What is the Subaru BRZ?
The BRZ is a coupé claiming to deliver old-fashioned driving thrills at an affordable price. It costs from £24,995, and while it might not be the quickest, prettiest or most practical car on the market but, according to Subaru, it provides driving enthusiasts with “the best tool for the job.”
By mounting the 2-litre boxer engine low in the car, fitting fully independent suspension on each corner and ensuring a balanced weight distribution between the front and the rear, the BRZ developers worked on the fine dining principle that quality ingredients presented simply, produce gourmet cuisine.
In fact, the offering is so simple that buyers need only choose whether they want their car with a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. There’s one engine ‒ a 2-litre boxer unit ‒ and just two options: metallic paint and sat nav. The car is virtually identical to the Toyota GT86, which was developed with the BRZ. Choosing between the two really comes down to badge and option preference: the BRZ is more expensive than the entry-level Toyota but comes with better leather and alcantara seats, which are heated.
Some may think the design is plain but with a long bonnet, sharp-angled windscreen and big wheelarches, it’s a classic coupé shape. Just don’t expect the fuel economy of a hatchback. The BRZ will return around 30mpg and its high CO2 emissions mean an annual tax bill of more than £200.
Judged on straight line speed, the BRZ is a failure, with 0-62mph taking 7.6sec on the way to a top speed of 143mph. But unless your route regularly includes a drag strip, this should be of no concern. Instead, this Subaru is a stunning example of how to build a car that’s fun to drive on public roads, at legal speeds.
The lack of power away from the line is masked by the instant response from the naturally aspirated 197bhp engine. There’s a heady rasp as the revs rise to 7,000rpm, where maximum power is available. Keep the needle in this range and the coupé comes alive, bursting forward with more energy than its performance figures suggest. It is aided by a modest 1,230kg kerbweight, apparent when you turn the wheel.
The car will dart from corner to corner, switching direction as quickly as a fly dodging a swat, and without drifting wide with understeer or body roll. The steering weights up beautifully and gives the driver a sense of the grip that’s available. And there’s more of that than you think, even though the BRZ is fitted with skinny tyres. In dry conditions, you have to be trying hard to make the back wheels slide and when they do, our testers found that it was so predictable and easy to control that a gentle nudge of the wheel brought the car back into line. The wheels are quick to spin when you set off from standstill, though, especially on poorly surfaced roads.
In order to keep the BRZ sharp and flat through corners, Subaru has made the ride firm. This means that it wouldn’t be anybody’s first choice for long motorway journeys, during which there is constant jolting (as well as significant tyre and wind noise). That said, it will happily cruise along a motorway without causing backache, as the suspension takes the harsh edge off bumps.
When it comes to the country roads that are the coupé’s forte, you’ll find that the ride is beautifully judged. The car remains composed, tracking straight in the face of potholes, ridges and bumps. The six-speed automatic gearbox is good but this car begs to be bought with the quick and precise manual gearbox.
Combined, the car’s ingredients really do add up to something spectacular and quick, whatever the acceleration figures might suggest. It’s not just the snug, low cabin that will make you reluctant to get out. You’ll want to keep hearing the engine rasp louder and louder as you put your foot down in second gear after a tight turn. You’ll want to flick left and right, over and over again in a flowing set of corners, each time pushing a fraction harder ‒ all achievable in complete control and within the speed limit. Deciding whether to take the scenic route or not is a no-brainer. And despite its flaws, that’s what makes the BRZ a five-star car.
The car’s few flaws are most apparent in the cabin, even though the basics are spot on: bucket seats, a steering wheel without a single button to distract you from the business of driving, and a big rev counter in the centre of the instrument binnacle. Small bumps on either side of the bonnet help the driver, from a low seating position, to judge the car’s extremities.
The ventilation controls are chunky and sturdy, another example of keeping things simple to avoid distractions. Which is why the fiddly optional sat nav in the middle of the dashboard is a mystery. You might want to keep a matchstick in the car to operate its tiny buttons. At least the software is intuitive, even though it’s overly pessimistic. Most estimated journey times are roughly a third too long for anyone who travels at the speed limit. Likewise, the radio is overly complicated, and a distraction.
It’s also here in the cabin where you can see that the car has been built to a price, with cheaper plastics, especially in the back, and poor noise insulation. But this is a low-priced sports car, where costs and weight must be cut, so it’s hard to criticise.
Many may wonder why Subaru bothered with two rear seats, though. They are almost unusable for passengers but offer some useful extra luggage space, in addition to the 243-litre boot, so that two people could easily take the car for a fortnight’s holiday.
The one to buy
Subaru BRZ SE Lux manual
- 1998cc, 4-cylinder petrol
- 197bhp @ 7000rpm
- 151lb ft @ 6400rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 7.6sec
- Top speed:
- 36.2 mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- I (£335 for first year, £220 thereafter)
- L 4240mm, W 1775mm, H 1285mm