Affordable, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive sports cars don't come along every day -- or even every decade. So the arrival of the Subaru BRZ (and its Scion FR-S twin) was keenly anticipated. Staffers were all but rubbing their hands together at the notion of a Four Seasons test, which began when a galaxy blue silica BRZ pulled up outside our office last summer.
Hewing to the pure sports car idea, we stuck with the Premium trim level, forsaking the Limited and its heated leather seats, keyless ignition, automatic climate control, and spoiler. The Premium does come with navigation (a chief point of differentiation between the Subaru and the $1010 cheaper Scion), Bluetooth, and HID headlamps. Naturally, we skipped the optional automatic transmission ($1100) in favor of the six-speed manual.
We couldn't wait to get the BRZ onto the track. Road test editor Christopher Nelson was first, heading to western Michigan's GingerMan Raceway, where he found "good steering, a great pedal box, a revvy engine, and a fantastic suspension." The BRZ did suffer some brake fade, but Nelson pronounced our new toy "otherwise superb."
Next came an SCCA ProSolo autocross, for which we decided to gear up with some dedicated track rubber. After consulting with Tire Rack, we ordered a set of Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec tires (the first of three special tires we would try), which Tire Rack shaved down to 6/32-inch tread for maximum dry-tarmac traction while preserving some measure of wet-weather capability. Enthusiast forums suggested running 1.2 degrees of negative suspension camber at all four corners, which required new camber bolts (available from Subaru). The ProSolo event left us hungry for more, and soon we were back at GingerMan.
"The BRZ's reflexes and its ability to communicate bring out a driver's very best," said associate editor David Zenlea. "When the car does lose traction, there's no drama or sideways encounters with the grass, and that encourages you to drive it even harder. The very predictable power delivery helps, as well." In an era where most performance cars are suffused with computer-controlled helpers, the BRZ is refreshing because, as Zenlea noted, "You really are doing everything yourself."
Senior web editor Phil Floraday described the BRZ as "a riot on the track. There's still some understeer, but the car has a lot more grip with the sticky (and shaved) Dunlops." Floraday also found that with the increased camber "the car rotates a lot more easily."
Like an indecisive fashionista, however, we weren't done trying out new footwear. We next ordered an upsize tire-and-wheel package: Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position tires on eighteen-by-eight-inch wheels. The larger, OZ Racing wheels looked great but took a toll on ride quality. Finally, we tried some ultrasticky, BFGoodrich g-Force R1 track tires. The R-compound rubber made a big difference at GingerMan, chopping six seconds off our lap times.
Don't necessarily dismiss the stock Michelin Primacy HPs, however. They have their own charms. "The stock tires actually increase the fun factor on normal roads because it's so easy to get the tail out," said Zenlea, and another commenter agreed: "I have never had this much oversteering fun at 30 mph -- ever." In the end, Floraday put it best, calling the BRZ "an absolute rock star on the track, no matter the tires. The chassis is good enough to make a tire upgrade worthwhile for drivers looking to turn faster laps, but stickier rubber certainly isn't required to make track time enjoyable."
All of our track time took a toll on the BRZ's brakes, however. We had to replace the pads and resurface the rotors after only 6500 miles. The front pads were worn out again by the 19,000-mile mark. Owners who are going to track their cars will want to consider upgraded pads both for greater durability and to combat brake fade.
For most owners, though, the BRZ isn't just a track toy. Our car spent the vast majority of its 20,513 miles in the ordinary daily slog of errands and commuting. The BRZ's combination of immediate steering, rev-happy engine, and sharp-edged handling proved just as enjoyable in the real world. "I am in awe at how well-rounded this car is," said associate web editor Jake Holmes. Nelson added, "It's as satisfying to drive the BRZ on the street wearing Chucks as it is to drive it on the track wearing Pilotis."
Our corner of the real world includes lots of bad pavement, on which the Subaru's ride was stiff but composed. "It definitely gets tossed around on rough roads," said copy editor Rusty Blackwell, "but I'm not really complaining."
One of the big complaints to greet this car (often voiced by Internet commenters who hadn't even driven it) was that the boxer four's 200 hp isn't enough; the BRZ needs a turbocharger. With peak power coming on at 7000 rpm and the modest torque peak of 151 lb-ft not arriving until 6400 rpm, you have to wring out this engine to get the most from it. Admittedly, doing so does not trigger a symphony of the gods. "It sounds like, well, a Subaru," noted Nelson, "which is to say: not like a sports car."
