Vehicle Comparisons

Subaru BRZ

Subaru BRZ

The BRZ has proved to be a Subaru like no other before it, produced as part of a joint project with Toyota to breathe new life into an affordable rear-wheel drive coupe market that was once so vibrant. This car doesn't need to be concussively quick, for the real joy in driving it comes through the tactility of its controls and the purity of its handling. Now it's been usefully updated.

Apparently, the BRZ's name tells you everything you need to know about this car. 'B' stands for 'Boxer engine', 'R' for 'Rear wheel drive' and 'Z' for 'Zenith' - the ultimate in affordable thrills. Is that what this is? From an early glance at the stats, you might wonder. There's nothing especially startling here, the 2.0-litre flat-four engine producing 197bhp and 205Nm of torque, enough to get you to sixty from rest in 7.6s on the way to a top speed of 143mph. Plenty of comparably priced hot hatches can match or beat that. But none of them can deliver the driving experience on offer from this Subaru.

It's a normally aspirated, front-engined, rear-wheel drive coupe. Let's start with that. For a keen driver, the recipe doesn't get much purer. Plumb in a boxer engine that helps it to a centre of gravity lower than a Ferrari 458, add a proper mechanical limited slip differential and offer a six-speed manual gearbox with three beautifully spaced aluminium-plated pedals in the footwell and you have what most would agree is a very good start. Even from this point it would have been easy to get things wrong. But Subaru didn't. On the contrary, the BRZ is so right in so many ways it's almost as if the hand of Porsche has worked upon it. There's a simplicity to its controls, a delicacy and tactility to the steering and the pedals that offer the keen driver so much. Improvements for this revised version include refinements to the engine and drivetrain, plus redesigned dampers that reduce body roll and a new 'TRACK' driving mode for circuit use.

For us, there's something just that little bit more appealing about the looks of this BRZ in comparison to its Toyota GT86 stablemate - and I can't quite work out why, for apart from a slightly different front grille, the aesthetics of the two cars are exactly the same. More important though, is the stuff you can't see. One of the fundamentals in the design of the BRZ was to keep weight down and, thanks to fastidious attention to engineering detail, this car manages to tip the scales at a mere 1220kg - that's less than something like a tiny Renaultsport Clio 200 hatch.

We should talk about the changes made to this revised model. The Coupe shape remains, but has been enhanced with a wider, lower stance at the front end. This isn't just for show, as the 45?? stepped accent on the bumper limits airflow into the air intake, which improves handling and ride. The BRZ's face is finished off with full-LED headlights, a Subaru first. New design rear lamps and aerodynamic pedestal spoiler top off the rear of the car, and the wheels are now a 10 spoke aluminium design.

Inside, a 4.2-inch colour LCD multi-information display has been added into the instrument panel. The display features a G force meter, steering angle gauge, brake force gauge, lap timer and torque/power curves for bringing out the sportier side of any driver. The steering wheel has also been redesigned into a smaller package with different leather to increase the driver's grip for a more engaging experience and is finished off with audio control switches. Focus has been directed to upgrading the feel of components by using higher quality materials throughout the cabin, including Alcantara and leather seats.

As before, this is a 2+2 coupe, so trhe rear seats are tiny, but there's a usefully-sized 243-litre boot, extendable to 1,270-litres.

And in summary? Well, let's be clear about this: the Subaru BRZ remains a very special car. Better indeed than any true World Rally Blue Subaru optimist could hope to expect. It has a beautiful simplicity that speaks of paring back to the essence of driving purity, including just enough of what you need and nothing that you don't.

Like its Toyota GT86 design stablemate, this is a hero car for our times, one that rewards the properly talented driver without making the less proficient feel clumsy or unworthy. Of course, you've to pay for your pleasures. The cabin could still feel more luxurious, the engine could be cleaner and more refined and the whole package needs to be thrashed before it'll give of its best. But correcting these things would add weight and dilute the very essence of this car, so instead, Subaru has focused on the things that really matter. The result is a car you'll enjoy very much.

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BMW 2 Series Coupe

BMW 2 Series Coupe

BMW coupes used to be all about compactness, lightness and rapid responses. The 2 Series coupe still answers the call and now gets a minor refresh to build upon recent changes made to its petrol engine rosta. At the top of the line-up, the 370bhp M2 variant remains but you don't need one of those to get really satisfying performance, thanks to revitalised 2.0-litre and 3.0-litre petrol models further down the range.

Rather encouragingly, BMW has given the 2 Series line-up a serious dose of engine in recent times. Even the entry level models aren't going to hang around. Drive on all models is directed to the back wheels and you get to choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or the quite brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Diesel options include the 150bhp 218d, the 190bhp 220d and the 224bhp 225d. The 220d diesel variant will be the most popular of the trio, serving up a tall stack of torque, with 380Nm available from just 1,750rpm. The key recent developments though, have centred around changes to the petrol line-up thanks to a new Baukasten 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and a revised 3.0-litre straight six. The base 220i 2.0-litre variant develops the same 184bhp output as before but is more efficient. Further up the range, the same unit is used in a more powerful 252bhp state of tune by a 230i model that gets to 62mph in just 5.8s.

Pride of place though, goes to the six cylinder petrol versions, the M240i these days offers 340bhp, while the fearsome M2 fronts up with 370bhp. Even the M240i variant is very quick indeed. If you specify it with the eight speed automatic transmission, it'll get to 62mph in a mere 4.6 seconds. Press the Sport button and you'll immediately notice the steering weight up and the throttle response sharpen. Press the button once more and you'll find Sport+, which partially disengages the stability control and offers an even spikier throttle pedal. The chassis balance is a good deal more benign than the occasionally malevolent old 1 Series Coupe and it's a better driver as a result. Expect to be mercilessly harassed by these cars on foreseeable UK track days.

