BRZ: Boxer Rear-Wheel-Drive Zenith, that is what Subaru has named their newest product. This is second ever rear driven Subaru produced, the first being the Subaru 1500 from 1954 to 1955. Subaru spent the better part of the last 25 years pitching itself as an exclusively All Wheel Drive manufacturer. With that reputation, they are now known to be the go-to vehicles for rugged family outings, conquering snowy weather, and teenage pipe dreams of becoming a rally legend.
Since Subaru pulled their factory backed efforts out of the World Rally Championships in 2008, the performance credibility in their model line up has dwindled, but the fan demand and faith in Subaru performance hasn’t. Toyota also needed to win back it’s once glorious sporting credentials, thus leading to the joint development with Subaru of the the most talked about and hyped cars of the decade thus far.
With a car talked about as much as this one has, one has to be cautious of believing hype. Is it really “THAT” good? Is it truly the renaissance of the sports car? Many have pointed out that the power just isn’t enough. The all new FA20 2.0-liter Boxer 4-Cylinder power plant produces 200HP @ 7000 rpm and 151TQ 6400 rpm with a red line of 7400 rpm. In a world where your average commuter pilots a 268HP Toyota Camry, the 200HP in the BRZ isn’t looking too sporty.
Sportiness though, isn’t necessarily a numbers game, while companies will spend massive amounts of money to engineer and develop the best vehicle on paper, sportiness is an intangible thing that can only be measured by the grin on a driver’s face while driving a great car hard. This is why Subaru developed this car with less emphasis on numbers derived from countless simulations, but rather logging in more track time to ensure that man and machine are joined in a blissful union of pure sporting joy.
The point of the BRZ isn’t to be a big powerful Gran Touring speed demon, but rather be the last word in handling and driver feedback. With an incredibly low curb weight, the BRZ tips the scales at 2762 in Premium Trim and 2776 lbs with the Limited Trim package. The only other vehicles on the market today that can compete with the svelte weight of the BRZ are it’s Scion badged identical twin, the FR-S; the equally priced, less powerful but lighter Mazda MX-5 Miata; the twice as expensive and more powerful and heavier Porsche Cayman; and the exponentially more expensive and more powerful and also heavier Lotus Evora. But where the BRZ bests all of them, is it’s incredibly low center of gravity at 18.1 inches, lowest of any production car in the world.
I met up with my friend Danny, who purchased a BRZ last week. The car came outfitted with the Limited Trim package which includes a slick push button starter, Alcantara seat inserts with leather bolsters, heated front seats, heated mirrors, dual zone automatic climate control, fog lights, and trunk spoiler. The first thing I noticed is how compact the car really is when you set it next to another compact 2+2 sport coupe. While the height and wheel base are comparable to other cars in this category, the overall length is lilliputian with it’s incredibly short front and rear overhangs.
Ingress and egress with the BRZ isn’t bad, though the door opening isn’t spacious, it is easier to enter than some larger sport coupes on the market. Once inside, the cockpit feels very comfortable, all the controls you need are within inches of your fingertips, however it is a tight fit inside. It’s not cramped enough to say that it is claustrophobic, but rather it fits like a comfortably snug glove. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit more headroom than it appears, thanks to the double bubble roof design, it is sculpted for a driver as tall as to 6’2″ with a helmet on. Though the car is billed as a 2+2, you can forget about putting any adults in the rear seats, they are reserved only for backpacks, baby seats, midgets, and amputees. Now it may sound like the interior dimensions are laughably tight and confined at this point, but the BRZ’s capacity isn’t completely devoid of utilitarianism. The rear seats fold down to expand the 6.9 cubic feet to be just the perfect amount of space for a set of 4 wheels and tires, 1 helmet, and 1 small tool kit. Just utilitarian enough for the weekend track rat.
Being a sports car for $25,000, the interior trim pieces are handsomely designed, though the plastic is a little cheap on most of the door and dash panels, the headliner also feels relatively cheap as well, but you quickly forget about all of these because the only touch points that matter are excellent. After firing up the Boxer 4 with the ignition button, you wrap your hands around the most perfect steering wheel in existence. The small diameter 365 mm steering wheel is thick and meaty, providing the perfect amount to hold on to. The shifter is very well positioned, and the throws are incredibly short. Gears click in with a very certain and satisfying snick. It would be difficult to miss a gear with this transmission. The clutch pedal travel is surprisingly short, and the engagement is a little higher than expected, but it isn’t hard to find. The foot well is spacious enough for a generous dead pedal spot, while the aluminum pedals are spaced nicely for heroic heel-toe-ing antics.
We took off on the city streets, darting around in traffic, the BRZ is quick and zippy, though it’s no powerhouse, the 200HP is more than enough for this car. Around town, you don’t really notice the low 151TQ when the gear ratios are so close, it’s certainly fast enough to be fun around town. Subaru’s suspension design differs from the Scion FR-S version by using the Impreza STi sourced rear suspension and having a softer, more comfort oriented tuning. The ride was certainly comfortable around the city streets but when we hit the highway and picked up some speed, expansion gaps on overpasses were slightly unsettling, the rebound is tuned a little stiffer than I would have expected straight from the manufacturer. But for an enthusiast, it’s perfect. Danny and I decided that his BRZ wouldn’t need aftermarket springs or shocks unless he were to take it out for some serious track duty.
We wanted to push the limits a little further so we took it down to some back roads in the Los Gatos Hills and Santa Cruz Mountains. Here the BRZ felt at home. The suspension, while firm, is perfectly suited for tackling tight twisty roads. Suspension damping is confidence inspiring as the BRZ sucks up the twisting asphalt and gripping and carving regardless how tight and under-steer inducing the corners appeared to be. Under heavy load, the BRZ exhibits minimal body roll, as the center of gravity is no higher than your lap. The steering was incredibly responsive and quick for being an electric unit. Every minor steering input is taken in and as is every bump is communicated back to your hands. This is possibly one of the most responsive mass produced vehicles on the market.
Though the BRZ feels at home on twisty back roads, climbing hills is not it’s strong suit. Here the 151TQ shows its weakness. 3rd gear didn’t have enough twist to carry up the hill at a reasonable pace and I really needed to wind up 2nd gear to get it going. It was only here that I felt the necessity for more power. While the overall gearing is well suited for quick acceleration to merge onto highways populated with more powerful cars, I found that the 1st and 2nd are a little bit too low for the climb. Quite honestly, you can start the car in 2nd, and you can even drive around a level parking lot in 3rd in as low as 1100 rpm and not have any fear of the motor bogging down. If 2nd gear was a bit taller and closer to 3rd, I would be able to find that comfortable sweet spot for the hill climb. At the summit, the BRZ shined on the relatively level roads. The 151TQ appears to be more than enough to handle the roads as long as the grade isn’t too steep.
The brakes started off strong and pedal feel was firm. The 2 piston front calipers and single piston rear calipers bit down on the 11.6 inch rotors with no drama or off balanced dive, the brake feel was fantastic, but after about 15 miles spirited mountain driving, the brakes began to fade a slight bit. Still this is more than enough to handle the low mass of the car.
Subaru claims the fuel economy is 22 City, 30 Hwy and a combined MPG of 25 with the 6-speed manual, and 25 City, 35 Hwy, and 28 combined with the 6-speed paddle shift automatic. To be perfectly honest, I was having too much fun to really take notice, and to be perfectly honest, when a car is this fun, you really don’t care. This is a car for people who love to drive, whether around town, on some back-roads, or on a track. It is a small niche market, but those who are shopping in this segment will be glad that the BRZ has arrived. Don’t let the hype build up and make you think that this is the best performing sports car out there, it’s not. Subaru set out to build a great sports car that is incredibly simple and incredibly fun to drive. Something that is not only affordable, but bests everyone else in the market when it comes to making the driver and the car feel as one, and the BRZ is that good!