As great as a designated weekend fun car can be, for many of us, owning a second or third vehicle is out of the question. Even if we have the budget, regular maintenance and storing the vehicle can be an issue. Fortunately, manufacturers are building vehicles that are not only incredibly rewarding to drive, but are also practical, fuel efficient and relatively affordable. There are choices on the market that double as comfortable daily drivers and engaging weekend toys.
Two cars that bridge the gap between the work week and weekend are the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ. Both vehicles offer incredible driving dynamics, excellent fuel economy and base pricing that won’t break the bank. They also showcase a modern take on traditional sports car design, with both models sharing a long hood, a wide stance and a short deck lid.
The two cars represent a group effort between Toyota and Subaru that can be seen throughout each car, but the shared powertrain clearly illustrates the collaboration: Subaru sources the engine while Toyota supplies the transmissions.
There are subtle, but important, visual differences between the two. Styling is certainly close and at 20 mph or 20 feet away, the two may appear to be cast from the same mold, but a closer inspection will reveal a slightly different front fascia. Both the 86 and BRZ appear to be snatched from an anime cartoon, but where the Toyota’s grille is scowling, the Subaru appears to have a bright smile. The side profiles and rear are nearly identical minus the badges.
Power across the two is identical. Both cars are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine that produces 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque (when coupled with the smooth six-speed manual transmission). Adding the optional six-speed automatic to the Toyota costs $720, and Subaru reserves the $1,100 automatic transmission for the top-trim Limited model. By opting for the automatic, power is decreased in both vehicles by five horsepower and five pound-feet of torque for a total of 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet.
Enthusiasts will find the numbers disappointing, and rightfully so; both vehicles feel underpowered when pushed. However, in Toyota and Subaru’s defense, straight-line acceleration isn’t the correct barometer for driving excitement. What the 86 and BRZ lack in power they make up in precise steering, superior handling and excellent braking capabilities. With their low centers of gravity and overachieving sport-tuned suspensions, the 86 and BRZ provide incredibly stable driving dynamics that rarely disappoint.
Fuel economy is excellent. Although both vehicles require premium fuel, the 86 and BRZ sip gasoline like compact economy cars. The Toyota 86 with a manual achieves 21/28 mpg city/highway. The six-speed automatic increases those numbers to 24/32 mpg. The Subaru BRZ adds one mpg on the highway with 21/29 mpg city/highway with the manual and 24/33 mpg with the automatic.
While not exactly spacious, the 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space offered by the 86 and BRZ serves well for a grocery-store run. It also proves to be sufficient enough for a couple overnight bags and a backpack or two. The rear seats in both models are pretty cramped. They’re passable for short trips around town but unbearable for cross-country endeavors. Still, they provide an additional storage area that is absent from comparably priced two-passenger sports cars like the Mazda MX-5 Miata or the Fiat 124 Spider.
The 2017 Toyota 86 arrives with plenty of standard equipment, especially for the price. Air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels are all included. The eight-speaker Pioneer audio system is controlled by a 7-inch touch screen and features Bluetooth and USB connectivity. A rearview camera is also included, and navigation is available.
The 2017 Subaru BRZ is also nicely equipped, although a few of the Toyota’s standard features are absent. Highlights include an eight-speaker stereo, a rearview camera, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. At 6.2 inches, the Subaru’s touch screen is also smaller than the Toyota’s.
Pricing for the Toyota 86 starts at $26,255 plus destination fees. The base 2017 Subaru BRZ retails for $25,495 plus fees. Both vehicles represent excellent value, and even the top-trim specialty models like the 2017 Subaru BRZ Series.Yellow start below $30,000.
While there are not many direct competitors, it is worth mentioning a few affordably priced fun weekend vehicles from Ford, Chevrolet and Nissan that would also make excellent daily drivers. Ford’s latest Mustang offers incredible performance, comparable fuel economy and a considerably larger trunk and rear seat with a starting price right around $25,000. The 2017 Chevy Camaro beats the 86 and BRZ in cargo space and power, yet boasts a comparable starting price that is also right around $25,000. Both pony cars exhibit contemporary styling that blurs the lines between muscle car and sports car definitions.
Those looking to stay closer to the traditional sports car model will want to investigate Nissan’s 370Z. It lacks the rear seats, but it adds power and shares much of the 86 and BRZ’s handling prowess for right around $30,000.
Though they’re more practical than many rival sports cars, neither the 2017 Toyota 86 nor the Subaru BRZ will ever be confused with a family sedan, and if you have kids, you’ll find the rear seats restrictive and difficult to access. But for singles and couples, both these cars offer a blend of pragmatism and performance that will foster pleasant travels both on weekdays and on weekends.