Car group tests

Toyota GT86 Aero vs Subaru WRX STi & SEAT Leon Cupra

Rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or front-wheel drive? We see which is best for a performance car

What makes a great driver’s car? Is a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive set-up the secret to success? Or does four-wheel drive add a magic ingredient? And as front-wheel drive is so common, can you really have fun when the tyres are putting the power down as well as doing the steering? 

Best track day cars

To find out, we’ve lined up three cars that have similar price tags, yet demonstrate each drive format in its best light. First up is the recently revised, rear-drive Toyota GT86. It was our Performance Car of the Year in 2012, while the new flagship Aero model costs £27,495 and adds a bodykit, big rear wing and lightweight wheels.

Best hot hatches

For around £1,500 more, you could try the Subaru WRX STi. Turbo power means it’s faster than the GT86 in a straight line, while trick electronics help to deliver this to all four wheels. And then there’s the SEAT Leon Cupra. It’s our current hot hatch champ, and as with the Subaru has a turbo engine, but like the GT86, it uses a limited-slip diff to help get its power down to the road. 

Of our trio of drive formats, which one serves up the most driving fun? We tried all three on the road and track to find out.

Toyota GT86 review

Subaru WRX STi review

SEAT Leon Cupra review

Click the links above to read individual reviews, and scroll down to see which performance car comes out on top...

Head-to-head

Performance

These three cars deliver very different driving thrills. The Toyota’s lack of grip means you reach the limit of its performance easily, but its responsive controls and light weight make it fun to drive. In contrast, the WRX has limitless grip and is at its best when firing out of corners with maximum traction. The SEAT falls between the two, with agile cornering and the power to deliver impressive overtaking punch.

Parts sharing

Toyota is a shareholder in Subaru’s parent firm Fuji Heavy Industries, and the makers share technology. Subaru sells a near-identical version of the GT86 – the BRZ – while the Toyota and Subaru tested share some interior parts, such as keys, starter buttons and electric mirror and door switches.

Bold design

The Toyota and Subaru make big statements with their rear wings. The Leon has a rear spoiler, too – it’s just understated in comparison. All cars get twin-exit exhausts, but again the SEAT’s oval pipes are subtle compared to those poking out the back of the GT86, which are the size of baked bean tins.

Verdict

1st place:  SEAT Leon Cupra

Surprised to see a front-wheel-drive hatchback win this encounter? Don’t be, as the Leon Cupra is every bit as agile, entertaining and quick as its rivals here, yet it wraps these talents in a more refined and versatile package. On top of that, it’s cheaper to run, better equipped and attracts less unwanted attention when you want to get from A to B with as little hassle as possible.

2nd place: Subaru WRX Sti

On the right road, the Subaru is a real riot, thanks to its firecracker power delivery and limpet-like grip. And in slippery conditions, its permanent four-wheel-drive transmission delivers the sort of confidence no clever diff or traction control system can match. Yet the car is let down by its rock-hard ride, dated interior and steep running costs.

3rd place: Toyota GT86

Make no mistake, the Toyota GT86 is still a brilliant sports car. At the heart of the appeal are its agile, adjustable handling and eager naturally aspirated engine. Yet you can access the same thrilling driving experience and energetic performance in the mechanically identical entry-level Primo model, which costs £5,000 less than the Aero tested here.

Key specs:

 SEAT Leon SC Cupra 280 DSGSubaru WRX Sti Type UKToyota GT86 Aero
On the road price/total as tested£28,530/£31,085£28,995/£28,995£27,495/£29,745
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£12,639/44.3%£15,831/54.6%£11,878/43.2%
Depreciation£15,891£13,164£15,617
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,247/£2,493£1,966/£3,931£1,671/£3,342
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,990/£3,316£2,255/£3,758£1,990/3,316
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost33/£340/F/£14540/£401/L/£48530/£360/J/£265
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£480 (3yrs/30k)£310/£390/£410£169/£299/£169
    
Length/wheelbase4,271/2,631mm4,595/2,650mm4,240/2,570mm
Height/width1,423/1,810mm1,475/1,795mm1,285/1,775mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,984cc4cyl boxer/2,457cc4cyl boxer/1,998cc
Peak power/revs276/5,600 bhp/rpm296/6,000 bhp/rpm197/7,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs350/1,700 Nm/rpm407/4,000 Nm/rpm205/6,400 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd auto/fwd6-spd man/4WD6-spd man/rwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel50 litres/£10060 litres/space saver50 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down)380/1,166 litres460 litres/N/A243 litres/N/A
Kerbweight/payload1,395/495kg1,534/466kg1,275/395kg
Turning circle10.5 metres11.0 metres10.8 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/2yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs5yrs (100,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/12810k miles (1yr)/5910k miles (1yr)/184
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.24th/32nd16th/4th17th/6th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars94/92/70/5 (2012)N/AN/A
    
0-60/30-70mph5.5/4.4 secs5.6/5.4 secs7.5/7.0 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th2.5/3.6 secs2.8/5.1 secs4.3/5.5 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th4.8/9.4 secs5.3/9.4 secs7.3/11.2 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph155mph/2,400rpm159mph/2,000rpm140mph/3,000rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph49.9/36.7/9.3m49.2/36.8/9.1m48.8/36.1/9.1m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph61/45/66/72dB65/60/63/72dB59/44/62/69dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range32.3/7.1/355 miles28.5/6.3/376 miles32.3/7.1/355 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined33.6/49.6/44.1mpg20.2/33.6/27.2mpg25.9/44.1/34.9mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined7.4/10.9/9.7mpl4.4/7.4/6.0mpl5.7/9.7/7.7mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket202/149g/km/22%229/242g/km/35%202/192g/km/31%
    
Airbags/Isofix/parking sensors/LSDSeven/yes/yes/yesSeven/yes/no/yesSeven/yes/£295/yes
Automatic box/stability/cruise controlYes/yes/yesNo/yes/yes£1,000/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/£765/£355Yes/part/noYes/£1,600/£1,600
Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go£530/LED/no£500/LED/yes£495/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesNo/yes/no/yes£750/yes/yes/yes

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