The Subaru BRZ is The Car We Demanded, Well Actually The Other Car We Demanded After We Demanded The Cadillac CTS-V Station Wagon But Who's Counting Demands? It's got a lot of good, but is it as good as we'd hoped for? We found out.
(Full disclosure: Subaru wanted us to drive the Subaru BRZ so bad, they flew me to the south of France, put me up in a swank hotel within view of a marina reserved for mega-yachts, and then set me loose on the awesomely curvy La route Napoleon. For the day of driving we got, I'd have been just fine sleeping at a campsite next to a landfill full of reclaimed duck fat.)
It's an automotive concept that's been scarce for years: a lightweight, rear-drive coupe with the coltish charm of a crisply tuned hot hatch and the polar moment of a supercar. One that doesn't cost Porsche money, or even Lexus money, or even Camry money. The good news? Subaru hasn't just built it, they also delivered on the promise of it. And considering how many page inches this car drew in the lead up to its release, it's shocking that it even approaches the hype.
First things first. Yes, the BRZ is slow. Considering how much quickness is available on dealers' lots today, it's tough to countenance the Subaru BRZ soaks up seven seconds to 60 mph. Yet, never in the recent history of the automobile has straight-line speed been so inconsequential to the experience of driving a great car.
The key is a minimum of compromise, and a simple, unimpeachable reason to exist — to be light and fun to drive. With such a reductive design brief, development engineers apparently spent more time on tuning runs at the track and canyon instead of sitting bleary-eyed at the CAD machine designing in wicked damping and anti-roll gear to manage colossal weight-transfer forces. (Cadillac CTS-V, we love ya, but — you know – you're quite the science project.)
The result is a car that rewards good driving skill but doesn't demand it; a car for a driver who wants to be better, but also wants to enjoy getting better. It's a car anyone can fling into a corner, lay on the throttle and power out, laughing all the way.
No other new car going for anywhere near $25,000 (other than, perhaps, the BRZ's Scion cousin) communicates this well and responds this well to a driver's commands, without ever feeling snappish or pushy. It's all about mechanical grip, too — as if the multi-mode traction control exists merely as a wry wink to the safety police. The BRZ is so well balanced and predictable it feels safer in the "mostly off" setting. When was the last time you could say that about a car?
If you haven't already popped a bottle of Champagne and done a victory dance of wide hip-swings and guttural farmyard noises to celebrate the BRZ's existence, you don't deserve what else on this platform the company has up its sleeve. And we're sure there's more to come.
The BRZ's design, courtesy of Toyota designers, is bit fussy for my own taste. Still, it does have a low hood and pleasingly short overhangs, and shares some basic curves with the Maserati GranTurismo and other, more classical GTs. Those include prominent over-the-wheel arches, rising sidelines that meet and mingle with the falling roofline — forming a conflux resembling half an eye of Nefertiti at the C-pillar — and a pleasing ratio of windshield rake to rear slope.
Tidy and ready for adventures, the BRZ's insides don't hassle you with anything not related to driving quickly and well. There's a readable tach, supportive seats, a comfortably padded and narrow-diameter helm, a snicky shifter and well-positioned pedals. The places you touch the most have the best materials, the places you touch the least, not so much — as it should be on an economy-minded car. Plus, a full-sized adult can fit comfortably in the driver's seat.
Anyone sweating how glacially the BRZ accelerates -– in that it's slower than VW's GTI, Mazda's MazdaSpeed 3 and Honda's Civic SI — should dunk another macaroon into the Golden Corral's chocolate fountain and shut the fuck up. The BRZ isn't nail-bitingly slow — like, say, an Isuzu I-Mark diesel. It's slow with a shimmering pulse, like The Clash's "Revolution Rock." Slow like a barbecued brisket. That is, it's slow with taste. The relatively flat torque curve from around 3000 revs to just shy of its 7400 rpm redline gives it solid corner-to-corner push on non-speedway roads in second through fourth gears, provided you keep your foot deep into it.
The 11.6" discs (and two-piston front and single-piston rear calipers) provide plenty of evenly-applied stopping power for the BRZ's light weight, which remained solid, if a bit smelly, during an extended hard-charging, hard-stopping, brake-fluid-cooking jaunt up and down the Alpes-Maritimes. Some have expressed concern over the use of a brake override, but I didn't encounter any issues with standard heel-toeing and right-foot braking. A more track-focused test, encompassing serious left-foot braking might yield different results.
A satisfying mix of firmness and suppleness that's not particularly fatiguing for longish, spirited treks on imperfect driving roads with mid-corner bumps, off-camber corners and the like. Some have balked at Subaru's choice of low-rolling-resistance summer touring tires (same as the optional tire for the Toyota Prius, as many have pointed out), but the Michelin Primacy HPs provided decent grip in the cool to mild temps of our drive, but not too much grip, if you catch my drift. The good news is, if you're planning for timed, closed-loop laps, you can fit a full set of grippier meats in the back with the seats down. No more tire trailer for you.
The BRZ is one of the most rewarding cars — in any price point — to drive on tight canyon roads. With traction control turned down (or switched off), the thing transitions from full grip to slide progressively and controllably, allowing for courageous throttle use mid-corner. Electric power steering is here to stay, but the BRZ's system is quick and accurate and never feels distant, and provides loads of fun in close quarters. Overall, it's got the best steering feel of any current car that's not a Porsche. Five stability control modes? Overkill. It needs two, max — on and off.
To be honest, the automatic option isn't entirely unfun, and in sport mode the software blips the throttle to match downshifts, and provides decent control of gearing (who needs more than 2nd and 3rd anyway?). But it goes without saying that not choosing the manual is like going to Naples for a Dominos Pizza.
I probably should have spent more time playing around with to the 8-speaker audio system, and less time pummeling French B-roads. My driving partner's iPhone was hooked up (so it has a USB port), but I'm not sure the music was on. Oh wait, I think I remember hearing New Order, but that may have been from a passing Citroen C4. And Bluetooth, yes, Bluetooth. All the things.
It may be a cop-out, but the BRZ is the ultimate toy for the track-day or autocross rat. The rear area has been designed to hold four extra wheels and tires, a tool kit and a helmet, and the instrument panel's been designed with clearance for a roll bar. Still, the nav system's standard on the base (Premium) package. Around two grand (for Limited) buys grippy Alcantara-like seat trim, a spoiler, whose design reminded me of the jet age, and other details. But if you're looking for the latest gadgetry, or trick bits of electronic, look elsewhere.
At an estimated $25,000 base price, the BRZ is a bargain by nature of its unique positioning in the market — there's nothing else that's as much fun to drive — and is so focused on driving primarily for fun — for the money. Oh wait, that's not true. There's a Scion version that's very close to its equal. Great news! Value points off (but three cheers, otherwise) for recommending 93 octane to feed that 12.5:1 compression ratio. Northeasterners, factor in the cost of a set of cold-weather tires.