Two-liter fighter jet: Subaru BRZ first drive
A low-slung profile, hood close to the ground. Large, wide wheels pushed out to the car’s corners. A rumbling boxer engine with 200 normally aspirated horsepower, propelling the rear wheels. You’d think that Subaru had been doing this all its life. In a sense, this is a complete departure from the company that has been specializing in sedans, hatchbacks, wagons, and SUVs, and capturing the imagination of the driving public with their turbocharged, hotted-up STi versions. Yet the BRZ sports car is the ultimate expression of Subaru’s technical capabilities, a clean-sheet design that showcases the company’s expertise.
It all started with a proposal from Subaru’s sumo-sized shareholder, Toyota. The erstwhile world’s number-one car company had one glaring shortcoming: the lack of a sports car in its lineup. With its considerable resources seemingly concentrated on other, “more important” developments like hybrid power and electric vehicles, the company that created the MR2, Celica, and GT2000 somehow couldn’t muster enough spark to make a new sports car. So they hired Subaru to make one for them. The new car would be a modern version of its iconic AE-86, immortalized because of its success in drift racing; indeed the new Toyota would be called the GT-86.
One clause was that Subaru would get to sell its own version, called the BRZ (for Boxer, Rear-wheel drive, Zenith). As the money man, Toyota gets the car first, then Subaru. But just like its new product, Subaru distributor Motor Image is nimble. Toyota may get to sell first, but Motor Image was the first to demonstrate the shared sports car to Asean media. Busloads of writers from the region were herded to the Singapore Turf Club. Sadly, we were not to go on any circuit, whether or not they are for horse racing. Instead, we were limited to the venue’s parking lot, where several dozen cones were set up—usually a good sign.
The BRZ is compact, looking smaller than a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and visually equal in size to the Nissan 370Z. For boring or for worse, Toyota decided that it must do the styling. Not to worry, though, as the BRZ hits all the right cues: beady eyes with a large, gaping mouth; front fenders bulging through the low hood; sharply dropping backlight. The rear features evil-robot eyes above large twin tailpipes.
The car features heavily-bolstered front seats, so getting in requires some sideways twisting. The car seems to wrap around you, from the high center console to the thick-rimmed tilt-telescope steering wheel. The seating position feels perfect for a sports car, low and well back from the front. There’s a huge tachometer front and center, its dancing needle keeping time with the burbling boxer engine.
Subaru developed an all-new engine for the BRZ. Its key attributes were to be eagerness to rev, and unadulterated sound—thus the choice to go with normally aspirated power. 2.0 liters was chosen as the ideal balance of displacement and lightness/compactness. The boxer configuration as well as the absence of a turbo allows Subaru to mount the engine low in the bay, resulting in a center of gravity lower than rivals such as the MX-5. The sound, with a stock exhaust system, provides just the right sound, throaty but still civilized. Beefier aural thrills are obviously just a pipe job away.
That low center of gravity pays off when one just happens to encounter lots of orange cones. We were in a right hand drive car, reversing our usual frame of reference, but the car was an eager dancer-almost as if it was taking the lead. On the slalom, the BRZ enjoyed the back-and-forth change in direction. If this were a Pixar movie, there would be a definite grin on our blue coupe.
On acceleration runs, the 2.0 liter revs eagerly, pushing the car quite easily up to speed. We felt no invisible hand shoving us into our seat, but a sweet build up that was easy to modulate. The BRZ is all about power, yes, but also about balance. We did runs with the traction control on, then shut down—or at least sent into the background. The BRZ had enough power to spin its rear wheels, but was predictable and obedient, even without the electronic assist. Braking is assured and arrow-straight.
From the driver’s seat, the flared fenders poke out quite visibly, framing the hood. The cockpit’s straightforward layout invites focus—particularly on the huge central tachometer, redlined at 7000 rpm. That’s where we would want to take the BRZ again and again. It’s a sports car that makes quick driving feel effortless. The boxer engine and rear-wheel chassis combine to make this one of the great new efforts of recent years.
Of note, Motor Image chief Glenn Tan said that the BRZ wasn’t meant for the tuner market, a surprising note given that Subaru has built its following among the modified-car crowd. So the BRZ is aimed at those seeking more refinement and a premium feel. The Toyota GT-86 seems primed for a lower entry-level cost and will be the choice of tuners, while the BRZ will likely be loaded with plenty of standard kit from the factory, with less need for upgrades. It’s a neat way to split the market, and suits Motor Image’s strategy. If you’re hungering for a compact sports coupe with impeccable engineering, then you are about to be spoiled for choice.