With all the hype surrounding the BRZ, you'd almost be forgiven for thinking Subaru has never offered a car that appealed to enthusiasts before. While Subaru cars may be most closely associated with Whole Foods and dog parks to the average person, the brand is widely known for its rally heritage and WRX STI model among driving enthusiasts. Sandon Voelker, our videographer and WRX STI owner, borrowed our BRZ for a weekend to see how the rear-wheel drive sports car felt in comparison to his all-wheel drive turbocharged hatchback.
Before we get into Sandon's detailed observations, it's important to note he's a videographer and an avid bicyclist - he always has his car packed with video cameras, bikes, or both. He is absolutely convinced no other car on the market could beat the STI for his specific needs: cargo capacity, above average performance, and a sticker price under $50k. Even if the BRZ was on sale last year when he bought an STI, he wouldn't have seriously considered buying one.
Sandon instantly noticed the BRZ's more supportive seats once he sat behind the wheel, which is admittedly covered in lower quality materials than his STI's steering wheel. He is asking his dealer if the BRZ seats will fit his car because: "performance wise, the BRZ seats are miles ahead of the STI's. I never slid into the door when going around a turn." Sandon prefers the pedal placement in the STI because heel-toe shifts are much more natural, but he was able to adjust to the BRZ's position with "deliberate preemptive foot placement." Unfortunately that also meant spending more time with Subaru's less-than-desirable touchscreen infotainment system, which can't hold a candle to the standard buttons and knobs that control the stereo in his STI.
When it comes to design, the two cars are worlds apart due to their different body styles and Sandon admitted his bias right away: "Not everyone loves wagons like I do." He digs the look of the BRZ and complimented everything from the moderately aggressive stance to the roofline, although he'd like a bit more bulge in the fenders, especially when compared to an STI. Unfortunately the clean lines and tiny footprint of the BRZ don't leave enough room inside the car for a bicycle or two and the roofline that looks so good doesn't offer factory mounting points for a roof rack like the STI's. Well, at least his video equipment fit inside with the rear seat folded flat. Voelker sees his hatchback in a new light: "My STI is kind of a Sport Utility Vehicle in comparison."
Of course interior quality and styling are minor considerations for either the STI or BRZ. Sandon spent lots of time driving the two cars over the same loops to explore the differences in their character. It doesn't take long to determine southeastern Michigan's roads favor the STI's more potent engine and more aggressive summer tires. Voelker still had fun in the BRZ, for which he credits the trifecta of "great chassis setup, the appropriate amount of power, and those low rolling resistance tires." That's right, the same tires that have been chastised by other drivers get praise here. Sandon goes so far as to say he thinks stickier tires would make the BRZ "downright boring" because they would no longer match the amount of power the engine produces.
As far as the rumored turbocharged BRZ goes, Sandon isn't sold on the prospect: "a sudden surge in power (once the turbo provides boost) would likely be more difficult to balance with a rear-wheel drive car." In Sandon's eyes the very balanced BRZ makes for a better track toy than his STI, but he prefers the STI for daily driving because it offers all-wheel drive for Michigan's snowy winters and the cargo capacity he needs to move bikes and video equipment.
We'll be living with our BRZ as a daily driver for the remainder of our Four Seasons test, so our next move is likely choosing a set of winter tires with help from our friends at the Tire Rack to prepare for the possibility of an early snowfall. Be sure to check back next month to find out which snow tires we are testing and how they change the BRZ's demeanor.