Subaru BRZ coupe trips light fantastic
- Credit: Subaru
With the emphasis on balance, agility and delicacy rather than outright power, Subaru's BRZ is a genuine 21st century sports car, says Matt Joy of the Press Association.
History is something Subaru is not short of when it comes to performance cars. In fact the letters STi and WRX are probably the first things that spring to mind when the name of the Japanese manufacturer is mentioned. The success of its rally-bred cars was down to a relatively simple recipe – four-wheel drive, flat-four turbo engines and a tough demeanour. And their following is fiercely loyal.
So you'd be forgiven for thinking its latest offering is well wide of the sports car mark. The BRZ has a flat-four engine but no turbo, and offers a modest 197bhp. There's no four-wheel drive either, just a six-speed manual gearbox sending power to the rear wheels; in fact BRZ stands for Boxer (the engine configuration) Rear-wheel drive and Zenith – this is designed to be a proper driver's car.
It's a sporty one from the outside too. You can forget the big wings and spoilers of its stablemates though, the BRZ is a clean, modern-looking 2+2 coupe. Looking its best in the classic blue mica paint, it is a subtle but attractive shape. It has a long, slim bonnet with pleasing bulges over the wheelarches and, like a front-engined rear-drive sports car should, the passenger cabin feels pushed towards the rear. The lightweight flat-four engine is mounted well back in the nose of the car too. All this helps achieve the 53/47 front/rear weight distribution, another key ingredient for composed handling.
The modest power output is deliberate too. This is a relatively lightweight sports car, checking in at 1,230kg for the manual version, so big power isn't needed for more than respectable performance. Top speed is 140mph and the 0-62mph sprint is dealt with in 7.6 seconds, but the bald figures are only half the story.
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The BRZ is more about feel and response than breaking records, and it is the mechanical harmony that brings the greatest pleasure. The 2.0-litre unit loves to rev and delivers a pleasing blare from the exhaust, while the slick six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use and helps you extract the most from the engine. With 151lb.ft of torque the BRZ needs a little effort to make good progress, but when you're just getting from A to B it doesn't ask too much from you.
And yet the BRZ still has its ace card to play. There are some details which might strike you as a little unusual. The alloy wheels are a mere 17 inches in diameter, and the tyres relatively tall and skinny – not the fat strips of rubber to be expected on a sports car but this is the whole point of the exercise. The BRZ is about response, delicacy and feedback, not the ultimate limit and lap times. It's not inconceivable that one of the current crop of 250bhp super-hot hatches could post a quicker lap time than a BRZ, but you can guarantee that the person behind will be having more fun.
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In any sports car the most enjoyable part should be in the grey area between slip and grip, and how the car responds and works with you in this fun zone. With the BRZ, you can step into this zone at sane speeds rather than the ever-increasing limits that most fast modern cars demand. It goes against the trend for more power, more weight and more grip and instead provides balance, agility and delicacy. The standard fit vehicle dynamics control has three modes so you can have it fully switched on for sensible times, but the intermediate mode gives you a little play with a reassuring safety net. In truth, with it switched fully off the balance between power and grip is just right – there's not enough grunt to get you into trouble but sufficient make the BRZ dance just how you want it. If there ever was a car to teach you the core principles of driving, this is it.
There's something ultimately a little selfish about the BRZ of course. It has a decent boot but the rear seats are suitable for children or short journeys only, and it offers respectable economy for a sports car but drinks more than a diesel Legacy. But the sheer driving joy it offers is exceptional, and the fact that its relatively modest limits means you can enjoy it more of the time. The best news is the UK's allocation has been increased, so your chances of getting hold of one have improved. Buy one and you'll own a genuine 21st century sports car.