The Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S, and Toyota GT86 are all basically the same car underneath. A popular fun machine at an affordable price is an appealing thing, and they’ve sold pretty well.
Most car enthusiasts will wind up wanting to modify and upgrade their cars, tailoring its experience for their own personal tastes. There are many ways to go about modifying a Toyobaru 86 variant. This is my own take and advice on the best way to go about modifying the car intelligently and cost-effectively.
Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments…
This car comes from the factory as a fun, drift-happy sports car. It’s not that powerful, or fast, but Toyota decided to put Prius tires on it, so it’ll willingly hang its tail out. Needless to say, it’s an entertaining car to drive on the road, and it’s sharp, composed handling is a pleasure on the track or at an autocross.
It’s engine is not bad, but not great either. It’s around 200hp from 2.0L, so you get 100hp per liter. It’s torque is kind of flat, but it’s pretty revvy. It also doesn’t make a great sound. Frankly, the FA20 engine is pretty “Eh…” out of the box.
Those owners who bought their Toyobaru with a manual transmission absolutely made the right decision. I’ve driven both, and I’ll say, straight up, that the automatic BRZ, FR-S, or GT86 is missing most of the redeeming qualities of that you get with the manual. With two pedals it’s basically just a Corolla that handles well. With the manual, it’s a sweet little driver’s car.
Either way, manual or automatic, you may find yourself wanting more from this car pretty quickly.
In my opinion there’s really 2 approaches to owning a Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S, or Toyota GT86. You can either spend very little money and just enjoy it as a fun momentum car, or you can commit to spending a lot of extra money on it to make it into a genuine high performance sports car. There isn’t much in between.
Spending a little money
You can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on an intake, exhaust, headers, E85, and/or a tune, but you’ll wind up gaining around 20bhp, at most. It won’t change the performance of the car that much, and you’ll wind up feeling like you wasted a lot of money.
I don’t recommend spending much money trying to modify the FA20 engine while leaving it naturally aspirated. You absolutely need boost to get your money’s worth here.
Honestly, the biggest improvement you can make to the performance of the standard car is to just put some decent tires on it. Get rid of the Prius rubber, and allow yourself to really carry speed through corners.
Spending a lot of money
Now we’re talking boost, supercharger and turbocharger kits, and all of the extra work that comes with them.
This dyno chart (below) from Cosworth shows exactly what I mean about the all or nothing power options of the FA20 engine. The colored lines are basic intake, exhaust, etc. on the N/A motor. The black lines are with Cosworth’s supercharger kit. For reference, getting to the blue line and the black line will cost nearly the same.
Supercharged BRZ, FR-S, or GT86
A supercharger setup is the most basic way to do this, likely with the addition of exhaust mods. It will cost a few thousand dollars (think $4-7k range depending on various options), but you can gain 50-100whp. This will get your 2,700lb sports car into the mid-high 200whp range (300hp+ at the crank). For many people that should be plenty.
A supercharger kit also seems to be the general consensus as “the best way to go” for cost-effectively modifying a Toyota 86 variant. It won’t drastically overpower the stock drivetrain to the point of mechanical failures. Many even say adding a stronger clutch, though a good idea, is optional, depending on your driving style.
Turbocharged BRZ, FR-S, or GT86
This is where things start getting really expensive, and you should probably consider what better cars you might be able to buy for the same money if you want big horsepower. Expect to spend $10k plus to do this the right way.
That said, the BRZ, FR-S, or GT86 is a great lightweight platform to build on. If you’re set on spending a lot of money to build a really fast car, then this may be a solid way to go. A turbo kit on a Toyobaru 86 could in theory make as much power as you desire, or can afford, but you’ll have to replace many of the mechanical parts of the car. Unless you have a wet dream every single night about a 500hp BRZ, specifically, it’s not the most cost-effective solution for high horsepower. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars to do big power the right way in a Toyota 86 variant. The car simply isn’t built for it from the factory.
Below is Matt Farah’s review of Crawford Performance’s turbocharged Subaru BRZ. This car is surely built right, but just listen to all of the work that’s been put into it. That doesn’t come cheap at all. Building this car from a stock Subaru BRZ would run you at least $20-30,000 on top of the price of the car when all is said and done. It’s one hell of a performer, but on a budget of more like $50,000.
Unfortunately there is no good middle ground with upgrading the Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S, or Toyota GT86. My cost-efficiency-minded advice is to either leave it stock and put nicer tires on it, or to commit to spending a few thousand dollars for the supercharger kit.
If you leave it stock, you’ll have a very reliable car that will be happy to participate in autocross and track day events. You won’t be the fastest car out there, but you will get to have all the fun. There’s something to be said for a basic enjoyable car that takes a beating with a grin on its face. It’s definitely an appealing idea.
If you go the supercharger route, you’ll have a great performance value. You can get a great used BRZ, FR-S, or GT86 for around $18,000 these days. Add around $7,000 for the supercharger kit fully installed and tuned, and for $25,000 you have a wonderful lightweight high performance sports car. With around 270whp, the BRZ will have a power-to-weight ratio around 10lbs/1whp, or somewhere between that of a Porsche Cayman S and a BMW M4. With the supercharger fitted, the BRZ is finally the sports car we all really wanted it to be.
If it were me, I’d go with option 1 first, and then see over time if I felt the car was worth the extra investment. Keeping in mind that for the same $25k, I could buy a decent Corvette C6, BMW E46 M3, BMW Z4 M, Porsche 996 Carrera, Porsche Cayman S, etc. A supercharged Toyobaru is right up there with any of those in performance, maybe even superior, but also factor in that a supercharger kit will make your car a lot less valuable to most perspective buyers when you go to sell it.