And it looks like we'll be fighting for allocation from other markets too, the Japanese market taking four times more cars than forecast in the first two months of sales and America - a big market for Subaru with 270,000 sales - has woken up to the car after a muted initial interest. Certainly if you want a BRZ - and we wouldn't blame you if you did - now is the time to get your foot in the door. Subaru UK has already taken 50 deposits and 2,500 formal declarations of interest and if you get in quick you stand a chance of getting one from the initial UK allocation and having it by the summer. This is also why Subaru is loading up launch cars with a full spec including heated leather seats, likely to mean a grand or two over Toyota's headline £24,995 it's confirmed for the GT 86.

And what of the Toyota side of the bargain? Will it be easier to get hold of the GT 86? At the moment dealers are sitting on nearly 300 orders but, as with Subaru, if you get in quickly you should be able to get a car for delivery by the summer. There's a bit of bet hedging going on given that Toyota hasn't sold a sports car for a while but, as our contact said, "we've had a lot of positive reviews and the expectation is very high." Ultimately Toyota could bring as many as 5,000 GT 86s a year into the UK, with half that number expected this year depending on how demand goes. Suffice to say, you'll be seeing more GT 86s than you will BRZs.

Details, details but the kind PHers like
Details, details but the kind PHers like
Fundamentally the cars will be the same, Toyota putting leather and heated seats on the options list (standard on the BRZ) and offering a factory fit Touch & Go nav system in place of Subaru's UK installed Pioneer option. Subaru will be bringing in a base-spec option at some point next year too - here's hoping it'll have the guts to offer the properly stripped out version on 205 section rubber and steel wheels for the full 60kg weight saving.

Whatever the truth and whichever badge you choose to have on the front of yours it remains a super-cool car. Evidence for which can be found buried on one of Subaru's hugely detailed tech boards shown at the press conference and reproduced below. Predictably the boot was designed to be big enough to carry golf clubs. Yawn. But look closer and you'll see, with the seats folded, the space is also configured for a set of track wheels, a couple of helmets and the rest of your trackday gear.

Which is much more like it.

BRZ 'made by Subaru' video


Technical info boards displayed at the BRZ launch - click to enlarge...


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Comments (62) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Twincam16 29 Mar 2012

    Reading those sources, it seems to me that the car is a halfway house between Subaru and Toyota values.

    Thinking about it, I reckon they both need it. Toyota's image has dwindled in the course of a decade from a manufacturer with no fewer than five sporting cars in its lineup to a purveyor of drab automotive white goods, while Subaru has made a series of cock-ups with its mainstay Impreza that has lost it its customer base.

    So with this in mind, Toyota needed a basis from which a car that, with a few tweaks, could form the basis of a new AE86, Paseo, Celica or Supra (all they need to do is add a turbocharger or a flat-six and they could have an entire range), but they've slipped back and can't really develop the last Celica. Instead what they've done is dramatically leapfrogged the VW Scirocco.

    And Subaru needed an exciting new model range to appeal to the kind of driver who bought the Impreza, so a knockabout RWD coupe with a low centre of gravity and a tendancy to snap sideways with little provocation would seem ideal. I've also no doubt it'll for the basis of a new RWD saloon and estate.

    IIRC, there were several test mules for this car. The core was a four-cylinder coupe, but it was also snapped as a six-cylinder saloon. There's also plenty of room in the engine bay for the inclusion of a 4WD system.

    What I think the GT86/BRZ is, then, is two companies admitting they needed to change and saw fit to pool resources. I reckon within a few years we'll see a RWD Subaru saloon tilted at the Volvo/Mercedes market, especially in America. I wouldn't be surprised if 4WD and 6-cylinder versions appear too.

    As for Toyota, it may make sense for them to buy Subaru and turn them into a kind-of Japanese BMW. Lexus can't do this as convincingly as perhaps they'd liked (to me they're somewhere between Mercedes and Cadillac, the odd F model aside). Then they can drop the Toyota branding on the GT86 and their job would be complete.

  • DanDC5 29 Mar 2012

    I just get the impression that Subaru and Toyota will both make profit no matter which version sells.

  • s m 29 Mar 2012

    Anyone think of many other occasions when 2 manufacturers have released almost essentially the same car mechanically but with different trim/equipment badging?

    Sort of like the Saxo VTS/Peugeot 106 GTi situation?

  • NadiR 29 Mar 2012

    I really hope that the BRZ/GT86 is the start of fun Japanese sports cars all over again, hopefully, Honda will make a successor to the DC5, and Nissan will make a proper successor to the Skyline, not a GT car. I also would like to see Toyota produce a new Supra.

  • NadiR 29 Mar 2012

    s m said:
    Anyone think of many other occasions when 2 manufacturers have released almost essentially the same car mechanically but with different trim/equipment badging?
    VW Beetle and Porsche 911. wink

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