Car reviews - Subaru - BRZ
Willing, robust-feeling powertrain, more even-tempered handling, better spec
Room for improvement
Still not quite ‘an everyday sportscar’, tyre/road noise, pointless rear seats
Second-gen BRZ is more sophisticated but doesn’t skimp on the fun factor
18 Jan 2022
By MIKE FOURIE
MODEST power and torque gains from a larger-capacity (but still naturally aspirated) engine, a new, slightly longer platform with a wider rear track and the addition of more standard features… Well, whoop-de-doo, if that’s the sum of the improvements a car manufacturer has implemented on its replacement product for a 10-year-old model… that’s not progress, man – it’s stagnation.
We jest, of course, but in the current automotive landscape, in which turbocharged downsized powerplants, electrification and autonomous driving technology are all the rage – and compact sportscars seem well and truly on the endangered species list – products such as the second-gen Subaru BRZ seem impossibly narrow in focus, singular in purpose and, well, a little indulgent.
Subaru Australia’s newly introduced BRZ, however, has merely kept strictly to the brief. Like its predecessor, it has a light, compact package with a non-turbocharged motor that drives the rear wheels via a limited-slip diff. Although based on a new platform, it retains the elements that made the first-gen model such an elemental and, importantly, affordable sportscar.
Underpinned by the Japanese marque’s modular global platform, the new BRZ’s wheelbase and overall length has increased by 5mm and 25mm respectively, while its height has been reduced by 15mm. The newcomer’s body offers about 60 per cent more front lateral bending rigidity and 50 per cent more torsional stiffness and the rear track has notably been widened by 10mm.
As expected, the new BRZ offers a lot more standard spec than before, yet it weighs only 3kg and 8kg more (the manual and automatic versions, respectively) than its predecessor, because aluminium has been used extensively for the newcomer’s bonnet, front fenders and roof skin.
Under the bonnet, a 2.4-litre flat four-cylinder petrol motor with direct injection and port injection has replaced the 2.0-litre unit of the previous model – it develops 174kW at 7000rpm and 250Nm at 3700rpm and is paired with a either a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission (augment with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles). Those figures represent improvements of 22kW/38Nm for the manual and 27kW/45Nm for the automatic.
All derivatives feature self-levelling and steering-responsive LED headlights and 18-inch alloys, while inside, Subaru Australia has fitted smart-key access with push-button start, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear/transmission lever, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a 7.0-inch, customisable digital instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and includes DAB+ digital radio and built-in satnav.
Along with the expected active and passive safety equipment, the new BRZ features blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, while automatic versions benefit from selectable Sport and Snow transmission modes, reverse automatic braking, as well as the Shibuya-based marque’s proprietary EyeSight stereoscopic camera driver-assist system.
The all-new Subaru BRZ comes standard with Subaru’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, five-year capped-price servicing program and twelve-month roadside assistance program.
Although its exterior styling has undoubtedly evolved from that of its predecessor, the second-gen BRZ still cuts a fine figure, replete with a sharper, more distinctive front-end treatment, still-quite-superb proportions and subtle aerodynamic adornments in its bumpers, front fenders, flanks and rear valance.
Subaru Australia showcased examples of the newcomer adorned with STI accessories at the launch and their contrasting black aerodynamic winglets and other embellishments looked suitably racy.
Inside, the BRZ offers an eminently engaging driving position that suits even slightly taller-than-average drivers. The newcomer’s cabin architecture still has a rather utilitarian feel to it, with a slabby hang-down section containing, in descending order, rectangular air vents, the sizeable touchscreen infotainment system, chunky climate-control knobs (with digital readouts) and metal-look piano style keys for the ventilation modes.
Some of the cabin plastics are certainly of the harder variety, but the switchgear feels substantial to operate – even the electric window switches and the multifunction steering wheel’s remote buttons are well-weighted.
The interior ambience exudes Subaru’s reassuring, if somewhat difficult to accurately convey, hewn-from-solid feel, but that’s not to say that it’s drab. Apart from sporty touches such as the red contrast stitching, relatively dinky leather-gripped steering wheel and metal-finished pedals, Coupe S derivatives features Ultrasuede and leather accented trim as well as heated front seats.
The application of suede trim on the high windowsills feels particularly intimate and enveloping.
The driving experience is also instantly familiar. From the urgent, rorty soundtrack of the FA-generation 2.4-litre flat-four engine to the pleasingly notchy short-throw six-speed manual ‘box, the new BRZ still feels every bit a driver’s car.
