Subaru BRZ review: Bringing the fun back

Stripping the sports car down to the basics for people who enjoy a good drive

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Subaru Australia BRZ
  • Subaru Australia BRZ
  • Subaru Australia BRZ
  • Subaru Australia BRZ
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Fun, high-revving engine
  • Sports car good looks
  • Fantastic noise
  • Well priced
  • Commendable fuel economy

Cons

  • Cramped back seats
  • Stiff ride

Would you buy this?

Subaru’s BRZ is a modern twist on the classic sports car. The body is low and long, it has a naturally aspirated engine and the power goes to the rear wheels. This is a car for people who want to enjoy driving, and it is a car most can afford.

Open the door and you’ll be greeted by an interior free from distractions. The simplistic radio is borrowed from a Toyota Corolla, and although the car comes kitted with Bluetooth, it is a primitive installation that works only for phone calls. There’s no reverse parking camera or sensors. Luxuries are few and far between, and the BRZ is all the better for it.

Ditching superfluous electronics makes it possible to focus on driving. The ethos behind this Subaru and Toyota project is to make you, the driver, an integral part of the machine.

No paddles rest on the sports steering wheel. Changing gears is done by an old-school six speed manual. The stick has a short throw and tiny vibrations channel through it to your hands. It quivers in neutral. A manual gearbox may not be the fastest way to change gears — performance brands may consider it archaic even — but it is by far the most involving.

Long gear ratios make the trip from zero to a hundred a downright joy. The exhaust note climbs in pitch with every thousand revs, growing more sonorous as it passes three-thousand, four-thousand, then five-, six- and finally seven-thousand. As the pitch increases, so too does the suspense and exhilaration. A gear indicator glows orange ahead of the 7400 redline, and then, with a hit of the light performance clutch comes a quick change.

All of this excitement happens at accessible 60, 80 or 100 kilometre-per-hour speeds. The manual gets to a hundred in 7.6 seconds with a sense of drama. Other cars are faster, but their thrills lay beyond legal speed limits.

Subaru worked with Toyota to bring back the great sports car. The same car has been branded by Subaru as the BRZ, and by Toyota as the 86, with the only differences being some cosmetic touches to the front and tweaks to the suspension.
Subaru worked with Toyota to bring back the great sports car. The same car has been branded by Subaru as the BRZ, and by Toyota as the 86, with the only differences being some cosmetic touches to the front and tweaks to the suspension.

The beauty of the BRZ is its power can be enjoyed. The 2-litre, 4-cylinder boxer engine is lifted from Subaru’s performance stable. It’ll send 147kw to the rear wheels, and although more power still could’ve been milked by adding a turbo, the engine never leaves you wanting — not for speed, noise or thrills.

Not kitting the engine with a turbo means it does without lag. Another bonus is the engine note, which sounds utterly guttural beyond 2500rpm. The climbing needle taunts you to keep the throttle down. It is visceral in tone, the by-product of a high-revving internal combustion engine, free from the perverting whine of a spooling turbo.

Chuck the BRZ into the corners and it’ll hold its own. The front-to-rear weight distribution is 53-to-47. The tyres — hand me downs from Toyota’s Prius range — might underwhelm on paper, but they proportionately match every other aspect of the BRZ.

Corners tell that the tiny details add up: the naturally aspirated engine, the light 1238 kg weight, the taut suspension, the low ride height, the manual transmission, the Michelin tyres, the bare dash, the fact the boot lacks a lining — all of it makes undeniable sense when the BRZ is shown a bend. No part of this car has been picked in isolation; rather, each individual component fits in with every other, like one piece of an elaborate puzzle.

Driving civilised is a matter of shifting into a higher gear, which is one way to evade the seductive engine notes. Pop it in fifth and, for the most part, it becomes a grand tourer. We drove a thousand kilometres within the week and the BRZ averaged 8.8-litres of fuel per every 100 kilometres. The method behind the choice of tyres shines through as they aid fuel economy as well as they do corners. The weight of the clutch is comfortable, and although the ride is bumpy, it’s manageable enough to make the BRZ’s sporty persona worthwhile.

Perfect sports cars aren’t perfect on civic roads. The BRZ’s back seats are more a theoretical possibility and will cause discomfort to anyone with feet or lower limbs. Then there’s the blind spot, which can’t be seen by anyone nudging 6-foot on the driver’s side. These few dark colours aren't nearly enough to spoil the overall picture. Not even close.

Once upon a time people would go on drives for the sake of it. Now the task is resigned to the gaps in the day where necessity dictates we go from A to B. Somewhere along the way a great pastime was rendered a chore.

Subaru’s BRZ brings the fun back. You’ll want to go on long, pointless cruises purely for the joy of going on a long, pointless cruise. This is a car that appeals to the adolescent inside of you, with its lively engine and gracious poise, and yet it doesn’t neglect the responsible adult, with a low price, mileage that is commendable and tyres that are inexpensive.

At the end of the day, when you pull the BRZ into the driveway and make the long walk to the front door, just before taking a step inside, you’ll look back.

Subaru BRZ slideshow (20 photos)

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Read more on these topics: boxer engine, Toyota 86, Toyota, sports car, BRZ, Subaru
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