GR86 vs BRZ: Technically speaking
opinion
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Many people make their 86 purchasing decision based on looks or brand affiliation. There's nothing wrong with that, but there are a handful of material differences you’ll want to be aware of before buying a second generation twin.

I’ll leave out the subjective differences, like styling, and focus on the technical bits.

Powertrain

No difference. It’s an FA24, like it or not.

Suspension

GR86 has a stiffer rear end and slightly softer front end. This leads to more oversteer bias, but also more eager turn-in. Most will consider the BRZ to be more comfortable on the street due to its softer rear end.

I’m only able to talk about the non-performance suspension, since I don’t yet have technical information about the Sachs and Hitachi coilovers found in the Performance Package and tS, respectively.

Spring Rates

GR86

Nm/mmkg/mmlbs/in
Front282.85160
Rear393.98223

BRZ

Nm/mmkg/mmlbs/in
Front303.06171
Rear353.57200

Wheel Rates

Wheel Rate describes the effective spring rate, when considering suspension geometry.

You can calculate wheel rate applying the Motion Ratio to the Spring Rate. Motion ratio describes the ratio between the length from the suspension mounting point to the wheel and the mounting point of the spring. Springs mounted inbound have less leverage over the wheel travel, so you typically need higher spring rates to compensate.

In the 86/BRZ suspension, the use of MacPherson struts in the front mean the springs are mounted very close to the wheel, so the motion ratio is nearly 1:1. At the rear, the multilink suspension has the coilovers mounted about 75% of the way to the wheels, so higher spring rates compensate for the reduced leverage.

To make the table below, I applied the following calculation to arrive at a rough wheel rate estimate:

front spring rate * 0.95 = front wheel rate
rear spring rate  * 0.75 = rear wheel rate

GR86

Nm/mmkg/mmlbs/in
Front26.62.71152
Rear29.22.99167

BRZ

Nm/mmkg/mmlbs/in
Front28.52.91162
Rear26.252.68150

Once you look at wheel rates, you can see how the motion ratio reduces the effective spring rate in the rear much more than the front. This is why the spring rates in the rear are higher than the front in both cases and why a square spring rate doesn’t make much sense for this platform.

You can also see the GR86 is more aggressive with it’s higher rear rates.

If you combined the rear coilovers from the GR86 with the front coilovers from the BRZ, you’d end up with the highest overall spring rates. That’s exactly what I’m going to try in 2024.

Sway Bars

Sway bars are a different type of spring that only affect the spring rates in corners. The sway bars follow a similar philosophy to the coilover spring rates, with the GR86 having a firmer rear end and softer front end.

GR86BRZComparison
Front18mm solid18.3mm hollowBRZ is 2.3% stiffer
Rear15mm solid14mm solidGR86 is 32% stiffer

Mitigations

Both coilovers and sway bars are easy components to swap out, but if you prefer one or the other and don’t plan to modify your car, it may be an important decision point.

Steering

GR86 has a carry-over steel front knuckle from the Gen 1 cars, while the BRZ has a new aluminum front knuckle. The aluminum knuckle reduces unsprung mass and will not rust.

Steering feel

Some people claim the reduction in unsprung mass would make the steering feel slightly on the BRZ, but people who have driven both cars tend to say the BRZ steering is heavier. This is likely due to different electric power steering (EPS) tuning. I have driven a GR86, but it had coilovers so there were so many differences, I can't comment directly on steering feel.

EPS Cut-out

I have noticed on my BRZ that in high compression turns, the EPS unit cuts out. This has been reported by other BRZ drivers with stock-ish setups as well, including others in 86 Challenge. This does not seem to affect GR86 until you move to significantly higher grip setups.

The theory is currently that the suspension loads up from the compression and overwhelms the EPS motor, causing it to cut out to protect itself from damage. In the car, this feels like the wheel first loosens and then becauses stiff. It breaks the illusion of direct control over the vehicle and is quite disconcerting.

BBK Compatibility

The BRZ aluminum knuckle has some compatibility differences with BBKs:

  • Essex/AP Racing modified their Endurance kit to accomodate the Gen 2 BRZ knuckle, so it is compatible.
  • CSG’s Spec kit warns BRZ customers they must get the BM-4 caliper, not standard Brembo GT kit.
  • The Gen 1 Performance Package Brembos have been confirmed to fit, but you have to swap the mounting bolts to longer bolts from the WRX and ditch the harmonic damper.

Interestingly, to fit Brembos on the BRZ tS, Subaru went back to the steel knuckle, like the GR86.

Mitigations

The EPS cut-out and tuning differences are quite hard/expensive to address in the aftermarket. There are higher-powered EPS motors that can be swapped, but this is likely in the $4,000+ range.

Tuning

The BRZ has more linear throttle mapping than the GR86. This is beneficial for modulating power at the limit of grip.

You can think of throttle mapping as a function with engine speed (RPM) and throttle pedal position (PPS) as inputs and torque demand as output.

(RPM, PPS) -> Torque Demand

It seems Toyota decided to make the GR86 feel more responsive by making the throttle mapping extremely aggressive. Some automotive reviewers have mentioned that they feel like the GR86 is more eager to accelerate, and this is likely the reason. It may help for hot-take reviews, but this is not beneficial in performance driving applications.

The following tables show the throttle pedal position on the x-axis and the engine speed on the y-axis. The values in the table represent the torque demand (in Nm) the ECU will ask from the engine. You don’t need to spend too much time analysing this, but it’s useful to know how this works.

GR86 throttle mapping, provided by Zach from CSG
GR86 throttle mapping, provided by Zach from CSG

The following chart is a simplified visualization of the table above. The x-axis is the pedal position and the y-axis is torque demand. The GR86 mapping at 4,000 RPM and 7,000 RPM is represented by the two green lines and BRZ by the blue lines.

GR86 vs BRZ throttle mapping, from an 86 Challenge friend
GR86 vs BRZ throttle mapping, from an 86 Challenge friend

You can see the GR86 has effectively no difference in torque demand once you get past 40% pedal position, whereas the BRZ does not request full torque demand until you’re at 100% pedal position.

If you are at the limit of grip and using the throttle pedal to control the attitude of the car, you may be surprised to find out that majority of the thorttle pedal travel does nothing on the GR86!

Mitigations

This cannot be changed without a tune, which is very likely to void your warranty. In theory it would be possible to develop a device that can send spoofed throttle pedal positions to the ECU, but this would introduce risk, as throttle is a safety-critical system.

Service & Warranty

While not strictly technical, it’s worth mentioning that you may have a more difficult time getting your GR86 serviced at a Toyota dealer, since techs will be less familiar with the car. Replacement parts also tend to be more expensive at Toyota dealers, although this can vary significantly. Subaru parts sold through Toyota will have a prefix of SU, allowing you to tell whether a given part is a Subaru or Toyota part.

While there are no guarantees, it seems that Subaru is more likely to warranty repair blown engines than Toyota, from my anecdotal observations.

Mitigations

If you’re planning to do most of your own maintenance, then Toyota dealer tech competence may not be a big factor in your decision.

Conclusion

Either way you’re getting a very fun car and a great learning tool for around $30,000.

What did I miss?