Review: 2018 Subaru BRZ Coupe
A fun sports car to drive at a very good price
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Excellent road manners; high-quality interior; loads of features for the price.
- What’s worst: Chassis could easily handle more power; seat-back release mechanism from the 1970s should be fixed; gearbox a bit on the notchy side.
- What’s interesting: That a company best known for sober-sided wagons and SUVs could even produce a car that’s this much fun to drive.
The Subaru BRZ sports coupe is a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota; the latter owns a small share of the former.
It has been around since 2012, and hasn’t changed that much since, largely because not a lot needed changing.
Except maybe for that pesky dwindling market for sports cars.
Starting list price is $27,995. My tester, the second from the top of the range Sport-tech RS, lists at $31,695.
Toyota also sells a variant of this car, although both are built by Subaru in their Gunma Japan plant.
Toyota originally sold their version in Canada under the now-gone Scion brand, but it is still available at your local Toy Store as a Toyota 86.
Subarota; Toybaru — take yer pick.
Like all other Subarus, at least ones you can buy here, BRZ features a horizontally-opposed engine, rather like a Porsche 911.
Unlike all other Subarus, again at least ones you can buy here, it does not come with four-wheel drive. It’s rear-drive only, and given the lowness of the chassis, it’s not hard to see why — there wouldn’t be much room underneath for all that gubbins.
That said, rumours persist that the next-gen BRZ — assuming there is one; there are rumours both ways on that score too — might offer four-wheel drive.
But let’s focus today on what you can get here and now.
In a nutshell, one of the most entertaining little cars you can get for the price, assuming your idea of entertainment does not include top-down motoring.
First, it’s a handsome and comfortable place to be, although watch your head getting in — it’s pretty low.
The interior is well-designed and well-crafted, from what appear to be high-quality materials. The contrasting red stitching in the black interior of my Sport-tech RS is a high-end touch.
The instrument cluster also looks to be patterned after Porsche, with three (rather than five) round dials, with the tachometer in the middle, speedometer on left and a multi-function gauge on the right.
The seven-inch centre screen, which handles things such as sound system and SatNav, is smallish by today’s standards, but it is nice and bright, and reasonably intuitive to work.
It supports the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Subaru’s own Starlink system.
All I know or cared about was that it has satellite radio — proper round knobs for on/off and volume on the left, tuning and function selection on the right — Bluetooth and two USB outlets in the dash.
My test car was headed to Montreal after my time in it, and someone had already programmed the dash to operate in French. You have to set this individually for the driver’s dash cluster and the centre display. Seems a bit odd that one click wouldn’t change both displays, but maybe that’s to encourage bilingualism in couples?
Two lovely round ball-type vents send conditioned air out both ends of the dash, supplemented by large horizontal slots in the middle of the dash for the rest of the cabin. Each side of the car can have its own air temperature, which along with other AirCon functions is handled by a series of toggle switches below the temperature selection knobs.
Steering column stalks handle wipers and headlights in the usual fashion.
And, there is a proper pull-up handbrake!
Aft of the shifter are buttons that allow disabling of the nanny systems (traction control and directional stability control) if you’re on a track and want to hang the tail out.
You can also access a display that can show you all sorts of information, including a stopwatch to record lap times for those track days.
The seats are comfy and supportive for the type of driving this car encourages. There is manual adjustment only for reach, rake and height; who needs the extra weight of electric motors to move the seats around?
There are rear seats too, but acrobats only need apply. With the front seat adjusted for my dead-on average 5’ 10” frame, there was just about a hand-width of knee room back there — and I have small hands.
Think of these seats as padded shelves with seatbelts to keep you from making hash of your groceries on your drive home from the supermarket.
Those rear seat backs do fold flat to augment the cargo capacity. You probably should just leave them that way.
The front seat backs also do not maintain their rake adjustment setting when you tilt them forward to access the rear seat. Come on, people — Volkswagen among others figured this out decades ago.
So, what makes this car so entertaining to drive? For starters, the weight distribution, which is the theoretically ideal 50/50 front/rear.
The quick ratio steering offers good feel for what’s happening underfoot and under-seat.
My Sport Tech RS model also features dampers supplied by the German Sachs company, and a Torsen limited-slip differential, meaning the BRZ simply goes where you point it, right now.
Stops too, thanks to big Brembo brakes.
I sensed that the Michelin Primacy tires gave up fairly early in the proceedings, emitting mild howls of protest at what seemed like fairly benign speeds. When I checked the speedo, I was going faster than I thought, which is one sign that a car handles well.
Ride quality is on the firm side, but despite some rough pavement during my test period it never felt unduly harsh.
The 2.0-litre flat-four engine generates 205 horsepower with the manual transmission like my tester had. And, the manifold is painted a lovely Ferrari red.
For whatever reason, the engine is detuned slightly to 200 horses when equipped with the six-speed automatic. And, it’s painted black.
Either way, this is considerably more peak power than even the recently pumped-up Mazda MX-5 Miata. But the Sube’s peak torque doesn’t come in until you’re well over six grand, so you’ll have to massage that gear stick to make quick progress.
Done right, it will shove the car from rest to 100 km/h in about seven and a half seconds, which is far from rocket-ship fast. But the engine feels gutsy, with a pleasingly gruff exhaust note as accompaniment. Subjectively, it feels quicker than that.
A red light showed up in the tach at about 5,500 r.p.m, which seemed a bit nanny-ish because the engine revs willingly to about 7,200 r.p.m. I actually read the Owners Manual — I mean, who does that? — and found out that this can be programmed to light up at just about any r.p.m. level you want.
Or, it can be shut off altogether.
But it might just save you from hitting that red line, which is a good thing because at that point the rev limiter comes in like an off-switch rather than doing it more gently like such as BMW and Mercedes do.
The gearbox is a bit notchy, but again this adds to the sporting feel.
Clutch take-up is excellent, and heel-and-toe shifting easy. If you can’t drive this manual gearbox, maybe you are destined to be a slushbox driver. Your loss.
In sum, the Subaru BRZ is a delightful sports car, available at what seems like a very good price.
It deserves to be much better known.
I feel I have just done my part.
2018 Subaru BRZ Coupe
Body Style: Two-door, two-plus-very-ocassional-two-seat coupe sports car. Rear-wheel drive.
Price: base (manual transmission) — $27,995; Sport-tech (automatic transmission) — $31,195; Sport-tech RS (manual) — $31,695; tS (manual) — $37,395.
Engine: 2.0-litre flat four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, port and direct fuel injection.
Manual transmission — 205 @ 7,000 r.p.m. / 156 @ 6,400 — 6,800 r.p.m.;
Automatic transmission — 200 @ 7,000 r.p.m. / 151 @ 6,400 — 6,500 r.p.m.
Fuel consumption: Transport Canada, City / Highway, litres per 100 km: 6-speed manual — 11.2 / 9.7; 6-speed automatic — 9.7 / 7.2.
Competition: Chevrolet Camaro; Ford Mustang; (although those two are a bit of a stretch); Mazda (Miata) MX-5 RF.
Follow Wheels.ca on