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?
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.
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.
Car group tests
- Toyota GT 86 Orange Edition review
- New Toyota GT 86 2017 facelift review
- Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT 86
- Cosworth GT86 review
Used car tests
Click the links above to read individual reviews, and scroll down to see which performance car comes out on top...
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.
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.
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.
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.
|SEAT Leon SC Cupra 280 DSG
|Subaru WRX Sti Type UK
|Toyota GT86 Aero
|On the road price/total as tested
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel
|60 litres/space saver
|50 litres/repair kit
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery
|Service intervals/UK dealers
|10k miles (1yr)/59
|10k miles (1yr)/184
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th
|50-70mph in 5th/6th
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket
|Automatic box/stability/cruise control
|Climate control/leather/heated seats
|Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go