I knew I didn't have long with the Subaru BRZ, a morning at most. So I got up early and pointed north to the best backroads I know.
I've been going up past Fahnestock State Park for years. Sometimes I'd drive back full of a sense of achievement, winding dirt and crumbling paved roads in my wake. Some times I would ride back on a train, my car on a stretcher.
Actually, I've been driving on the same damn stretch of road for years now, and I decided it was time to search for somewhere new in the area. After the hour-long highway jaunt to the parklands, I turned right where I normally turn left. I was going to get lost, and I was going to find a new favorite byway.
It took a while. I looped around some lake that was lined with driveways, got routed into some tiny town, and decided I would just head home having not found anything spectacular.
But I decided to take a different way back (partially because this Subaru's GPS was in a particularly confusing north-is-not-the-top-of-the-map layout) and I found it.
The start was a low-level bridge spanning a little reservoir, barely more than a lane wide. So few cars went down this way, I parked crossways and stopped for pictures without pissing anybody off.
And from the reservoir the road climbed up, twisting. It wasn't even the curves that stuck out to me, it was the heaves. Big rises up and and down, chopping up every little deserted straightaway.
There were a few stretches where the road surface was new, but most of the pavement cracked and pebbled away at the edges, dissolving into gutters on one side and falling down a slope on the other.
I stopped at an intersection scattered with gravel. The turnoff was marked in black on the GPS, designated with a park service sign out the window. It turned out to be an uphill climb to a trailhead, empty and beautiful. I couldn't go fast on it, the visibility was too bad, particularly down at the bottom where reeds came right up to the edge of the road. It was like driving in a canyon.
I turned around at the trailhead and rejoined the road I'd found before. Then it got too slow, also. Too many driveways. And that was a good thing, because I came over one blind crest and the road just disappeared. Sky blue where there should have been asphalt grey.
If it was a rally stage, it'd be marked as a jump. That morning I was just glad I was staying sane, not driving past what I could see. A scenic drive, not a road-scorching tear.
That's the point of the BRZ, isn't it? To be able to have fun without breaking the speed limit, either the one set by law or the one set by common sense.
Well, the BRZ wasn't exactly the car I had expected it to be. And by that I mean that everything I thought would be perfect... wasn't.
I mean, I'd heard the complaints about the power. The snide comments about a car you have to do an engine swap on from the showroom floor.
Honestly, the power wasn't an issue. The car had no trouble sitting at a 70-odd mile an hour cruise, and seemed uncomfortably eager to blat up to 90. It's a car that you have to hold back to keep your license. Even on country two lanes, it still has a tendency to walk itself up to uncomfortably high speeds. Again, it's a car that requires restraint from your right foot.
I didn't even want the exhaust louder. When you're out in the middle of nowhere at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, you don't want to be waking everyone up.
But I did want a bit more character. The boxer burble I had dreamed of was nowhere to be found.
Worse than that, the car wasn't as playful as I'd hoped. I don't know how else to put it, but it was kind of... remote. The steering gave a fair sense of what the front wheels were doing, but the road always felt a bit ironed out. There wasn't that bristling, shimmying feedback you get in the best sports cars.
In a really communicative car, there's a particular sensation you get when you start approaching the limit. It's not so much that the tail steps out or the nose washes wide, but that the whole car rotates around you. The car gets up on its toes, and you can play with the balance front and rear.
The BRZ should have done that. Instead, it just stayed planted, sturdy, tied down.
That's the real character of the BRZ: It's daddy's first sports car. The little seats in the back, big enough to fit a child seat and not much else. The safe and secure roadholding. The quiet exhaust. It's a car that's easy to justify buying and easy to keep out of trouble with little experience.
The first things I would do is get the car more alert, more nervous, more darty. I'd try and get more warble out of the exhaust. An alignment, new tires, new components in the steering column, whatever. I would do everything to make it harder to drive, less relaxing on a daily basis, worse.
What's strange is that even without all of that, I still liked the car.
There are lots of cars that are objectively good. Cars that grip and roar and slide and do every wonderful thing you could imagine. And good as these cars may be, they don't all possess a certain something. The kind of car that stays on your mind. Ones that feel alive.
The BRZ has that. I don't care that the car pushes wide on my favorite turns. I don't mind that it has a spoiler off of a 1990s Grand Am. I don't mind that this 'Series Blue' model has ugly blue leather on the steering wheel and sideskirts off of some old Eclipse.
There's a kernel of wonderfulness in the BRZ. On your first impression, it's a kind of flat sporty coupe that you imagine Pontiac building. You find yourself driving home, though, not wanting to hand the keys over. You want to be exploring and improving and tuning.
It gets under your skin, the BRZ. That's what makes it, in spite of everything, a good car. They're rare these days.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove