Subaru BRZ, Toyota GT86: not as drifty as you think

Published: 12 April 2012

Where Audi is intent on creating cars for market segments that don’t yet exist, the Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86 sports coupe twins do almost the opposite: they have a market segment all to themselves – the £25k, rear-wheel drive sports coupe market – because everyone else has abandoned it.

In decades gone by, young tearaways would have had their pick of the Mazda RX-7, Porsche 924, Toyota MR2 and GT Coupe (aka the AE86 on which the GT86 riffs), Ford Capri, Opel Manta, the Nissan 200SX and more. Now they’ve got the cheaper Mazda MX-5 soft-top (which is too soft and rolly to be good to drive), or the BRZ/GT86. Yes, Caterhams, Lotuses, 370Zs too – but they’re all quite different propositions.

Why nobody sells a cheap RWD sports coupe – until now

This means there’s a strong possibility that the target demographic will have been weaned on front-wheel drive, and are quite possibly ragging the backside off a hot hatch at this very moment. But they’ll be male and they’ll have egos, which means they’ll be curious as to what a big drift in a rear-wheel drive car feels like, and they’ll be doubly keen to master the art so they too can show off to their friends and talk local plod through the large black marks and the lingering cloud of smoke at the quite roundabout. I know, because that was me a decade ago and that curiosity led me to buy a leggy BMW M3.

So, back to these hot hatch owners. They’ll be intrigued that a big part of the BRZ/GT86 appeal – which Toyota in particular has played on – is the fact that it’s extremely sideways, and that it’s sidewaysness is said to be easily exploited by those people who haven’t gone very sideways before.

So are the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 twins sliding pros?

Here’s the rub: the BRZ/GT86 isn’t very sideways. Yes, if you pull the handbrake or give it a big Scandinavian Flick on the track the thing will adopt the kind of angles usually fleetingly glimpsed by WRC spectators just before Jari-Matti Latvala plummets off a cliff face, but then so would a Kia Picanto.

The BRZ/GT86 is a brilliant thing to drive, but it has very little power, which means you need to drive it absolutely flat out and throw it around in a way that’s often impossible out on the road, simply because you can’t see what’s coming round the next bend and therefore can’t commit to the accelerator – just like that old AE86. Ironically, it actually takes a whole heap of skill and years of experience to unlock the potential of a car that we’ve been told is perfect for rear-drive novices.

So here’s what’s going to happen: said hot hatchers will pick the car up from the dealership, turn all the traction control off and go for a blast. They’ll drive it as hard as they dare, swinging it through corners and stamping on the gas, chucking it into hairpins and willfully trying to unsettle the rear, and all the while traction will be total. And you know what, not one of those drivers will say anything about it, because they’ll be too scared to be the limp-wristed bloke that can’t even drift what they’ve been told is the most driftable car in decades.

Great car, that BRZ/GT86, and it’s a safe way to learn the basics of rear-wheel drive, but be warned: it won’t turn you into an overnight drift sensation.



By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator