Car reviews - Subaru - BRZ
Superb steering and handling, now rides well, perfect driving position and gearshift, infotainment system bests Toyota 86
Room for improvement
Engine sorely lacking torque, hefty kerb weight, missing cabin connectivity and active safety technology
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4 Apr 2017
Price and equipment
SUBARU has lopped $1235 from the price of the BRZ on the switch from ‘MY16’ to ‘MY17’. It now starts from $32,990 plus on-road costs, as tested here, or $34,990 for the six-speed automatic.
The single model grade continues to squeeze in between the $30,790 Toyota 86 GT and $36,490 86 GTS and yet it would appear better value than either of the more popular duo.
Why? Because for $2200 over the base Toyota, the Subaru adds 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), LED foglights, a 6.5-inch touchscreen audio system with colour trip computer display and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless auto-entry and dual-zone climate control air-conditioning.
A single $1500 option adds leather/Alcantara trim with front seat heating standard on the top-spec 86, but even then the BRZ remains $2000 cheaper. And that surcharge for the Toyota only further adds a rear spoiler and satellite navigation – both of which continue to be missing here, but the latter of which looks like an aftermarket, tacked-on unit in the GTS. Just call the Subie a sweet spot.
Beyond a new, smaller steering wheel now with audio and trip computer controls, changes are few inside the facelifted BRZ. However, the most important alteration is with the infotainment system, which now utilises a basic version of Subaru’s StarLink touchscreen found in the rest of the range.
Where Toyota continued with the same dowdy infotainment system as the 2012 86, Subaru wisely chose to include its latest intuitive and high-resolution display. Okay, so the system lacks nav, or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, or even Pandora internet radio app connectivity found in each of the BRZ’s siblings, but it is far better than Toyota’s unit.
The simple infotainment system also reflects the simple approach to creating this affordable coupe. The driving position of the BRZ continues to be perfect, with low-set front seats offering ample side support and under-thigh coverage, teamed with a tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel and stubby manual gearshifter that each fall naturally to hand(s). The dashboard is starting to look (and feel) dated, but the ambience is certainly more impressive than that of the 86 GT.
Even the rear seat has among the most heavily tilted squabs of any coupe, in order to push occupants’ legs upwards while maintaining support. It remains a strictly kids-only zone back there, but it is a better approach than canning the back seat. The 230-litre boot is decent-sized, too.
Engine and transmission
Calls among some enthusiasts for a turbocharger to be added to the Subaru BRZ (and Toyota 86) have fallen on deaf ears. Five years on, and the 2.0-litre direct injected ‘boxer’ flat four-cylinder remains, only with a new cast-alloy intake (painted in bright red) replacing the previous plastic unit.
Power moves from 147kW to 152kW at 7000rpm, torque shifts from 205Nm to 212Nm at a heady 6400rpm, while the cut-out remains pegged at 7800rpm. It should be noted that only manual models lift outputs, though, as the auto retains the plastic intake apparently for noise regulation reasons.
Such figures continue to paint a clear performance picture. Below 5000rpm, this Subaru feels hollow and gutless. Above that point on the tachometer, it sings a strident single-pitch tune and can feel spritely. However, the cut-out point is arguably not high enough given the narrow power band in which drivers need to work. The short-geared manual helps keep the BRZ primed, but your left arm will be busier than that of an old-school pokies-machine player trying to keep it in ‘the zone’.
Yet for all that, this coupe arguably does not require turbocharging. Its throttle response is fantastic, and the terrific manual shifter leaves the driver equally well-connected to the action. What this model needs is to shed kilograms not add kiloWatts. With a kerb weight of 1242kg, it is no wonder the 2.0-litre struggles. A 1035kg Mazda MX-5 uses the same-sized engine and feels far gutsier.
Ride and handling
Subaru has actually softened the suspension of the facelifted BRZ compared with the original model. While in a sportscar context that seems sacrilegious – and is sure to get those campaigning for a turbocharger up in arms – the company has also stiffened the body of this model.
The upshot is an increase in spot welds in the C-pillar, as well as stronger rear suspension mounting plates, has allowed engineers to back off the formerly overly firm spring and damper settings. Whatever the case, the changes have worked an absolute treat, allowing the BRZ to continue its fabulous dynamic ways while being significantly more comfortable.
Quite simply, this Subaru now rides perfectly for a sportscar. The suspension keeps the body level in all situations, and yet there is newfound compliancy that leaves this seemingly simple and cheap two-door coupe actually feeling rather sophisticated. Likewise, the steering continues to be close to perfection, with immediate yet progressive response and consistently fluid mid-weighting.
The cherry on top of all this is a new electronic stability control (ESC) system that proved more subtle and sure than the previous version did in its supposedly less restrictive ESC ‘Sport’ setting. The latter has been replaced by an ESC ‘Track’ mode ideally suited to sporty driving. With utterly fantastic chassis balance, the BRZ continues to completely transcend its $33K pricetag.
The only let-down is the Michelin Primacy HP tyres, which can make wet roads feel icy.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection), ABS and switchable electronic stability control (ESC) and rearview camera are all standard.
ANCAP tested the Subaru BRZ in 2012 and it scored five stars with 34.40 out of 37 points.
Subaru’s capped-price servicing plan costs an affordable $225 for each of the first four nine-month or 15,000km dealer check-up.
The Subaru BRZ (and by extension the Toyota 86) continues to be an absolute knockout performer in terms of coupe style, driver connection and chassis balance. Now with a new touchscreen, a more compliant ride, smarter ESC and reduced pricetag, it has become more compelling than ever.
With this facelift the single-spec BRZ also becomes more convincing – both from a value and connectivity stand-point – than either the 86 GT or GTS.
Of course, the ‘Toyobaru’ twins have legacy issues, particularly with high kerb weight, low torque and minimal active safety equipment, the latter of which was more acceptable in 2012 than 2017.
However, for just above $30,000 this Subaru provides a glimpse of the driving dynamics usually reserved for vehicles three or four times the price, some of which even then struggle to match its cohesion. In that context, the basic cabin and adequate engine seem like fair trade-offs for the price.
Mazda MX-5 from $31,990 plus on-road costs
Driving position no match for BRZ, but lighter and keener.
Toyota 86 GT from $30,790 plus on-road costs
Cheaper than BRZ, but poorer value given vastly less equipment.
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