2012 SUBARU BRZ REVIEW
What’s Hot: Engaging drive, perfect driving position, eye-catching exterior
What’s Not: Small boot, near-useless rear seats
X-Factor: Rorty RWD thrills for under $40k? Where do we sign?
Vehicle Style: Sports car
Price: $37,150 (drive away)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.8 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 10.8 l/100km
Click here for full technical details.
Despite sharing a chassis, engine, driveline and much of its interior with the Toyota, a tweaked suspension tune means the BRZ is a slightly different animal on the street.
But with a spec sheet that so closely mirrors its Toyota-badged half-brother, is there any point forking out for the BRZ? Well, as it turns out, yes.
Quality: The BRZ gets the plusher interior of the 86 GTS, which brings softer vinyl trimmings to the door cards and centre console.
There’s still quite a lot of hard plastics in this interior though, and the silver dash trim looks cheap and has a less-than-satisfactory fit.
Switchgear quality is good though, and there’s leather on the steering wheel, gear-shifter and handbrake handle.
Comfort: While small, the BRZ’s cabin isn’t claustrophobic. There’s plenty of stretching room in the heavily-bolstered front seats and ample head, foot and shoulder room.
Those seats are also among the best standard seats ever offered in a road car. Lateral support is formidable, and their body-hugging contours help keep your back ache-free even on long drives.
The seating position is low, with your legs stretched out in a near-horizontal position. The steering wheel points straight at your chest, the gear lever falls easily to your hand and there’s no glovebox lid to snag your left elbow while shifting.
It’s definitely the right kind of cockpit for a sports car.
There are other examples of function-dictating-form. The steering wheel measures just 365mm across, making it easier to twirl from lock-to-lock.
The tachometer dominates the instrument cluster, because keeping an eye on engine speed is vital out on the race track. The front headrests can even be reversed to accommodate the extra bulk of a helmet.
It’s touches like this which make the BRZ feel truly special, and as you get better acquainted with the cabin’s thoughtful design, you quickly forget about its cheaper-looking aspects.
You may have noticed we haven’t yet mentioned the back seats. There’s a good reason why: they’re virtually useless for anyone besides young (and very tolerant) children.
Equipment: The BRZ is equipped with cruise control, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, LED daytime-running lamps, foglamps, dual-zone climate control, smart-key entry and ignition, Bluetooth phone integration and a USB input for the six-speaker audio system.
Our car was fitted with the optional part-leather, part-alcantara upholstery (which also brings heated front seats), while satellite navigation is also available as a cost option.
Storage: Subaru and Toyota may say that you can squeeze four race tyres and a toolkit in the BRZ/86’s boot (with the single-piece rear backrest folded, naturally), but with a load area this shallow it’s hard to see how they’d fit.
The full-size spare also protrudes above the boot floor and Subaru doesn’t provide a boot mat either, leaving the spare exposed.
All up, the BRZ’s boot volume measures in at 217 litres with the rear seatback in place. That’s roughly on par with a typical light hatchback.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The BRZ feels faster than you’d expect a naturally-aspirated 2.0 litre four-cylinder to be, even one with direct injection and variable valve timing.
Power and torque outputs are modest, with 147kW delivered at 7000rpm and just 205Nm at a very peaky 6600rpm.
It needs plenty of revs to get going, but once you squeeze the throttle hard enough and get more than 4200rpm showing on the tach, the BRZ starts to move with urgency.
We timed its 0-100km/h performance to be in the high sevens - not far from Subaru’s claim of 7.6s - so it’s definitely not as fast as its swoopy shape would have you believe.
Thing is though, it feels quick. We’d attribute that to its lightning-fast throttle response, low seating position and relatively low kerb weight of 1256kg.
We tested the six-speed manual, which is without doubt the transmission of choice.
It boasts a precise, tight gate and a positive throw that seems to lighten up the harder you drive, but it can be a bit notchy until the gearbox warms up.
