The Subaru BRZ is pure, and that can’t be said about many cars. Toyota and Subaru developed a rear-wheel-drive coupe that delivers a true sports car driving experience, while keeping it simple and affordable. It has succeeded like no car since the Mazda Miata.
The trick is defining, let alone achieving, that true, pure part. Design-wise, what that meant was balance, the top priority. Weight distribution. Direct steering. Tossability. Take that chassis and bolt in a responsive and high-revving engine, a tight gearbox. Then step aside and hear the cheers for the fun you have brought back.
The BRZ is a 2+2, which basically means 2 passengers + 2 packages. It’s in its fourth year, as being the oddball rear-wheel-drive sports car in the Subaru lineup of all-wheel-drive vehicles.
Seat-of-the-pants handling makes the BRZ a blast to drive. It makes you forget your front-drive sport coupes, sweet but detached from the road. If you want to be delighted by the act of driving, down in the trenches, the BRZ or its clone, the Scion FR-S.
The BRZ is powered by a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, called an H4 or boxer engine. Because the pistons are horizontal, the engine can be mounted lower and farther back in the chassis, something that racecar builders constantly chase to find the magic of balance and handling. BRZ brings that low center of gravity, one of the lowest in any automobile made today.
The engine has direct injection but isn’t turbocharged; it makes a nice 200 horsepower, and is eager to rev through the six gears in the standard manual transmission. The throw is short and precise, sports-car purity achieved. However, automatic transmissions are a reality, even in racing now, so the BRZ makes one available, and it gets our approval. Paddle shifters, sport mode, and downshift rev matching.
It’s a well-developed and efficient engine, and with the BRZ’s light weight, 2800 pounds, this sports car delivers 34 miles per gallon on the highway. And though the chassis is light, its high-tensile steel and ring-like body structure help to earn a five-star crash-test rating from the NHTSA.
For 2016, the touch-screen and infotainment systems, previously pretty poor (low priority), have been hugely upgraded. The 6.2-inch touchscreen controls HD Radio, satellite radio, CD, Bluetooth audio streaming, and iTunes tagging, with a USB and auxiliary port. It’s also compatible with smartphone apps for Aha, Pandora, Stitcher, and more. Also for 2016, a rearview camera is standard.
The 2016 BRZ features a special edition of 500 cars, called Series HyperBlue.
Subaru BRZ comes in Premium ($25,395) and Limited ($27,395) trim levels. The 6-speed automatic transmission ($1100) is optional.
The HyperBlue ($27,690), comes with 17-inch BBS alloy wheels and Alcantara leather with blue stitching. The dash has blue touches against faux carbon fiber.
The silhouette shows off the swoopy lines of the arched roof, and the BRZ further attracts attention with sculpted flanks, flared fenders, and flashy five-spoke wheels. From head-on, that low engine mounting enables a low hood, with the grille below the bumper and headlamps spaced wide to the fenders.
If you look hard, you might find some Subaru family in the taillamps, but not in the carved sheetmetal in the tail, and black rear fascia. There’s a blemish each side, however, as the fender vents just ahead of the doors look cheap and slapped on.
We’ve been extolling the virtues of sports car purity, without saying that means some discomfort. We like the upright driving position, but the sporty seats are firmer and less adjustable than they need to be. And it’s noisy on rough pavement.
If you pack carefully, if not sparingly, there’s enough trunk space for a road trip, although the access is narrow. The rear seat folds forward, for more room. Of course you can use the rear seat for overnight bags, electronic things, or sacks of snacks.
The dash is clean, spartan. We like the industrial touch, the climate knobs and their nut-and-bolt design, against a material that looks like corrugated metal. But it could be more exciting, especially in front of the passenger, where there’s a long slab of silvery plastic. In fact there’s too much hard plastic in places that fingers touch. And the dash trim doesn’t match the centerstack trim.
Importantly, the touchscreen interface is light, communicative, and intuitive.
Despite the seats, the ride feels fine on back roads and in town, on a suspension that’s taut and compliant. A Torsen limited-slip differential gives the rear wheels more bite, even on the road before the point of sliding.
The steering ratio is quick, and the steering itself communicative. The BRZ tells you through the seat of your pants as well as the steering wheel what it’s going to do, and that’s a special thing that makes a car a keeper. The low center of gravity (one of the lowest of any mass production car) and 2,800-pound curb weight both speak to that. Handling and body control are confidence-inspiring and extremely predictable.
It’s not surprising that the BRZ is a popular track-day car. It has a setting that backs off the stability control, and another that shuts it off altogether. We mentioned tossability. That’s what is such a hoot about the car, its balance and predictability with the tail out, which the stability control will allow.
With low front struts and springs, a stiffening brace between them, and a double-wishbone suspension, the BRZ is tuned to slide when the throttle is hammered. With a manageable 200 horsepower, things happen slow enough for comfort.
The engine is high-rpm and low torque, and is most fun over 4500 rpm where the torque is strong, up to 6500 rpm redline. The exhaust barks like it’s trying to be a WRX.
We prefer the 6-speed manual gearbox, for its short and precise throws. But the paddle-shifting 6-speed automatic works, with its Sport mode that sharpens and delays shifts, and matches the revs with a blip on manual downshifts. We especially like the Sport mode because it doesn’t upshift on its own.
If you want a cool, eye-catching, fun, and well-engineered sports car for $26,000, you can’t miss with the BRZ. However its twin the Scion FR-S, the Mazda MX-5, and Nissan 370Z are worthy competitors.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection.