Launched as a 2013 model, the lightweight, down-to-basics Subaru BRZ sport coupe offers superlative handling and a boisterous personality, at an affordable price. Built in a 2+2 configuration, it’s effectively a two-seater, since the back seat is very small. Subaru is well-known for its all-wheel-drive vehicles, but the BRZ comes only with rear-wheel drive.
For the 2019 model year, the BRZ abandons its towering rear wing, but retains its stature as a rival to sports cars that cost far more. The available navigation system has been upgraded. Only two trim levels are offered, Premium and Limited, but a Series.Gray limited-edition has been added. Only 250 were to be built.
Once again, an eager, free-revving 2.0-liter flat (horizontally-opposed) 4-cylinder engine propels the BRZ. With Subaru’s slick-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox, the small engine cranks out a comparatively modest 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. Horsepower dips to 200 if the 6-speed automatic transmission, offered only in Limited trim, is installed.
All that energy is sent to the rear wheels, in traditional sports-car mode. Power peaks high in the rev range, adding to the joy of driving this minimalist machine, which also appears as a Toyota under the 86 badge.
According to the EPA, a BRZ can deliver fuel economy in the mid-20 miles-per-gallon neighborhoods, if driven with restraint.
While the BRZ might be nimble enough to steer away from trouble spots, crash-test results have been mixed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given the sport coupe mostly â€œGoodâ€ ratings for crashworthiness. The exception is the organization’s small-overlap test, where it earned an â€œAcceptableâ€ rating. The passenger side was not rated at all.
At the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the 2019 BRZ only for frontal impact and rollover resistance (a calculated figure), giving it four and five stars, respectively. No figures have been issued for overall crash protection or side impacts.
Prices do not include $885 destination charge.
2.0i Premium with manual ($25,795) comes only with a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox. Standard features included a rearview camera, remote keyless entry, 6.2-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED headlights, welcome lighting, and 17-inch wheels. The touchscreen skips Android Auto/Apple CarPlay compatibility, in favor of Subaru’s own easy-to-understand system.
2.0i Limited ($28,645 manual, $29,745 automatic) adds Alcantara synthetic suede inserts and leather bolsters to the upholstery, heated front seats, foglights, keyless access, pushbutton start, and dual-zone automatic climate control. A 4.2-inch screen shows performance data. The upgraded 7.0-inch touchscreen features navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.
2.0i Series.Gray Special Edition ($30,140), finished in Cool Khaki, gets special black wheels, interior accents, and a Performance Package. Only 250 were to be built.
As an option, the Performance Package adds $1,195 to manual-equipped Premium models. It includes special 17-inch wheels, tougher Brembo brakes, and stiffer shock absorbers.
Sharp looks are a result of the BRZ’s just-right proportions. Unlike some rivals, Subaru’s low-slung sport coupe looks as light in weight as it is.
Though admittedly inspired by sports cars from the past, the BRZ is sharply sculpted and boasts such modern elements as LED headlights. The elegant roofline and flared fenders make the coupe an outlier in the Subaru showroom.
Uncluttered and smart, the BRZ cabin relies on straightforward design with little clutter or fuss.
Front seats are exactly what a serious and enthusiastic driver would applaud in a low-slung sports car. Even tall drivers can appreciate the spacious and accommodating cockpit.
Don’t even think about carrying more than one passenger, though. In the BRZ, performance takes precedence over comfort, and only the front passenger is destined to experience the latter. The rear seats are just barely big enough for small passengers.
Those back seats serve far better as a shelf to hold small items. With seatbacks folded down, they can complement the tiny trunk, which holds a mere 6.9 cubic feet of cargo.
Limited-trim models feature deeper, Alcantara-upholstered bucket seats that almost hug one’s body as the BRZ snakes its way through curvy stretches. Even without that improved bolstering, the front seats are helpfully supportive.
Subaru’s BRZ is one of the most agile cars on the road, handling with a light, maneuverable feel. Few sports cars convey the sensations of steering and cornering it delivers to the driver without much filter.
For a car with such apparent potential, the free-revving engine comes across as eager, but overtaxed. Power that arrives high in the rev range might sound like fun, but it’s not much help for either fuel economy or acceleration. When it comes to reaching 60 mph, the BRZ trails nearly all competitors .With its short, sharp throws and tight ratios, the 6-speed manual gearbox is the best choice for performance.
Subaru’s “flat” cylinder configuration gives the BRZ a low center of gravity, which keeps it surprisingly level while cornering. Meanwhile, quick steering enhances the feeling of immediacy when threading through curves.
Ride comfort isn’t a strong point, as the BRZ fails to cope well with broken pavement and bothersome bumps. Comfort declines further with the optional Performance Package’s stiffer springs.
Premium gasoline is required, and fuel economy ranks only average. With manual shift, the BRZ is EPA-rated at 21/29 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined. Automatic raises the estimate considerably, to 24/33/27 mpg.
The 2019 Subaru BRZ delivers sports-car bona fides, with the usual demerits, including trunk space and a minimal back seat. Even so, ardent sports-car fans will appreciate the BRZ’s uncommon agility. Other sports cars offer comparably sharp looks and stirring road behavior, but they cost far more than a BRZ.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.