However, that’s part of its charm. It reminds us of the cheap RWD sportsters of yesteryear, which, like true athletes, were recalcitrant and sluggish until they were warmed up.
Besides, the clutch pedal is light and easily modulated and the other pedals are ideally spaced for heel-toe downshifts. It might not be the most refined driveline, but it sure is suited to its purpose.
Refinement: There’s tyre roar aplenty on coarse chip roads, and the boxer’s prominent engine note (which is piped into the cabin via a resonance chamber) can get a bit wearing on long cruises.
You can hear small pebbles and loose chunks of tarmac ping their way around the rear wheelwells too, but happily we didn’t hear a single squeak from the interior itself.
Suspension: Suspension forms the main point of difference between the BRZ and 86. The Subaru’s suspension is slightly firmer at the front, with stiffer springs and damper valving.
The rear suspension is identical to the Toyota 86, but with the stiffer front end the BRZ is tuned to be less tail-happy in corners.
You can feel the difference out on the road. There’s sharper turn-in response, but you have to push it quite hard to get to the limit of adhesion.
Push it beyond that limit and it will default to understeer, however you can quite easily call up a tail-out attitude with a firm flick of the wheel and stab of the throttle.
The 86 by comparison tends to dance around on all four tyres when it’s approaching the threshold of grip.
The Toyota ultimately feels nimbler, but also more nervous. The Subaru is a far more predictable beast.
Ride comfort is acceptable, but the combination of a firmer front-end and larger 17-inch alloys means there’s a jiggly ride on pavement that’s less-than-perfect
Braking: The BRZ’s brakes are shared with the Toyota 86 GTS, with larger, thicker ventilated rotors that are able to handle more heat than the 86 GT’s smaller hardware.
The pedal is highly responsive and firm throughout its stroke. With less than 1.3 tonnes to haul up, braking performance is excellent in the BRZ.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: Stability control (switchable), traction control (switchable), ABS, EBD and brake assist are all standard features on the BRZ.
Driver and passengers are protected by dual front, dual side and curtain airbags, while the driver also gets a knee airbag.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Servicing costs are covered by Subaru for the first three years/60,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota 86 GTS ($35,490) - The Subaru BRZ’s kissing cousin, the 86 has a slightly edgier suspension tune and enjoys standard sat-nav and leather seats (both of which are options on the BRZ).
On the other hand, the Subaru’s on-road cost of $37,150 and complimentary servicing scheme makes it cheaper to buy and own, and, in our opinion, its front bumper is a more appealing design. (see 86 reviews)
Subaru WRX ($39,990) - The BRZ is perilously close to the markedly more powerful WRX in terms of pricing, and some buyers may be tempted to spend the extra money to get a car that’s far quicker.
However, while the WRX is undoubtedly faster, the BRZ is much more fun to steer. Sometimes speed isn’t everything. (see WRX reviews)
Mazda MX-5 ($44,265) - The arrival of the 86 and BRZ has thrown a harsh spotlight on the MX-5’s pricing, which now seems grossly excessive. It’s a hugely entertaining car, but is it really worth $44k-plus? Nope. (see MX-5 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The front bumper gives it a more mature look compared to the wild curves of the 86’s snout, and the difference in on-road handling is enough to give the BRZ its own unique flavour.
Subaru’s launch strategy of fixing a national on-road price of $37,150 sweetens the deal too, as does the offer of free scheduled servicing for the first few years of ownership.
With the waiting list for the 86 GTS currently sitting at more than 18 months, opting for the BRZ could also be a handy way of jumping the queue.
You’ll still need to wait seven or eight months though, as the entire 2012 BRZ allocation has already sold out.
But whichever badge you opt for, you can’t go wrong. The BRZ and 86 are a welcome and long-overdue return to the days of inexpensive, fun-to-drive, performance cars, when turbochargers weren’t a prerequisite for scintillating performance and rear-wheel-drive ruled the roost.
The BRZ is destined to be a classic. We’d own one in a heartbeat.
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