13 Sep 2013

2013 Subaru BRZ review

The Subaru BRZ was built from the outset as a sports coupe.  It shares almost 100% of its DNA with the Toyota GT86 and Scion FR-S.  They look the same and cost the same.  It was conceived by Toyota but almost entirely designed and engineered by Subaru.

Subaru BRZ in WR Blue
The BRZ's competition largely comes from the hot hatch segment.  Other manufacturers dismissed a 2+2 sports coupe as a niche product and continued to churn out bland-mobiles.

Until they saw its success.  Toyota and Subaru cannot build enough.  Subaru UK management had to plead with the bosses in Japan to increase their allocation - and were successful.  This is a good thing.  More manufactures will attempt to copy the formula.  Expect to see BRZ lookalikes over the coming years.

The Subaru BRZ only costs £25,000, only has 200bhp, only does 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds, but it is the most fun car I have ever driven.

Exterior


It's a beauty.  I dared suggest the BRZ's looks were influenced by the Maserati GranTurismo (and was shot to pieces), but I still think that, and mean it as a compliment.  Hot hatches have to make do with extra spoilers and bling to differentiate them from their normal hatch origins, to look good.  The BRZ needs none of that, although the rear spoiler is pretty tasty.
Subaru BRZ in WR Blue

The bodywork has been sculpted by someone with a soul.  The functionally pointless but aesthetically wonderful creases in the bonnet and roof just add to a shape that is fluid, proportions that are just right and a form that is bordering on the perfect.

From the rally-style chin spoiler, deepset fog lights, angry headlights lights and gorgeous bumps over the front wheels the BRZ starts well.  Throw in a windscreen with some rake (unlike slab-like hot hatches protuberances), a simple and uncluttered coupe mid-section and those fantastic haunches, then finish off with twin pipes, more aggressive tail-lights and that spoiler and the BRZ looks fast when standing still.

It doesn't have fashionable slashes at strange angles or a driver-forward seating position.  It is a simple coupe, executed with flair.  It looks modern but will age well.

The test car was painted in WR Blue Metallic.  To be honest, it should be the only colour you choose if you go for the Subaru over the Toyota GT86.  It suits the car, and we all know its heritage, don't we?
Subaru BRZ in WR Blue
It's also quite small.  The BRZ weighs 1202kg, and most of that is low down.  The engine is a naturally aspirated flat-4, or 'boxer', configuration which pushes out 200bhp and 151 lb ft of torque.  It sits 2.5 cm lower than the engine in a Porsche Cayman.

In fact the BRZ has the lowest centre of gravity of any car on sale.  Boy does it feel it.  It also has 45:55 front:rear weight distribution.  You also feel this.  The BRZ just loves to hang out its back end slightly.

The wheels finish off the look.  Tyres from the Toyota Prius sit on 17 inch alloys.  They're a perfect fit for the arches.  More on those tyres later, but they were designed for saving fuel rather than for grip.

The BRZ has a key fob but no key.  It's not the most technically advanced car, but it does have keyless entry and start.

Interior


The car I tested was the BRZ SE Lux.  As such it was fitted with Alcantara and leather sports seats.  The seats are manually adjustable with a lever for height and a lever for fore and aft.  I got absolutely comfortable in about 3 seconds.  In my entire week with the Vauxhall Astra VXR I never quite got comfortable with its infinitely adjustable seat.

This is because the BRZ gives the driver space to reach the pedals.  They aren't too close to the driver, as in most hatchbacks, but deep in the footwell.  You sit just off the floor, stretch out to the pedals and the steering wheel is in your lap.  For me it's the perfect position, and reminiscent of how Porsche make the driver feel so comfortable in a car designed for sporty appeal rather than luxury.  It's all about getting the basics right and designing the car around the driver rather than making the driver fit the car once the bulkhead and dash have been designed in place.
Subaru BRZ interior

The A-pillar is narrow, and the mirrors placed just so.  Visibility is good.  I'm 5'10" and had plenty of space above my head.  A 6-footer would fit in the BRZ easily.

The steering wheel looks and feels nice.  The dash stalks feel of decent quality.  The handbrake is a real one.  The gearknob is perfectly placed, although it has a bit of cheap plastic at the top.

The dash, centre console and doors are designed well.  It all looks good and feels functional.  This isn't a car with fripperies.

Touch the surfaces though and you realise it is all plastic.  Japan-spec plastic rather than Euro spec.  The aluminium coloured trim you can see in the photo above is plastic, the air-vent surrounds are plastic.  Everything is plastic.  It all feels solid though.

The BRZ test car came with optional Pioneer satnav with Bluetooth.  The Bluetooth was a faff to get connected to my phone a couple of times but once linked the sound system quality is pretty good.  The satnav is almost as good as a TomTom, which is praise indeed.  The let-down is that it doesn't have digital radio.

Below the screen is a row of knobs and under those are levers for the various climate controls.  They look absolutely brilliant, as if they were lifted from an airplane cockpit.  The chunky Start/Stop button sits below these.

Storage space consists of tiny door pockets, a large glove box and a bin just behind the handbrake, with a couple of cup holders in it.  There is no armrest, which is a strange omission and makes getting in and out for an old git like me, with a bad back, that little bit harder.
Subaru BRZ interior

The rear seats are tiny.  The coupe shape has its limitations.  The Subaru BRZ is a 2+2, although that should be more like 2 + 2.  The back seats are fit only for very young children, and even then the front seat occupants need to ratchet their seats forward.  My wife and I took our 11 year old son to a friend's house.  My wife was virtually in the glove box and my son couldn't move his feet.  There's not much head-room in the back either.  Oh, and moving the front seat forward to let a back seat occupant in makes it forget where it was so you have to find your ideal position again.

The boot has a flat floor and is deep but shallow.  My son demonstrates its size below.
Subaru BRZ boot

On the road


This is what the Subaru BRZ is all about.  The car's exterior is brilliantly executed and the interior functionally adequate but the driving experience is out of this world.

Fire up the engine and because it doesn't have a turbocharger you can actually hear it.  Also, because it's a boxer engine it makes a nice noise too.  No 4-cylinder hot hatch with a turbocharger makes a nice noise.

Dab the throttle and the engine sounds quite loud.  Open the door and pop your head outside and do the same and it isn't quite so loud - but it's still a good sound.

The BRZ is fitted with a sound pipe.  Literally a pipe from the engine into the cabin, where it enters down by the clutch pedal.  I like it, you might not.  I recorded it so you can judge for yourself.

The 6-speed manual gearbox is tightly packed.  Ratios are close and actual movement of the gearknob is so small it's like using a games console controller.  This, by the way, is brilliant.

Drive away and you feel the lack of torque straight away.  Unlike most cars the red-line is all the way up at 7500rpm.  This is how Subaru coaxed 200bhp from 2 litres without a turbo.  Just like a bike engine it revs high but is low on torque.

So, fine, use it like a bike engine.  Red-line it, thrash it, cane it.  It can take it.  The clutch action is tight, the gearbox is slick, the engine revs freely.  To get pace from this car you have to physically interact with it.  It's no mega horsepower car with an auto gearbox and flappy paddles.  It is a proper, ballsy driving machine.
Subaru BRZ

Press the traction control button for 3 seconds and traction control is removed.  This should be mandatory in dry conditions.  You get a bit of wheelspin in 1st and 2nd if you're harsh with the controls.

Turn a corner and the steering is revelatory.  It's ultra-precise, like a Porsche.  The car's weight distribution and independent suspension help a great deal but some other form of magic must have been deployed.

I find it funny how supposed experts bang on and on about how Porsche has lost its way by using electric power steering in the 911, whilst simultaneously lauding the GT86 and BRZ - which uses electric power steering.  You cannot tell the difference.  These people are mad and only say hydraulic is superior to electric to try and befuddle the public into thinking they have some Gandalf-like insight into cars, which they obviously don't.

Anyway, turn a corner and you feel the rear ever so slightly move around - if you're using enough throttle or have swung it into the corner with enough vim.  This is a product not only of that rearward weight distribution but of the hard tyres.

Ah yes, the tyres.  They'll last a million miles. I left so many black 11s down so many back roads yet when I gave the car back there wan't a mark on them.  I also tried reversing up a slightly dusty slope to take some photos and they slipped and slid like they were on ice.

