This is the new 2012 Subaru BRZ coupe. Developed in conjunction with Toyota (which will sell its version as the GT86, and as the Scion FR-S in the USA) it’s a rear-wheel drive sports car that does things a little differently…
Rather than compensating for a lardy kerbweight with a powerful engine, and then fitting fat tyres to cope with the extra power, Subaru (and Toyota, though it’s the former that has done all the development and engineering work) has gone back to basics and made this car as light as possible, and made the centre of gravity as low as possible. Which means it doesn’t even have the 200bhp that any self-respecting hot hatch must possess these days. Is it any good? And is it the right decision?
Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Subaru BRZ sports car.
Tell me more about the new 2012 Subaru BRZ?
The clue is in the name: BRZ. The ‘B’ stands for boxer engine, the ‘R’ for rear-wheel drive, and the ‘Z’ for zenith. That last letter might be a tad presumptuous, but the promise of B and R mean the BRZ might well deliver. The boxer engine is compact, light, and most importantly the horizontally opposed cylinders guarantee a very low centre of gravity for the 2.0-litre engine. And the boxer engine is mounted in a compact (at a mere 1285mm tall it’s 19mm lower than a Porsche Cayman) and light (1239kg) car. And drive is sent to the rear wheels, via a six-speed manual gearbox (or a six-speed auto if you must) and a Torsen differential.
Enough to get you excited, but there’s more… The 2.0-litre flat-four is naturally aspirated for a crisper throttle response, and it sit as low in the chassis as possible (with two people on board the centre of gravity is just 460mm high). The biggest wheels and tyres you can order are 17in alloys wrapped in 215/45 R17 Michelin rubber. And if you’re really keen, in 12 months' time Subaru will sell a de-contented version ripe for tuning – it’ll do without air-con, a radio, the Torsen differential, every sort of automated or electric goody, and come on 205/55 R16 tyres.
Bring it on!
What's the Scooby BRZ like to drive?
From the moment the boxer engine gruffly thrums into life the BRZ feels like a Subaru, and as you slot first (in the tad notchy gearbox) and feel the vibrations through the ‘stick that impression is only increased. That engine note always remains on the rough side, and it’s only above 4000-5000rpm that it becomes more layered, louder and appealing.
The upper reaches of the rev range are where you head to really get the BRZ going. Pootle around and you’ll wonder what the appeal is, but crank it up and you’ll love it. The limits are relatively low so the tyres are soon squealing without the need to travel at silly speeds.
The BRZ is quick and keen to change direction, nicely balanced, and while the ride is no doubt firm on bumpier roads, the pay-off is excellent body control.
For such a lightweight car the steering is actually surprisingly heavy, weighting up especially after the first few degrees of turn as the electric system plays its part. Like the latest Porsche 911 that nth degree of feel doesn’t exist, but it’s sharp and quick and so good that any negatives never register while you’re driving.
Anything else I need to know about the new BRZ?
In iconic WR blue mica paint it looks every inch a Subaru, but the reality is that the styling was all done by Toyota, and without that legendary hue it’s just a tidy (if generic) little sports car. Subaru officials know this, admit this officially, and then just smile and ask if you enjoyed driving it… Subaru’s STi tuning division is working on a set of more aggressive exterior mods, plus suspension and exhausts upgrades, but it sounds like they’ll be limited to the Japanese domestic market.
As for the Subaru BRZ's interior, you’d better enjoy driving it because anyone tempted away from a VW Scirocco won’t be impressed. The part-leather/part-Alcantara bucket seat clamps you superbly, the gearstick and small steering wheel are close at hand, but the radio and air-con controls look cheap, none of the plastics are a match for a VW product, and the frameless doors affect motorway refinement.
This is a trad Subaru interior, then. You can level the same criticism at a Forester or Legacy. Again, Subaru knows this, and knows it spent its cash on the engineering. If you’re worried about that sort of stuff, then just accept that the Subaru BRZ isn’t the sort of car for you.
We need more time in the BRZ (our initial test drive was somewhat limited) before we award it the full five stars, but if you’re prepared to make the compromises on cabin quality, then what the BRZ offers in exchange is rather wonderful.