Car reviews - Subaru - BRZ - range
Value, adroit handling, communicative steering, low-slung styling, race-style ergonomics
Room for improvement
Short highway gearing, rear seat access, spare wheel intrusion into boot
12 Jul 2012
THERE are faster cars, more refined cars and cheaper cars, but as a value package to put a smile on the dial, the new rear-drive Subaru BRZ is hard to beat.
Of course, it is pretty easy to equal – the near identical Toyota 86 GTS will manage that.
But staunch Subaru fans – and they are as staunch as any on the planet – are not likely to want anything but the variant with the Fuji Heavy Industries stamp and funny starry badge on it.
The hardest part might well be getting your hands on one any time soon, as only 201 BRZs are destined for Australian buyers this year, and many of those will be goinng to dealers as demonstrators.
But, just in case you are one of the lucky ones to snaffle a confirmed order for a BRZ via the Subaru online sales system, or you are prepared wait until next year, we have mostly good news for you.
The best news is that a car like this is offered under $40k at all. Affordable sportscars have been thin on the ground in the past decade, and affordable rear-drive ones have been non-existent.
Mercifully, Subaru and part-owner Toyota put their heads – and components – together to come up with this boxer-engined 2+2 coupe to be shared down their sales chains.
The questions that most people want answered about the BRZ (and take this as read for the Toyota version) are: 1. Does its roadholding match the pre-launch promise? 2. Is 147kW from the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated boxer engine sufficient to get the pulse racing?
The answer to both of these questions is yes, with a qualification.
We drove the BRZ in mostly wet conditions on mostly urban roads in our brief time with the car, which put a damper on it, but just before handing back the keys, we let rip through a couple of corners on a dry surface, and the result was impressive.
Hunkered down in a wide, flat stance with the centre of gravity almost dragging on the ground, the BRZ demonstrates negligible body roll and prodigious grip, tracing around bends with the poise of some sportscars costing twice as much.
The rack-and-pinion steering might have electric assistance, but it delivers loads of feedback and assurance to the driver as it carves up the corners and points just where the driver – locked firmly in the high-sided sports seats – wants.
Accelerating out of some extremely tight turns, we felt the inside rear wheel chatter on the bitumen, presumably as the Torsen limited-slip differential struggled to direct sufficient torque to the outside wheel.
Unfortunately, we drove only the six-speed manual-equipped version. We would have liked to have sampled the six-speed auto with its flappy paddle gear-changers to get a more complete picture of the car, but none was available at launch.
The auto might solve one small irritant for this driver: the short gearing that has the boxer engine spinning at 2700rpm in sixth gear at 100km/h – causing the driver to subconsciously reach for a non-existent seventh cog.
Although the auto has the same short final-drive ratio, it has a taller top gear, which should afford more relaxed cruising.
The car we drove was fresh out of the gift wrapping and that might have contributed to the rather heavy feel of the gearshift. Mind you, we expect that this Toyota-derived gearbox is a fundamentally heavy unit, capable of absorbing the hammering it will get from tyre-smoking track drifters and the like.
Because the BRZ is graced with a rather peaky, low-torque, high-revving engine with a short final drive, the left arm gets a solid workout rowing the car around town.
With the engine on song, momentum under the wheels and a sinuous road ahead, the BRZ is in its element.
The engine note is not exactly Beethoven’s Fifth, but penetrates the cabin pleasantly enough (with the help of tube that directs the note at the passenger's footwell), at least until it gets frantic at the top end of the 7000rpm scale.
The engine has been clearly built to a price, so if you are expecting WRX STi thrust, you will be disappointed.
Perhaps the BRZ could use a little turbo assistance? The chassis could certainly take it, and the resultant torque boost would be welcome if accompanied by taller gearing to make daily commuting a little easier.
Whether the car can be fitted with a blower is a moot point, given that space is at a premium under the bonnet. Yes, Toyota racing affiliate Gasgoo did just that in a one-off 86 modification, but a production car requiring a close-coupled catalytic converter and other legal niceties is another matter. We will just have to watch this space.
The BRZ test car was fitted with the optional $1500 leather-and-Alcantara seat trim with red contrast stitching, which oozed class.
The dash, with a slab of metallic-painted trim across the middle of it, is not exactly Germanic in its subtleness, and the interior is a bit of a muddle of angles and finishes.
However, the ergonomics are first class, with the driver seated low in a deeply sculpted bucket seat, in front of the chunky stitched-leather steering wheel framing the instrument binnacle that has an norange-hued tacho as its main event.
Like most 2+2 coupes, the rear seat accommodates two – in theory – although leg room is likely to deter most people from squeezing through the narrow gap behind the folding front seat that, disappointingly, does not snap back to its original position.
For Australia, the BRZ gets a full-sized alloy wheel, which is the good news. The bad news is that the uncovered wheel protrudes into the tiny boot, taking the shine off its practicality.
The BRZ launch pricing – $37,150 driveaway for the manual and $39,730 driveaway for the automatic – is a little difficult to compare directly with the Toyota 86.
If we try to compare apples with apples by taking into account the BRZ’s free on-road costs and three years of free servicing, and additional $1500 cost of the up-market seat trim that comes standard in the 86, then the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 GTS pricing seems to be about line-ball, perhaps with the exception of Toyota’s bonus sat-nav.
It is a close call, but Subaru fans will form a queue for the BRZ regardless, and for the most part they won’t be disappointed. Unless, of course, they can't get one.
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