One Week With: 2018 Subaru BRZ tS
A sports car for our ages?
Frank Markus, one of my two Motor Trend colleagues here in the Detroit bureau, colored my opinion of the 2018 Subaru BRZ tS before I got behind the wheel. His '18 Subaru WRX STI Type RA was going back to the local press fleet the day my sports car press loaner arrived. He was happy to get rid of it.
Too, too harsh. No fun to drive on Southeastern Michigan's roads, and with that ridiculous, adjustable rear wing, looked like something he had to borrow from a son or nephew while his car is in the shop. And Frank is a good five years younger than me.
I wasn't crazy about the huge, adjustable wing on my BRZ tS, and I've driven plenty of cars that are fun on a smooth racetrack or even on a well-kept canyon road, but beat the hell out of you on underfunded roads and highways. I agree that even the "base" WRX STI is unnecessarily harsh, from what I remember last driving one two or three years ago.
After a week of this folderol, I'm happy to report that the BRZ tS is no WRX STI Type RA in the harshness department. It's stiff—very stiff, with STI-tuned front- and rear Sachs dampers and coil springs an STI flexible V-brace in the engine compartment, new draw stiffeners added to the chassis and sub-frame for better steering response, and the BRZ's first-ever 18-inch wheels and tires. STI underspoilers, front, side and rear are designed to help control airflow for improved traction and stability. There is nearly zero compliance over pie crust roads. There's barely any yaw in the turns.
There's the difference. The STI, including the Type RA I briefly drove while Frank had it at the office, feels like a go kart without the chassis flex, willing to take out any bump or pothole out on your vertebra rather than into the driver's bucket. The BRZ tS gives just enough to keep the car from skating over Michigan's randomly patterned sets of bumps. The STI-tuned Sachs dampers and springs never try to steer for you. It's steering is direct and quick, with good feel and feedback—just right for this agile car.
Combine that with a perfectly adequate 205-hp 2.0-liter boxer engine, a six-speed gearbox that rivals Mazda and Honda for nice, precise short throws combined with pedals perfectly spaced for heel-and-toeing, and a purposeful simplicity to the overall package, devoid of multi-setting chassis and throttle controls, and tS doesn't diminish my high opinion of the BRZ. The standard BRZ is one of the few cars out there today, along with its Toyota 86 twin, Miata/Fiata, and Honda Civic Type-R that I would buy with my own credit.
But I'd leave the TS version for younger buyers. Subaru made 500 BRZ tSes available for the 2018 model year, and they're better suited for enthusiasts who live in places with decent roads and/or who will take it to the local race circuit for some track time, or to autocross. As of mid-October, there are a "handful" of these model year '18 tSes left. There will be no '19 BRZ TS.
For a good $7,700 over the price of a base BRZ, or $3,700 more than a '19 BRZ Limited with the optional Performance Package, tS buyers get a handsomely upgraded interior, as well as the defiantly pink-branded STI bits. In the case of this model, STI pink is limited to the "S" in the subtle tS badging on the rear deck and front fascia (Subaru calls it "Cherry Blossom Red"), subtle accent stripes along the front and rear fascias, and an STI start-up logo that appears briefly on the dash as you trigger the start button.
The tS is a fully equipped BRZ with no options, offered in blue pearl, crystal black silica, and crystal white pearl.
Most of the exterior and interior accents are red, including stitching around the Alcantara door inserts and dashboard steering wheel cowl. The red-and-black seats have Alcantara inserts, too, and the front seats are deep, firm, and comfortable buckets designed to hold you in nicely around fast corners. They work.
The interior is nice and straightforward, with real gauges on the dash, and no electronically operated dynamic controls. Even the big rear wing appears to be adjustable only if you get out of the car and grab a wrench. There is a track mode button and a button to turn off traction and stability control nannies. Hold the latter button until you see two yellow LED symbols light up on the instrument panel.
With just one week to drive the tS on public roads, I didn't feel any difference with nannies on, or off. In fact, I only took the time to turn off the nannies rather than turn on the track mode, which likely accomplishes much of the same thing. Attack, say, a 90-degree right-turn with a quick stab of the brakes and then get back on to the throttle as you exit and the tail will come out just enough. The couple of chances I had to try that in track mode, oversteer was equally catchable.
Rain soaked the local roads the morning I got out to the Exit 69/Big Beaver Road cloverleaf, so I played it safe and kept the nannies on. I never got to a speed on the on/off ramps that would get the chassis loose. There was just the slightest bit of lean, and the bumps at either end of the ramps didn't upset the BRZ tS's direction. The 215/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, responsible for much of that lack of drama on fast turns, remained connected to the road at all four corners, all the time.
My only major complaint is with the radio, one of these digital touch-screen Wi-Fi affairs (though accompanied by a couple of control knobs) that usually took a good 15 to 30 seconds to boot up. I miss basic transistor car radios, which by the 1950s replaced tube radios, which usually took about 30 seconds to warm up before you'd get sound.
Perhaps I am too old for this car, after all.
2018 Subaru BRZ tS Specifications
|ENGINE||2.0L DOHC 16-valve H-4, 205 hp @ 7,000 rpm/156 lb-ft. @ 6,400-6,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2+2 passenger, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/27 mpg city/hwy|
|L X W X H||168.0 x 69.6 x 52.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||144 mph (est)|
*Add $150 for higher destination charge in Alaska.