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Dismal Subaru BRZ Sales Make Another Significant Decline

Illustration for article titled Dismal Subaru BRZ Sales Make Another Significant Decline
Photo: Andrew Collins

Subaru sold 40 percent fewer BRZs in the U.S. in 2019 compared to 2018, and December sales were down 62.5 percent from a year ago. In the BRZ/86 cars’ first few years, they were each selling about 8,500 units a year in the U.S. but Subaru only sold 2,334 last year.

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Two of Subaru’s other cars also saw a notable dip, with Impreza and Legacy sales dropping by 13 percent and 12 percent respectively. You might think that this is because people aren’t buying Subarus, but the company’s overall sales were up almost three percent. What are people buying if not cars? I think you know the answer to this.

Subaru SUVs were up in sales, with the Ascent, Forester, and Outback all selling more than last year.

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Are the buyers all going from BRZ to SUV? While it costs almost twice as much, the Supra gets compared to the BRZ a lot, and its first month of sales beat the combined BRZ and 86 sales, so that may account for some of the attrition. Buyers are definitely not going to the Nissan 370Z, those sales were down over 30 percent. Likely it’s just an older car and not getting the rare late-in-life sales bump seen by cars like the Dodge Challenger.

Toyota Supra chief engineer Tetsuya Tada has said that there is a new 86 development team and that the next car will be a better car to drive than the Supra. There is a report that the next 86/BRZ will move from the modified Impreza architecture to Toyota’s TNGA platform. While people lament the current car’s low power, the successor could be interesting.

Matt Brown is an automotive engineer, writer, and builder of unconventional things. Mostly vehicles.

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DISCUSSION

Most of the interweb critics have never owned or even driven a BRZ. The internet brings out a lot of armchair experts and bench racers. The issue with the BRZ is that people expect it to have Corvette power. It’s not that kind of car. Think of it as a hardtop Miata. Because that’s what it is.

If you grew up with the classic sports cars of the 60’s and 70’s, MBG, Triumph, Opel GT, Fiat 124, Sunbeam Alpine, first generation RX-7, etc., then you’d see how the BRZ captures the soul and fun of those old-tyme sports cars.

The BRZ is not a “numbers” car. If you want to brag about 0-60 or quarter mile times at the gym or after work at the bar, it’s not for you. It’s for people who care about sheer driving fun, about getting goose bumps from a car being hard-wired straight into your central nervous system, of feeling your hands directly connected to the road in a way that few other current production new cars can match. In other words, a Miata with a roof and more interior space.

It would be really nice to have another 50-ish hp and 50-ish ft-lb of torque. The reason it doesn’t is because if it did, it would make the Supra moot. Other than a handful of “Supra” gotta-have-its, who would buy it over a more powerful BRZ/86 (same reason the Cayman doesn’t get a 911 engine)? But the BRZ is already much faster and more capable than most of the 60’s/70’s sports cars ever were. Most of the 4-cylinder ‘sports cars’ at the time had around 100 hp. 205 hp was an impossible dream that no one even talked about. A souped-up ‘race’ engine might put out 125-150 hp. 205 hp was unimaginable back then, even with the primitive turbochargers of the day.

Yes, it doesn’t have a mountain of torque. So what? The S2000, Miata, and Formula 1 cars aren’t known for being able to pull tree stumps out at idle either, and few people complain about them not being fun to drive. In the BRZ, you have to actually know how to use a clutch pedal and shift lever.

It just plain fun to drive. Mazda uses the phrase ‘jinba ittai’, ‘horse and rider as one’, to describe the Miata. The Miata is a great car, but I think it applies just as much to the BRZ. The 370Z is another car that also captures the elemental, pure, analog feel of classic sports cars – it’s a new ‘old’ car, with a warranty. Just don’t waste money on the obsolete ‘infotainment’ system in the 370Z. What are you buying a sports car for anyway? An aftermarket double-DIN unit will give you all the colorful graphic interface you could want.

Instead of griping about how ‘underpowered’ the BRZ is, I would think real gearheads would recognize it for what it is - a gift from Subaru and Toyota. For the few thousand a year that they sell, they can’t be making much money on it.

So, to all those armchair experts out there who say they want a pure, simple, lightweight, naturally aspirated, RWD, manual transmission sports car that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, I suggest, go out and actually drive a BRZ or 86 while you can. Someone at Toyota might decide that there’s not enough of a business case to be made for a manual transmission with the next-generation BRZ/86 (like they did with the Supra). Otherwise, for those that don’t buy a BRZ/86, maybe they should just stop complaining when there aren’t any cars like it around.