2013 Subaru BRZ: The Jalopnik Review

Illustration for article titled 2013 Subaru BRZ: The Jalopnik Review
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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.

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(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.

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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.

Illustration for article titled 2013 Subaru BRZ: The Jalopnik Review

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.

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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.

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EXTERIOR (7/10)

Illustration for article titled 2013 Subaru BRZ: The Jalopnik Review
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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.

INTERIOR (8/10)

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.

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ACCELERATION (6/10)

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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.

BRAKING (9/10)

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.

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RIDE (7/10)

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.

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  • Engine: 2.0-liter boxer four, direct and port fuel injection
  • Power: 200 HP @ 7,000 rpm / 151 LB-FT @ 6,400 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode (opt.)
  • 0-60 Time: ~7 Seconds
  • Top Speed: ~140 MPH
  • Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
  • Curb Weight: 2,762 lbs.
  • Seating: 2+2
  • MPG: 22 City / 30 HWY (man.) 25 city / 34 HWY (auto.)
  • MSRP: ~$25,000 (est.)

HANDLING (9/10)

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.

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GEARBOX (8/10)

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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.

AUDIO (7/10)

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.

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TOYS (7/10)

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.

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VALUE (8/10)

Illustration for article titled 2013 Subaru BRZ: The Jalopnik Review
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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.

76/100

EXTERIOR (7/10)

INTERIOR (8/10)

ACCELERATION (6/10)

BRAKING (9/10)

RIDE (7/10)

HANDLING (9/10)

GEARBOX (8/10)

AUDIO (7/10)

TOYS (7/10)

VALUE (8/10)

Subaru BRZ

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DISCUSSION

Desu-San-Desu

I'm reposting this from a few weeks ago, when I test-drove an FR-S, as I'd like to throw in my two cents about the BRZ/FR-S (summary: it's glorious). Major TL;DR warning for those of you with modernized attention spans. Also, I'm god-awful at proof-reading and editing my own stuff, so please be patient with any random typos or errors that are present.

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My life changed today.

I am not exaggerating.

I had an hour left in the work day, when I got bored and decided to see if the local Toyota dealership had an FR-S on the lot (the nearest Subaru dealership is about 30 minutes away). I didn’t expect there to be one, but much to my surprise their website listed them as having two on the lot; one manual and one automatic.

Score!

So when it came time to leave work, my supervisor looked up just in time to see the dust settling in the wake of my plaid-velocity exit. I resolved to just drive to the dealership and look, only look, and see if it looked better, worse, or the same in person. Spoiler alert: it looks better. Way better. As I pulled into the lot, the requisite suit-tie-smile salesman came out to my Audi and waved me over. Yes, he actually waved me over. I came to a stop and he introduced himself and asked how he could help me.

"I saw on your website that you had an FR-S on the lot," I said, making no move to leave my own vehicle. At my words, comprehension dawned on his face and he grinned. He told me that why yes, they had two on the lot in fact and asked me to go ahead and pull on in while he got the keys. I decided to oblige and let this play out, fully expecting to not get anything more than a tour and a poke around on the inside before politely being asked to leave my information and head on home, you punk kid.

In fact, never once did the mention of the test drive leave my mouth. I’d sold cars; I knew the triggers and warning signs they use to gauge and judge customers early on in the process. So I parked my Audi and headed on over to the pair of coupes. They looked identical; each of them bright red and low. So incredibly low to the ground it was quite truthfully mind-boggling. The pictures do not even begin to convey how compact and low-slung the FR-S is.

I got lucky and guessed which one was the manual and was doing a quick look-over when the salesperson returned. We went through the typical walk-around, much of which was spent with me doing most of the talking about the car, even telling him a few small details he wasn’t aware of. He caught on pretty quick that I was an enthusiast and knew as much, if not more, about the car than he.

A couple things that blew my mind were the amount of room in the engine bay and just how impossibly low the boxer engine sits in the engine bay. It really catches you off guard the first time you open the hood and see it. There’s also a ton of small details that really shows just how much Subaru and Toyota thought about the enthusiasts when designing the car. The top-mount oil filter, the extra prop-rod hole to hold the hood vertically for engine pulls, the wire pass-through to the dash, even the extra-tall tower brace bolts for aftermarket anti-roll bars; it all just spoke of the knowledge that the designers had us gearheads in mind when designing and engineering the vehicle.

I was also quick to point out that I wasn’t looking to purchase any time within the year. He didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he just shrugged and said with a laugh, "That’s fine. Any excuse for me to spend more time in this," before opening up the door and motioning me to take a seat, in a manner very reminiscent of Chris Hanson, only less annoying and creepy.

Sitting down, I could not get over how driver-centric the interior is. Once you adjust the seat to your liking (I have large thighs, so I like a low seat and high steering wheel) everything is optimally positioned. The gauges, the shifter, the emergency brake; even the door handle and controls. It is all laid out to be within easy reach at all times. The seats were firm, but comfortable, with excellent support and side-bolstering to keep you in place during lively cornering.

And the visibility, oh the visibility. The blind spots are minimal once you position the mirrors correctly, and the view out the sides and front are open and unimpeded. In fact, the hood is so low that if it wasn’t for the serpentine fender bulges, you would not be able to see the hood whatsoever. That, coupled with the ‘apex’ mirrors left in place when the engineers opted to mount the side mirrors to the doors, means that you have an excellent field of view when driving and aiming for the next apex. However, the very low seating positions means that every little roadside bush might as well be the Great Wall of China when it comes time to pull out into traffic.

Luckily I had plenty of headroom to peek up and over the bushes, landscaping walls, and random bums at intersections. In fact, the interior was by and far much roomier than I anticipated and did not feel at all cramped and confining. The exception to this is the back seats, which are indeed as cramped and useless as you have heard. They’re best reserved for groceries, racing equipment, backpacks, and Tyrion Lannister’s stunt double.

I was more than happy to just sit in the car and bask in the purpose-built glory of it, but then the sales guy handed me the keys and said "Let’s go for a spin."

I just stared at him, then at the keys, then back at him. I’m a 25 year old kid in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and a pair of beat up old Puma sneakers, who has flat-out stated that he’s not able to buy the car. But he was sincere about letting me drive it. I like to think he was feeling altruistic and wanted to make one cash-strapped enthusiast’s day before returning to the drudgery that is mid-recession car sales. Either way, I depressed the clutch and brake and turned the key and grinned widely as I heard the engine rev up. It’s not a loud engine. It’s not throaty or violent or even all that sporty sounding, but it sounds unmistakably like a boxer and that’s easily enough to tighten my trousers.

So we buckled up and pulled out of the space. I was hesitant; gentle with the throttle and slow in letting out the clutch. Every stick-shifted car is a bit different, with its own little quirks and personality traits and they all take a little getting used to, especially when you’ve spent the past year driving a 20-year old Audi. The FR-S was so much more responsive and tightly wound than my old Audi, with near-immediate pedal response on both the brakes and throttle, with a firm, but gradual clutch that’s surprisingly forgiving.

Pulling up to the main drag, I had my first experience with a 12-story tall bush. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It was only about 2 feet high, but it was easily tall enough to make sure I couldn’t see oncoming traffic. Time to test the headroom. Yep, there’s plenty of it and the coast was clear. So I revved it up a little and let the clutch out. With a chirp of the tires and a "Ooh!" escaping my lips, we turned right onto the main drag, heading towards the highway.

The salesman suggested I head up to said highway and we take a loop. I politely inquired if I could take a left at the Wal-Mart before the highway.

"I know a road. I used to live on it and it’s more…erm…in line with what this car was designed for."

He just grinned and motioned me onward, nodding his assent.

So we headed up for a mile or two, cycling through the gears more than I needed to, in order to familiarize myself with the (extremely) short throw and the closely spaced shift gates. The shifter is quite narrowly laid out, so when you first drive it, you have to consciously think about where your hand is going until you become more comfortable with the layout and quit worrying about skipping a gear and dropping down from 4th to 2nd. Once you get the hang of it, though, kicking the clutch and banging through the gears becomes second nature.

I personally was more than pleased with the gearing and the throttle response in traffic. I’ve never been all that hung-up on horsepower figures, instead focusing on driving feel and handling, and the FR-S easily has enough power for me to have plenty of fun and keep a grin on my face. It is true that it is lacking in low-end torque, but it revs so readily and is so eager to be kept in the higher RPM range that you really don’t mind. This car truly does want you to keep the pedal down. Keeping it in third and spurting in and out of gaps in traffic is entirely more of a joy than it has any right to be.

Once we turned left at the Wal-Mart previously mentioned and headed out into twisty, back mountain roads on the edge of town, the car really came alive. I was still being pretty tentative with it, but the salesman was just smiling and encouraged me to give it a bit more of the boot. So I did. And I started grinning too.

You learn quickly to keep the revs around 4,000rpm, which is where you get the most throttle response and where the torque is most plentiful. This allows speed to build quick, while lift-off engine braking is gradual and predictable enough to assist in entering corners off the brakes. Should you deign to use them, though, the pedals are perfectly spaced for left-foot braking and heel-toe shifts; even including a gas pedal that is slightly lower than the brake pedal so that angling your foot sideways blips the throttle just as the brakes begin to grab in earnest.

Now that is attention to detail and keeping the driver in mind. In a car that starts at $25,000.

As the road got twistier and I got more confident (both in the car and the salesman’s laissez-faire attitude about aggressive driving), I began to really test the handling and dynamics of the FR-S. The first thing that you notice is the steering: it is utterly superb. It is extremely responsive, accurate, and communicative, with spot-on weight and clear feedback of the actions of the tires and suspension, allowing you to place the tires with sniper-level precision, corner after corner. I was outright flabbergasted at the fact that it’s driven by an electric-assisted power steering pump. I have felt belt-driven hydraulic systems in cars three times the price of the FR-S that didn’t feel this good.

It’s a good thing the steering is so good, as I began to really wring out the tires in the corners (I would not have been nearly so aggressive if I hadn’t lived on this road for quite a portion of my life) like I was mad at them for stealing my girlfriend. I know some people bemoan the narrower, less-sticky tires than many other sports cars have, but after a few corners, I began to understand exactly where Subaru and Toyota were coming from when deciding on repurposing the Prius’ tires.

While other cars could have been able to take that road at and beyond the abilities of the driver without nary a tire chirp, the FR-S’s tires begin to lose grip in a steady, predictable manner right at the point when I began to approach my own levels of comfort and confidence, allowing me to make them wail without going so fast as to be utterly dangerous, including easily getting the back end to kick out on command with a little lift-and-jab of the throttle on corner exit.

Even if you’re a little too heavy on the throttle, the fantastic brakes are strong, predictable, and surprisingly resistant to brake fade. I laid heavy on them more than once, trail-braking and left-foot braking through more than a few corners as well as leaning on them at known braking zones and they never once showed any sign of fade or overheating. Brakes this good really go a long way in inspiring confidence in the driver and in the abilities of the car.

It’s in the twisty and winding roads that the clutch and shifter really shine, as well. The gear shifts are crisp and accurate, eliciting a nice little power-lurch when quick-shifting in order to keep the revs up, while providing enough engine braking and mid-range torque to downshift into corners predictably and confidently. Heel-toe shifts are natural and intuitive, allowing the driver to concentrate on the road ahead instead of focusing too much on where their foot is in relation to the pedals.

In fact, the gearing and pedals are so good that I was able to keep it in 3rd gear for the bulk of the back roads, freeing up my left foot for brake duties while allowing my throttle foot to keep the engine in the optimum range of the powerband. This is definitely a quick, squirt-and-spurt car versus a top-end straight-line pony like the Mustang, but when the corners begin stacking up and the apexes come rapidly, you forget about the lack of horsepower entirely, reveling instead in the beautiful balance and harmony of the machine at hand. The FR-S truly does become an extension of your body when in the environment it was intended for.

Subaru’s engineers really back up the new ‘Confidence in Motion’ tagline of the brand. I’m incredibly happy that Toyota let them do the bulk of the engineering on such a pivotal new car.

It all adds up to great fun and it makes you feel like you’re easily going 10-15 miles per hour faster than you really are. It may not be the fastest car down the mountain, but I guarantee you that it will be the one that elicits the biggest grins the entire way down. I’m so confident in this, that I’ll even go ahead and put it out there:

I think this car is more fun than the Miata.

There, I said it. Just let that sink it.

In fact, this car is so good, so perfectly tuned for the driver experience, and so utterly connected to both the driver and the road, that my heart was pounding the entire time, even though I’d driven that road hundreds of times less than a year ago. Everything was flawlessly communicated. You’re completely aware of what the suspension is doing at all times, how much grip you have left in the tires, how the car is balanced in terms of understeer and oversteer (the FR-S is tuned more for the latter, which makes it more fun on the street, but a little less confidence-inspiring at the limit), and just how much throttle response you have in the selected gear, that you experience an almost telepathic connection to the car and the road being driven.

In that FR-S, all it takes is one good corner to make you feel like you are one with the machine.

In fact, the only time I’ve ever felt more connected to my vehicle and the road was when I’ve ridden on a motorcycle. The sense of harmony and intuition the FR-S provides is just otherworldly; making even boring commutes both a thrilling delight and a grin-inducing way to test one’s own skills as a driver. I only got to drive the FR-S for about 20 minutes, but in that short time, I fell undeniably and irrevocably in love with the automotive achievement that Toyota and Subaru have wrought.

I am utterly smitten with this car.

It’s all I can think about, even now. I can’t help but start grinning at the slightest thought of being behind the wheel. I’ve had girlfriends that didn’t make me feel this love-struck (sorry Michelle, but even ‘Aye papi!’ doesn’t compare with the eager rumble of a 200 horsepower naturally aspirated flat-four). I honestly can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop lusting after it, can’t stop wanting just 5 more minutes behind the wheel.

This car absolutely is sex on wheels.

I’m not even kidding. When we got back from the test drive, I literally had to have a cigarette. As for the sales guy, he’d been grinning like a mad fool the entire time, egging me on, and was still grinning when we pulled back into the lot and parked the car. As we sat that there, listening to the engine tick down and rolling the windows up, he looked over to me, grinning ear to ear, and said,

"That is the best test drive I’ve ever been on."

Me too, man.

Me too.