Car reviews - Subaru - BRZ - coupe
Front end grip, rear-drive balance, driving position, driver involvement, relative practicality
Room for improvement
Lack of mid-range torque, naff dashboard decoration, artificial engine note, poor stereo, bad Bluetooth system
11 Oct 2012
ON PAPER many cars on the market today are close to the pinnacle of what personal transport should be about – and while this satisfies the rational part of the mind, the emotional part tends to go hungry unless the owner of that mind has deep pockets.
Now though, for the price of an up-spec mid-size sedan, a blend of old-school driving enjoyment and everyday usability can be had in the shape of this Subaru BRZ, or of course, its Toyota 86 twin.
A lot of people bought these cars sight unseen on the strength of positive media reports – in fact Subaru sells the BRZ online – but the typical round-the-block dealership demonstration drive is not enough to do this car justice anyway.
We were given our BRZ test car late in the week, meaning an initial ho-hum impression from plying the daily commute – although we found the oft-maligned protrusion of the full-size spare wheel into the decent-sized boot was helpful in stopping the weekly groceries from sliding around.
Come the weekend though, we headed to the hills and took the BRZ around our favourite road loop – free of frustrating 60km/h restrictions – in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, where the BRZ instantly made sense as it came to life in our hands.
Being used to too many of the aforementioned dumbed-down cars, the amount of feedback and the raw, mechanical driving experience made the BRZ feel like many cars do only on the very limit, which was initially less confidence inspiring.
Not to worry, as we were quickly impressed with just how much the BRZ has to give, with front-end bite soon providing the confidence to push harder, with judgement helped by those messages transmitted by the chassis and steering. This is one involving car.
Even as the rear end started to break traction on wet tree bark littered bends, the accurate steering and sheer balance of the BRZ made delicate corrections a cinch and we delighted in how we could feel the limited-slip differential shifting drive across the rear axle to where it was needed most.
The damp conditions and close proximity of trees led us to keep the traction and stability control systems on and most of the time they were not troubled into taking any more than the subtlest action – unless we got really lairy with the loud pedal on some of the slicker road surfaces.
This is because the BRZ is not over-engined and you have to be trying pretty hard to get some power oversteer action, especially in the dry.
Some lament the 2.0-litre boxer’s 147kW peak power output and tame 205Nm of torque but the car does not feel slow, despite a middling 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.6 seconds.
The way the engine is configured is interesting because for round-town driving there is enough low-end grunt for the car to feel nippy, while driving it enthusiastically requires a commitment to rev hard due to a flat spot in the mid-range that can only be avoided by changing gears close to the redline.
As a result, the engine penalises half-hearted driving and short-shifting with a bogged-down feeling as it struggles to power through the ratio before delivering a real step-change surge of power as it hits its sweet spot again.
Luckily, then, the free-spinning engine has plenty of character, is a pleasure to rev and can he heard happily chugging away under the bonnet like a Boxer should.
That said, the induction note that is artificially piped into the cabin can get annoying – it sounds a bit like the rasping exhaust of an original Mini – and there are few interesting sounds coming from the tailpipes.
We enjoyed using the six-speed manual transmission fitted to our test car, which is up there with some of Honda’s best efforts for its slick, mechanical action and refreshingly we could sense the gears meshing and the clutch plate thumping as we selected each ratio.
Our exhilarating Yarra Valley road trip meant we had truly bonded with the BRZ and the resulting merge of man and machine led to a far more enjoyable experience when we returned to city and suburban driving.
Compared with the Toyota 86, the BRZ unfortunately has an inferior interior, which may sound strange as they are almost identical, but the tacky silver dash finishing strip, the awful-looking Toyota stereo and cheap aftermarket Bluetooth system wonkily stuck to the windscreen conspire to spoil the Subaru.
Of course both cars share the excellent driving position, decent cabin ergonomics and supportive seat design.
We were pleased to find the BRZ’s fuel consumption was close to the official 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres, especially as we negotiated our final lap of the aforementioned Yarra Valley road loop almost entirely in second gear and most of our time with the car was spent driving around Melbourne.
Surprisingly for a relatively rare, recently launched, sporty car our silver test BRZ did not seem to turn many heads.
Maybe that was down to its demure colour or looks, which are neither butch nor feline.
Sitting in the underground car park of an apartment block beside one-tonne utes and large sedans the BRZ looked truly tiny and quite rodent-like.
Which we think is a fitting description as the BRZ is not the kind of car that pounces like a cat, it scurries like a mouse.
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