When you engage a snap shift and release the clutch pedal as if you’ve stepped on a hot coal with your bare foot, the powertrain shunts through with a reassuring thud as the growly motor dishes its torque, which peaks at 3700rpm, uninterruptedly.
Whereas 250Nm of torque may seem paltry in the context of contemporary performance cars, the Subaru’s entirely predictable, instantly responsive throttle response is worth savouring in of itself; mid-range punch seemed a trifle elusive in the first-gen BRZ, but its successor seems to dish it up with garnish at the mere flex of the accelerator pedal.
The mechanical soundtrack may be digitally enhanced with Active Sound audio tech, which may annoy purists, but it seems less synthesised here than in other direct-injection-engined cars equipped with similar types of contrivances.
So far, the second-gen BRZ seems to offer incremental improvements over its predecessor, but the difference is much more pronounced when you drive the newcomer to anywhere near its dynamic potential. There is nothing woolly or slack about the way that grippy little steering wheel twirls in your hands; it makes the BRZ dart into corners determinedly, with negligible body roll.
Whereas the first BRZ was deliberately set up to have a loose rear-end or “playful rear-wheel-drive dynamics” (to evoke manufacturer-speak), even by virtue of the type of tyres the brand fitted to the back of the car, the new model now feels significantly more composed – it communicates that the limit of adhesion is approaching with a wiggle or a squirm, as opposed to a sudden, lurid slide.
The fitment of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres all round and the provision of a 10mm wider rear track certainly help in this regard, but the fundamentally stiffer body, revised spring and damper set-ups, beefier sway bars, stiffer bushings and relocated rear sway-bar mounting points make the new BRZ feel more planted, wieldy, and substantial – not only on track, but on-road as well.
Subaru’s coupe still offers oodles of enthusiast appeal, because, as we mentioned earlier, it has stoically clung to the fundamentals of a visceral sportscar, but it feels more of a well-rounded offering now – one that will enthral and reward hard chargers (all versions offer a quartet of selectable drive modes that work in conjunction with vehicle dynamics control (VDC), including Normal, TCS (traction control) Off, Track and TCS Off).
At the same time, the newcomer is likely to be much more forgiving of an inexperienced driver’s follies and foibles, which is a bit of a relief.
About 60 per cent of the first consignment of second-gen BRZs were manual derivatives, but for those who wish to use the coupe on the daily commute, automatic versions now come equipped with EyeSight, which was not offered on the first-gen model. EyeSight ramps up the BRZ’s safety suite with a pre-collision braking system with brake assist and throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lead-vehicle start alert, lane departure warning and lane-sway warning functions.
And, on suburban roads, the BRZ feels more of an everyday car than ever before – at least within reason. Although the newcomer’s general ride quality is rather firm, the revised suspension is not concerningly fidgety or crashy when traversing larger bumps and ruts. The only real drawback is somewhat boomy tyre noise that becomes apparent when the Subaru traverses coarser surfaces.
The built-in satnav, which stores its own map information (which is handy when mobile data connections are either patchy or impossible) seems a bit clunky if you’re accustomed to using dynamically updating smartphone apps through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but as for the BRZ’s overall electronic interface, it feels reasonably slick, especially the customisable fully digital instrument cluster, replete with its sporty layout, speed-limit readout, plus crisp and clear display.
Overall, the second-gen Subaru BRZ performs exactly as one would expect it to – only, it’s surprisingly better in some respects.
In an era during which Japanese brands are keeping compact rear-wheel-drive coupe sportscars alive and well – even if they must co-operate to make that happen – this model and its new Toyota 86 cousin, the next-gen Nissan Z and the Toyota Supra, BMW Z4 and -2 Series, might the last, or at least non-electrically assisted or -powered, cars of their kind.
For those who seek elemental driving thrills from a brand-new car, but don’t have the wherewithal to acquire exotic machinery, the BRZ still readily fits the bill. For those hardcore gearheads who miss the “mongrel edge” of the first-gen BRZ, its successor still offers plenty of dynamism, but it’s also an easier-to-live-with proposition. It’s old school, but still feels fresh.
2022 Subaru BRZ pricing*:
*Pricing excludes on-road costs.
21st of January 2022
Second-gen Subaru BRZ arrives in Oz
More power, dynamism and kit for sought-after sportscar
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