CKD VW Golf GTI Mk8 vs Toyota GR86/Subaru BRZ: which to own before the EV rush?
Jason · Dec 14, 2021 09:00 AM
Take a good look at these two cars above. By 2030, you probably won't be able to waltz into showrooms to buy either the Toyota GR86 / Subaru BRZ, or the Mk8 VW Golf GTI new anymore, at least not with the formula these cars are best known for. You can thank new crash test regulations and an increasing disdain of internal combustion engines (ICE) for that.
Golf GTI Mk8 continues to be fast, capable, and immensely practical.
GR86 / BRZ represents the apogee in affordable RWD driving purity.
Last chance to buy an affordable, non-EV performance car, but which one?
More than just a contrast in drivetrain layout of rear-wheel drive (RWD) versus front-wheel drive (FWD), they're a final curtain call to affordable, fun-to-drive cars powered by ICE), before the inevitable electric vehicle (EV) age casts them into the shadows, or makes them a part of its furniture.
At the time of writing, local Subaru distributors Motor Image has confirmed the 2022 BRZ will make it to our shores, and for the first time in the model's history, the Mk8 VW Golf GTI will be locally assembled (CKD) in Malaysia.
So, as we traverse into the electric age, could this two protagonists be the final ICE form in their history? Time will tell, but let's celebrate these two while they're still available in the showrooms, shall we?
On paper, these two cars are not too far apart when it comes to pure grunt. The Toyota GR86 / Subaru BRZ are propelled by a 2.4-litre, flat-four engine (235 PS, 250 Nm), paired to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic (don't, just don't) that goes to the rear wheels.
Meanwhile, the Mk8 Golf GTI retains the classic 2.0-litre, turbocharged four cylinder (245 PS, 370 Nm) that's paired to VW's ubiquitous 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (called the DSG), sending power to the front wheels.
Well, as you can see on the table above, the GR86 appears to have the edge in the 0 - 100 km/h sprint times, but that's half the story. You see, in a manual GR86, the driver has to nail all the gearchanges to achieve 6.3 seconds, whereas the driver of the Golf GTI just has to bury the throttle, let DSG do its thing, and consistently get 6.4 seconds.
Let's also not forget, the Golf GTI has 370 Nm of twist, from 1,600 rpm, giving it plenty of real-world shove and overtaking ability. Conversely, the GR86 / BRZ musters its maximum torque of 250 Nmat 3,700 rpm, so overtaking is not as effortless as the turbocharged Golf GTI. The poke is there, you just have to work for it.
Which one makes your heart beat faster?
The appeal of each machine is unique. The Mk8 Golf GTI is the latest in a rich heritage of fine hot hatches - one that has a high-quality interior, space for five, and packing the latest technology as well. It's the best of both worlds - a family car and weekend warrior all in one. This is VW at the top of its game, doing what it does best.
Meanwhile, the GR86 / BRZ twins live on a completely different spectrum, even if the brief is the same, to thrill the driver. It's low-slung, two-door body is attractive, but more of a pain to live with daily. The interior is solid and driver-centric, if not as classy as the Golf GTI. And the back seats are reserved for people who have dishonoured your family's name.
Let's put it this way. The Golf GTI is a very sporty car, while the GR86 / BRZ is a sports car. Yes, there is a difference, and it is most telling when you start to unpeel the layers of each car's dynamic abilities.
Majority of the time, the Golf GTI feels fabulously controlled, smooth and express-train fast, thanks to its turbocharged engine and snappy DSG gearbox. However, push it deeper away from its comfort zone and you'll discover a inclination to understeer, and a chassis that is cold and clinical, unwilling to have fun.
There are moments in the Golf GTI where it isolates you from the thick of the action. Many will appreciate this trait as there is a sense of calm and composure in its approach to sporty driving. But make no mistake, VW meant it to be this way, for better day-to-day civility.
Meanwhile, the GR86 / BRZ cannot touch the Golf GTI for effortless progress. Up your demands though, and the GR86 / BRZ eggs you on to spank it, cane it. That's when you realise, everything crystallises and gets better the harder you work it.
That's what makes GR86 / BRZ a bit more special to drive. You're keyed in to the entire experience. All the information going on with the tyres and road surfaced are relayed back to the seat of your pants and the steering wheel. You're immersed in it, part of the process, and this is massively satisfying.
We've said this before, but it's worth repeating: In an ideal world, we'd put both these cars in our garage. Wouldn't you? Both the Toyota GR86 / Subaru BRZ and VW Golf GTI are wonderful ambassadors of their respective drivetrain layout, bringing much needed colour to the automotive world.
Both are cars that are bought with the heart, even if there is an element of logic reasoning to plump for the more practical Golf GTI. As such, expect to see a lot more Mk8 Golf GTIs on our roads when it does go on sale. In all likelihood, the CKD Golf GTI will also be cheaper than an official import GR86 / BRZ.
For us, the equation is really simple. Do the math, the Golf GTI has been around for eight generations, and the GTI heritage is as strong as ever. In all likelihood, the GTI lineage will probably see a ninth-generation successor, and beyond, even if it descends into some form of electrification (which now seems rather inevitable).
Remarkably, the 2022 Toyota GR86/Subaru BRZ twins are only into their second generation, which tells you how difficult it is to even offer such a product in the first place. Already, the GR86 is facing a tumultous time in Europe that will see it pulled from showrooms by 2025. It's early days, but there is really no guarantee that Toyota and Subaru will make a third generation.
Point is, you can always buy a brand-new Golf GTI from the showrooms, given that VW will continue to make it, and people will continue to buy it (it is after all, a very practical hatchback). With the GR86 / BRZ, it really is a case of 'blink and you'll miss it'.
If pure driving thrills is what you're after, buy a Toyota GR86 / Subaru BRZ. It's unadulterated, engaging, and an occasion every time you get behind the wheel. Sure, there will be days its two door, low-slung layout will frustrate you, but when the stars align, you can drive it ten tenths and it will reward you in a way the Golf GTI cannot.
This is in no way a discredit to the Golf GTI's abilities. It's rapid, smooth and as a package, more complete. But it it's a eight tenths kind of car, meaning it will give you a solid eight, every single time, no matter the condition. It's horses for courses here really, but buy the Toyota GR86 / Subaru BRZ, future you will thank you for that.
Jason's foremost passion is all things automotive, where he spent his formative working years as a Product Planner and Trainer. An Advanced Driving Instructor by training and an all-round enthusiast, Jason loves going into intricate details about driving dynamics. Will drive anything with 4 wheels and a steering.