The BRZ is a new kind of Subaru sportscar and is now more affordable than you might think. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
The BRZ is a Subaru like no other before it, produced as part of a joint project with Toyota to breathe new life into an affordable rear-wheel drive coupe market that was once so vibrant. This car doesn't need to be concussively quick, for the real joy in driving it comes through the tactility of its controls and the purity of its handling. An experience then, to be savoured.
Subaru has made its name amongst performance enthusiasts with rally replicas like the Impreza WRX. Yet the BRZ sports coupe we're looking at here is about as far away from a rally replica as you're ever likely to get, its engineers proudly trumpeting the absence of 4WD, turbocharging and sophisticated electronics, ironically the very things this Japanese brand has promoted to performance people for so many years. A change in philosophy then? Perhaps. Or it could simply be that the idea behind this car is not all Subaru's own. It came about as part of a joint project with Toyota who wanted a return to the affordable sportscar market but didn't have the production or the development capacity for it. Subaru provided both, creating what they see as a sportscar in the classic sense - rear wheel drive with a front-engined layout, a low centre of gravity and a high-revving engine. Having perfected the recipe, Toyota supplied the exterior design and production began at a purpose-built plant, both of this BRZ and its near-identical Toyota counterpart, the GT86. That car has a much higher market profile but a unique after-sales package means that this one might just be a better real world choice. Either way, fast fireworks seem guaranteed. Let's put it to the test.
Apparently, the BRZ's name tells you everything you need to know about this car. 'B' stands for 'Boxer engine', 'R' for 'Rear wheel drive' and 'Z' for 'Zenith' - the ultimate in affordable thrills. Is that what this is? From an early glance at the stats, you might wonder. There's nothing especially startling here, the 2.0-litre flat-four engine producing 197bhp and 205Nm of torque, enough to get you to sixty from rest in 7.6s on the way to a top speed of 143mph. Plenty of comparably priced hot hatches can match or beat that. But none of them can deliver the driving experience on offer from this Subaru. It's a normally aspirated, front-engined, rear-wheel drive coupe. Let's start with that. For a keen driver, the recipe doesn't get much purer. Plumb in a boxer engine that helps it to a centre of gravity lower than a Ferrari 458, add a proper mechanical limited slip differential and offer a six-speed manual gearbox with three beautifully spaced aluminium-plated pedals in the footwell and you have what most would agree is a very good start. Even from this point it would have been easy to get things wrong. But Subaru didn't. On the contrary, the BRZ is so right in so many ways it's almost as if the hand of Porsche has worked upon it. There's a simplicity to its controls, a delicacy and tactility to the steering and the pedals that offer the keen driver so much.
Design and Build
For me, there's something just that little bit more appealing about the looks of this BRZ in comparison to its Toyota GT86 stablemate - and I can't quite work out why, for apart from a slightly different front grille, the aesthetics of the two cars are exactly the same. More important though, is the stuff you can't see. One of the fundamentals in the design of the BRZ was to keep weight down and, thanks to fastidious attention to engineering detail, this car manages to tip the scales at a mere 1220kg - that's less than something like a tiny Renaultsport Clio 200 hatch. At the wheel, the steering wheel's just the right size, untroubled by multi-function buttons that might distract you from powersliding pleasure, and through it you view a large digital display complementing the clear analogue rev and speedo dials. This is a place where driver distractions have been kept to a minimum, the designers even using a specially developed low-gloss material finish for the dashboard to reduce glare on the windscreen. Behind you, this being a 2+2 coupe, there are a pair of tiny seats - of the kind that motoring journalists without kids tend to moan about but which I find quite useful, even if only to throw a jacket on to. A lot of the time though, you'll probably have them folded flat, for doing that transforms the boot capacity from fairly compact - at 243-litres - to really very spacious, the total 1270-litre seats-flat capacity apparently enough to accommodate a trolley jack and four race-ready wheels and tyres: ideal for track days then.
Market and Model
In recent times, Subaru has moved to make this car more affordable, reducing its list price by £2,500 to around £24,000 (or around £25,500 for the automatic version). That means it's over £1,000 less than its Toyota GT86 design stablemate. Value can be a tough issue for potential buyers to agree upon. On the one hand with this BRZ, you're still paying the best part of £25,000 for a car that's can't hold a candle to a Kia cee'd when it comes to creature comforts and technology. But on the other, you've an enthusiast's tool that nothing else in the sector bar this Subaru's Toyota GT86 sister car can match. To find another sports coupe that can deliver such rich feedback and flow so beautifully through the bends, you'd have to turn to the kind of Porsche Cayman that the Japanese engineers apparently used as a development benchmark - at nearly double the price. You also get plenty of equipment included in the deal, most of what you'd want in fact, so check off features like the smart silver and black-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps with pop-up washers, front foglamps, power-folding mirrors, the torque-sensing limited slip different, a six-speaker CD stereo with USB compatibility and an aux-in point, dual-zone climate control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, aluminium pedals, cruise control and Hill Start Assist on manual models to stop you rolling backwards on uphill junctions. The top SE Lux model also includes lovely leather and alcantara trim for the sports seats and seat heaters.
Cost of Ownership
The light weight doesn't only help the performance. It also, of course, makes a big difference to your running costs. Subaru quotes a combined cycle fuel figure of 36.2mpg, a return that at first glance is a little behind obvious coupe segment rivals. But virtually all of these are turbocharged, a configuration that in the real world tends towards much thirstier figures. This BRZ in contrast, should easily return over 30mpg on a regular basis, even if you enjoy yourself in it - which means that you'll get a decent operating range from the 50-litre fuel tank. That's about as much as you can ask of a car like this. The CO2 return isn't quite so impressive at 181g/km for the manual model. If BMW can make a 270bhp 3 Series coupe emit less, Subaru ought to be doing better on this score. It's worth pointing out though that, a little surprisingly, the emissions figure improves to 164g/km if you opt for the 6-speed automatic model. All of which is of course identical to the efficiency you'll get from this same design badged as a Toyota GT86.
Let's be clear about this: the Subaru BRZ is a very special car. Better indeed than any true World Rally Blue Subaru optimist could hope to expect. It has a beautiful simplicity that speaks of paring back to the essence of driving purity, including just enough of what you need and nothing that you don't. Like its Toyota GT86 design stablemate, this is a hero car for our times, one that rewards the properly talented driver without making the less proficient feel clumsy or unworthy. Of course, you've to pay for your pleasures. The cabin could feel more luxurious, the engine could be cleaner and more refined and the whole package needs to be thrashed before it'll give of its best. But correcting these things would add weight and dilute the very essence of this car, so instead, Subaru has focused on the things that really matter. The result is a car you'll enjoy very much.