On to design. The 2 Series coupe has always been a very cohesive piece of penmanship and that effect has been further improved by recent styling changes.

Exterior updates include piercing LED headlights that come as standard, complete with hallmark four corona ring LED daytime running lights. All models gain enlarged kidney grilles with a more prominent chrome surround. In addition, all standard range variants get LED front fog lights as standard and offer a re-designed front bumper with a smarter air-intake design. At the rear, smarter LED tail lights with redesigned LED light bars now feature, while 'Sport' models get a re-styled bumper with sculpted design and high-gloss black trim. As for the interior updates, well, there's a re-designed instrument panel, plus a smarter centre console with a sliding cup holder cover and pearl chrome accents. On M Sport and M240i models, the instrument cluster features a Black Optic display with 3D effect dials - an option with other variants in the line-up.

BMW's much-improved iDrive system features and delivers the latest-generation iDrive software on the standard BMW Navigation and BMW Professional Navigation set-ups. The large 8.8-inch screen on the latter navigation system is also equipped with BMW Touch Control for the first time, offering drivers the choice of iDrive with Touch pad, voice control and touchscreen to interact with the system. Practicalities remain as before. Rear seat space isn't bad for a small coupe and the boot is a useful 390-litres in size.

And in summary? Well BMW used to be a company with an unerring ability to zero in on the bullseye. That was fairly easy when your range consisted of 3, 5, 6 and 7 Series cars. Today though, the brand has its 1, 2, and 4 Series models, plus X1, X3, X5, X6 and Z4 series cars, as well as the various Gran Coupe and Active Tourer options. The range has ballooned and the quality in depth is inevitably a little more variable. There are some great cars and some not so brilliant model lines. This 2 Series Coupe might well be right near the top of the tree. It's an inspired piece of product development and it's just been executed so well.

Compact proportions, low weight and good performance were the design parameters for this car and BMW has nailed all three. If you feel the 3 Series coupe - and latterly its 4 Series replacement - is a car that no longer knows how to let its hair down, this Munich maker has just the answer in its fun-size sibling.

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Toyota GT86

Toyota GT86

If you thought involving affordable sportscars belonged back in history, then you'll find Toyota's GT86 a welcome breath of fresh air. Developed and desired by enthusiasts, it remains a benchmark in the compact coupe sector, a masterclass in driving dynamics. Now, it's even better.

Dynamic differences with this improved model include revised suspension that improves corner turn-in and further enhances the original version's keenness of response, agility and its ability to adjust the cornering attitude as much with the throttle as the helm. Another key change lies with a freshly-added selectable 'track' mode that lets the driver tap into the GT86's full potential by adjusting the level of stability and traction control, including a 'fully off' option. Under the skin, the body structure has been made stiffer, and the Showa shock absorbers have been retuned for better handling and ride comfort.

The 2.0-litre Boxer engine beneath the bonnet remains, as does the relatively light 1,180 kg kerb weight which might lead you to expect the GT86 to make rather more of its 197bhp and 151lb ft of torque than the estimated headline performance stats of 140mph and 0-62mph in 7.6s suggest. But this car isn't just about raw power. Its lean kerb weight plays just as big a role in the way it handles and rides. A limited slip differential is also fitted as standard, reaffirming GT86's essential 'driver's car' character. And, in this respect, all the ingredients look especially promising: quick steering and relatively low-grip tyres ensure that outright traction never overwhelms the desire to play the angles, should the driver so wish. Back-to-basics fun was always at the heart of the brief for this car.

Disappointments? A short-throw gearchange that's a tad notchy and a six-speed auto option that, while smooth, lacks the snappy alacrity of the best double-clutchers. But that's about it.

The styling changes made to this revised model are subtle. There are now 'teeth' featured along the bottom edge of the lower grille in the redesigned nose section, which apparently help smooth the airflow. There is also a smarter, deeper rear bumper design, aero-stabilising fins have been introduced on the side of the car and there are smarter LED headlights and rear tail lamp clusters too. Otherwise it's as you were. This remains a very good looking car indeed and if the styling isn't daring enough for you, then optional side, roof and bonnet decals are available in black or silver to add an extra dimension to GT86's sporting appearance.

Inside, the driving environment should certainly help get you in the mood, with its low-slung bucket seats and driver-centric control layout, not to mention the drilled pedals and footrest. There are more detail changes here too, aimed at creating a more connected feel between driver and car. Central to this is the grippier three-spoke steering wheel, the smallest yet deigned for a production Toyota (diameter 362mm). A new 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display is included in the instrument binnacle's triple-dial arrangement with a switchable menu that provides performance-focused data, such as power and torque curves, stopwatch and a G-force monitor. As before, there are usable rear seats and a reasonably-sized 243-litre boot.

And in summary? Well, could this car be any better? Of course, it could be faster, grippier, quieter and of better quality inside. But personally, we wouldn't really want it to be. All of those things would dilute the very qualities that make this GT86 what it is. Sportscars always used to be this way, light, low powered and modestly rubbered. We had fun in them then and we can have fun in this one now. The chassis is excellent, the controls are brilliant, the driving position nigh-on perfect and the engine, if not aurally exciting, is revvy and fun.

So, what we have here is something to savour; one of those rare machines that involves you so much that you don't need to be travelling at three figure speeds to have fantastic fun. Factor in the affordable running costs and high residuals and this becomes a very tempting proposition indeed, especially in this usefully improved guise. In years to come, it'll be a landmark car for Toyota. Get one and you won't regret it.

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