Most staffers didn't mind. "I can't resist winding the boxer engine up toward its redline in the first two gears," said Holmes, "or rev-matching when downshifting before turns." The BRZ's clutch is easy to modulate, but more than one driver used the word "notchy" to describe the shifter. As to the turbocharger question, some felt that a turbo's sudden surge in power might upset the rear-wheel-drive car's chassis balance. While acknowledging the normally aspirated engine's very linear power delivery, Nelson said, "I do find myself wanting a bit more drama off the line." Deputy editor Joe DeMatio countered that those looking for big power were missing the point. "The joy in driving the BRZ is to wring out every bit of power and performance from the relatively simple yet very athletic chassis and engine," he argued.
The BRZ's modest price was going to force compromise somewhere, and that somewhere is the cabin. The interior is fairly grim, with what Zenlea characterized as "some strange postmodern aesthetic that probably looked good in sketches but doesn't quite translate." Still, the important driver interfaces -- the steering wheel, the shifter, and the pedals -- are all well executed. The seating position is low, but most found the seats supportive and comfortable -- which may surprise current Subaru owners. Videographer Sandon Voelker, for one, loved his Impreza WRX STI but said the BRZ's seats were "miles ahead of the STI's." The rear seats are predictably tiny, but we got passengers up to about middle-school age back there. Hey, better to have the seats than not. Also, the ability to fold down the rear seatbacks allows the small trunk to expand into a good-size cargo hold that can even swallow a set of tires.
Our biggest complaint with the cabin was the horrible touchscreen audio/navigation unit. Poor sound quality, tiny buttons, and a convoluted menu structure were an uncharming combination. It was so bad that we decided to try an aftermarket unit, Pioneer's AppRadio; it had different pros and cons but was overall not much better.
Further delving into the reality of life with the BRZ, we are duty-bound to report the following issues: the nav system would sometimes lose its signal, and the dash developed a rattle (both fixed); a speaker went bad and was replaced; and the taillights filled with condensation and had to be replaced.
Did any of this dim our ardor for the little sport coupe? Not much. The BRZ's combination of virtues is unique. "The Subaru feels like a throwback in its simplicity and purity," said Blackwell. Others agreed, saying that the BRZ picks up the threads of the original Mazda Miata and even the Lotus Elan.
"I'm a sucker for cute little cars," admitted editor-in-chief Jean Jennings, "but cute, little, and slavishly responsive to everything the driver wants? Heaven. That's the BRZ." As DeMatio put it: "I'll take lightness, simplicity, and purity over weight and power any day." That's the BRZ, too.
|OUR TEST RESULTS|
|0-60 mph||7.2 sec|
|0-100 mph||18.4 sec|
|1/4-mile||15.4 sec @ 92 mph|
|45-65 mph passing||3.6 sec|
|Peak acceleration||0.64 g|
|Speed in gears||1) 36; 2) 58; 3) 83; 4) 107; 5) 129; 6) 138 mph|
|60-0 mph braking||123 ft|
|Peak braking||1.20 g|
|3-yr/36,000-mile roadside assistance|
|SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE||7930 mi: $89.62|
|15,189 mi: $189.80|
|WARRANTY REPAIRS||2910 mi: Apply expanding foam to stop dash rattle|
|7930 mi: Replace driver's-door speaker|
|11,764 mi: Replace both taillights due to condensation|
|15,189 mi: Replace right taillight due to condensation|
|RECALLS||9598 mi: Update navigation system|
|15,189 mi: Reprogram ECM for fuel-pressure abnormality|
|OUT-OF-POCKET||2910 mi: Purchase and install camber-adjustment bolts, $166.32|
|3451 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Dunlop Direzza Z1 Star Spec tires, $864.16|
|6510 mi: Replace front and rear brake pads and resurface rotors, $672.79|
|9023 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 winter tires, $817.36|
|15,476 mi: Remount stock Michelin summer tires, $100.00|
|16,788 mi: Purchase and install eighteen-inch OZ Racing Ultraleggera wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S-04 Pole Position tires, $2276.72|
|19,289 mi: Replace front brake pads and rotors, $299.85|
|19,300 mi: Purchase and install seventeen-inch Sparco Assetto Gara wheels with BFGoodrich g-Force R1 tires, $1655.75|
|19,671 mi: Purchase and install set of ARP wheel studs, $587.48|
|EPA city/hwy/combined||22/30/25 mpg|
|COST PER MILE||(Fuel, service, brakes, winter tires) $0.26 ($0.37 including depreciation)|