BRZ is the identical twin sister of Toyota’s much lauded 86.
On debut, this pair of frisky fillies bolted out of the gate on a safe bet. They’ve been strong sellers up until recent months. First, here are a few figures: Subaru ran out of BRZ allocation, so sold zero in October, and Toyota are down to only 88 units in for the same month. Mustang moved 584 in the same period, outselling 86 almost 3 to 1.
BRZ/86 have been in need of an update to keep up with the Joneses. So, back to the BRZ-
The gorgeous metalwork has been left unsullied with only the most minor of tinkers to be seen. I love the grille, and the complex way the shapely boot lid sits into the bumper.
There are revised lights front and back, and a bit of fine fettling in the cabin. The self levelling LED headlights are superb, the LED taillights look amazing, and I had a “hallelujah” moment when I jumped in and saw steering wheel buttons. It subsided somewhat when I realised there was no DAB or Apple CarPlay. BOO! I’d toss that head unit out and shoehorn an aftermarket one in instead. Unlike most new cars, BRZ lends itself beautifully to the updating of the audio system. Most will simply drop in to the same hole, use the same steering wheel buttons, and connect to the same handsfree mic. Hoorah! Something about the sound was slightly disappointing. I fiddled with the settings but none of the adjustments gave the desired result. I got used to it, but was never in love with it. I’d get one with SatNav too. Even though you can use CarPlay with its Apple Maps, I like to have all bases covered.
The flat 4 has 147kw and 205Nm in 6 speed auto form ($32,990), but the manual ($34,990) gains a small 5kw and 7Nm premium. For some inexplicable reason, Subaru says the auto gearbox can’t handle 152kw/212Nm. After being in the BRZ for a week, I’m not sure I can feel the difference in power and torque compared to the old model. The 0-100 figures are leisurely too: 7.4seconds for the manual, and 8.2 seconds in the auto. But, on the road, none of that seems to matter.
There is a single trim level and very few options unlike the Europeans who festoon their glossy brochures pictures pricey pin-ons. A savvy buyer will ignore them, but those who buy with their hearts will find reasons to tick every box.
Originally, BRZ was intended as a de-featured back-to-basics sports car, but a lot has happened in the four years since. Subaru will need to shake a leg if they are not to be left behind like Honda was in the 90’s and early naughties. BRZ is reasonably well equipped but lacks the now-ubiquitous active safety features like: blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and active emergency braking. Surprisingly, there are no rain sensing wipers which is quite the shock. I know it is built to a price but these features can be found on sub 30k cars. CarPlay and auto wipers for a start please! There are fabulous features found flaunting themselves in other Subarus. Perhaps Fuji Heavy Industries should rub a few of them together, and wish them into the BRZ.
Pressing the starter button brings the boxer to life with that familiar Subaru chuff. The manual won’t start without the clutch depressed whether or not you’re in gear. Just as well if you’re not able to drive a manual as often as you’d like.
If 147kw sounds modest, it is. BRZ is no barn stormer, but it does drift like it has a mind of its own. Overtaking needs a little planning because although the 0-100 is done is about 7.3 seconds, there simply isn’t the grunt of a big 6 or 8 cylinder. The flat 4 prides itself on a low centre of gravity contributing to excellent handling, but a tiny blower takes hardly any space and weighs almost nothing. Sadly, Subaru has no plans for a factory turbo.
In town, there is the joy of that throaty exhaust note every time to hoof is planted. The gears have a delightfully short throw with a clutch that is uber light, yet has enough feel so as not to embarrass yourself too much at lights. However, I managed to snuff it more than once, and frequently at lights. It’s so easy to get out of practice.
What felt nippy and light in town, transfers to the highway with equal aplomb. Despite her diminutive proportions, the Subaru would go cross country comfortably. You might even enjoy it, just a little. The luggage area isn’t huge, but it can take 4 wheels to a track day with the back seats down. Normally you don’t get a spare but if you do, it protrudes up out of the boot floor. Rather luckily, without the cover in place, the spare tyre makes a perfect spot to stash sundry shopping. It stops your champers from rolling around.
Some of the switchbacks in the Galston Gorge are steep 180° turns. It requires a wide swing or you’ll cock a leg on the way through. No matter how careful you are, you’ll feel a little tap on the shoulder. It’s the BRZ politely asking if you’d like to hang the tail out. Say “no, that is for private roads only thanks!” Climbing the steep canyons is no problem, and the boxer sings joyfully begging for more. Keeping the gears down low brings the power out with the merest poke.
It is all so controlled and calm. The electronics give you a lot of scope. Many new cars go out of their way to ensure the driver never comes in contact with his ability. BRZ on the other hand, assumes a modicum of talent. The manual has a nice spread of gear ratios matched by the ample range in the torque. This means you can even make a tiny mistake in your gear selection and get away with it. The only time it is an issue is when you overtake. You have to make sure a lower gear is used or the torque takes far too long to kick in. It leaves you on the wrong side of the road for far too long.
BRZ is not perfect by any means, no car is. But, what it does, it does well. It is very comfortable, and very quiet. It handles like a go-cart while putting the driver in control. In many ways, it reminds me of old British sports cars like the E Type. The way the long bonnet and bulging wheel arches act with a short wheelbase makes you feel like you’re right at the back looking forward. You sit very low the way you do in a classic Mini which makes you feel connected to the road in a way that is rare now. Most vehicles have done their best to isolate to occupants from the road as if feeling anything is a sin. The suspension is firm, as it should be in a sports car, but not harsh like a bone shattering track car.
Of course, you can tighten the chassis further with extra under-body and in the engine bay bracing, but why bother. Frankly it makes so little difference to we average drivers as to be not worth the money.
The only things I could find to be less than100% was the absence of radio DAB, Apple CarPlay, and auto wipers. The active safety I can live without, but CarPlay and DAB being left out really irks me. Car makers have long since learnt their customers won’t pay extra for safety gear, but love things they can see, touch, and hear. Madza has come calling with their tiny teaser, but the MX5 doesn’t do it for me. It is too small, and too gutless. Two biggish blokes will need to be very friendly indeed because the cabin is on the wrong side of bijou. Whereas, BRZ can even shoehorn a couple of smaller pals into the back seats on short trips, and although the cabin doesn’t feel quite as classy, is much more to my tastes.
BRZ is the only Subaru with two-wheel-drive. Luckily, it is the rear wheels.
Would I buy one? Yes. BRZ/86 remains my favourite sports car for the price. Very little can touch it.
Price: auto $32,990, manual $34,990
Engine: 152kw/212Nm 6 speed manual, 147kw/205Nm 6 speed auto
Econ L/100km: 8.4 manual, 7.1 auto
0-100; 7.4 manual, 8.2 auto