Strange thing is, they grip plenty enough when going round a corner.  It's only when you actively induce a slide that they say, "Yep, we'll do that.  How far do you want to go?"  Also, no matter how I drove it the front tyres never once gave up any grip.
Subaru BRZ exterior

The BRZ is the best car I've ever driven for sheer naughty mucking about in a car.  Its toolkit of fun is chock full.  It feels light, like you can throw it around, yet you never get out of control.  The car will oversteer through power alone in the first three gears.  It responds nicely to a Swedish flick.  It behaves if you simply want to get through a corner without histrionics.

One of its little peculiarities that I love is how easy it is to lock the rear wheels briefly when coming down through the gears.  3rd to 2nd is best, change down slightly too early and the engine braking stalls the wheels and the tyres do a little skid, wiggling the rear of the car slightly.  Naughty but nice.

I doubt the Subaru BRZ would be much good on track.  This would require slick tyres, which would take away some of the je ne sais quoi.  You would then need to beef up the engine to make up for the resultant lack of power to grip.  To retain the character of the car only a supercharger would do, turbo-lag would kill its nature.

But then you would need to fit bigger brakes, which are probably the car's weak spot.  They are adequate but not spectacular.  The feel is OK and the stopping power as good as the tyres will allow but add some more power and they would need an upgrade.

The suspension is surprisingly soft for a sports coupe with such fine on-road manners.  It's not soft like a Jaguar but it is soft compared to the Megane 265 or Astra VXR.  The BRZ doesn't need hard suspension because its chassis and configuration is just right in the first place whereas nose heavy hatches with a higher centre of gravity need rock hard suspension to go round corners without rolling.

I drive all test cars down a particularly bumpy section of road and the BRZ handled it well, because it was built for purpose rather than being adapted from something else.  It just feels comfortable in its own skin.

Returning to the racing theme I'd say that whilst the BRZ in almost production trim would make a poor race car, it would make a spectacular rally car.  Its character would suit lairy sliding round Welsh mountain tracks.
Subaru BRZ

It's worth noting that whilst you're having all this fun in the BRZ the interior won't rattle or squeak at all.  Not one bit.  Despite all the plastic it's well bolted together plastic that won't fall apart in a few years.  Typically Japanese - designed to wear well rather than look good.

I ran the BRZ for 5 days and it didn't rain once, so I never got the chance to try out its grip levels in the wet.  I suspect that despite the tyre's compound it would perform adequately in wet conditions, because the grooves were pretty big.

Practicality, economy, price and the competition


The official economy figure is 40.9mpg.  This is quite achievable on a motorway run.  It'll do 30ish when running short journeys.  CO2 emissions is 181 g/km, which isn't bad for a naturally aspirated car - and beats all hot hatchbacks.

It can be a relatively frugal and spacious (in all but the back seats) day to day run about.  It would be epic for use on a reasonable commute.  You would arrive at work feeling refreshed, but you'd also long to go home in it.

The lack of a DAB radio means you'll have to listen to the usual suspects on FM, or the music on your smartphone.

The BRZ's great ride and seating position means it would make for a good tourer.  You could drive all day in it.  The only annoyance on the motorway is the lack of torque, which requires lots of gearchanges.  In 6th gear at 70mph it really doesn't have any oomph.

At £25,000 the BRZ is arguably overpriced, but this reflects the fact that despite selling out in most markets (US dealerships are reporting long waiting lists) it will only ever be a niche car.  

For £25k you could also buy a BMW 125i M Sport which is slightly faster but less characterful, a base model front wheel drive Audi TT which has 160bhp, a Mazda MX5 which is slower or any of the Vauxhall Astra VXR, Ford Focus ST or Renaultsport Megane 265.  None of these has the BRZ's character.  Out of that bunch I'd pick the Megane as having the closest in terms of fun stamped through it's DNA.

Or you could buy a used Porsche Cayman.  To be honest the Cayman is the only car that comes close to the sheer exuberance of the BRZ.
Subaru BRZ

Should I buy one?


Damn right you should.  Sell whatever you can to buy one.  You won't regret it.

Stats:


Price - £24,995 (£26,495 as tested)
Engine - 2.0 petrol, flat-4
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-60mph - 7.6 seconds
Top speed - 143 mph
Power - 200 bhp
Torque - 151 lb ft
Economy - 40.9 mpg
CO2 - 181 g/km
Kerb weight - 1202 kg
Subaru BRZ engine

Subaru BRZ

Subaru BRZ dash

Subaru BRZ lights

Subaru BRZ

Subaru BRZ
Article by Matt Hubbard