ROAD TEST: 2017 Subaru BRZ

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By Shari Prymak

Driving the BRZ down a twisty side road borders on the surreal. Every bend, every sweet gear change, every straight line blast just adds to my suspicion that this is one of the greatest enthusiast cars on sale today.

The BRZ is that now-rare combination of a simple, affordable, rear-wheel drive sports car designed for the sole purpose of driving fun. It’s blissfully free of complex electronics and technology that detracts from the driving experience. Instead, it relies on mechanical purity for its thrills; that is, a light weight, balanced, rear-drive platform, complete with finely-tuned, passively sprung suspension. In fact, think of the BRZ as a kind of 2+2 coupe version of the Mazda MX-5.

Here is some sports car bliss for you. At 1258kg, the BRZ is lighter than the Nissan 370Z, Porsche Cayman, lighter than pretty much any rear-drive sports coupe for that matter. It has a center of gravity (460mm high) lower than that of a Nissan GT-R, Ferrari 458 Italia, and bested by the six-figure Porsche 911 GT3 and Lexus LFA supercars. The car feels so wonderfully low in fact that you can practically light a match on the road as you hang your arm out the window.

What could quite possibly be the most amazing thing about the BRZ, as well as its Toyota 86 sibling, is that it is the product of one man’s vision. Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota and a die-hard car enthusiast (who’d have known right?), was adamant that Toyota build a new sports car to reinvigorate the brand image, one built by passion rather than by committee. He wasn’t keen, however, on following the sports car market trend of big heavyweights, turbochargers, and complicated all-wheel drive systems that do all the work for the driver. Instead, Toyoda boldly decided to follow a forgotten recipe of building a fun, basic, no nonsense sports car. By partnering up with Subaru, he managed to do just that.

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Toyota and Subaru really did one hell of a job. Every part of the BRZ feels as though it has been tuned with the utmost care. The brakes feel strong and well suited for rubbing off high speeds. The responsive, feelsome steering is perfectly tuned for negotiating twisty roads. And the cornering poise of the chassis is truly something to experience. You can really feel how it’s making the most of that low weight and center of gravity to carry out every driver input with little to no fuss. It’s these dynamic subtleties which truly make up the BRZ’s engineering genius. You simply can’t help but exhaust every bit of its dynamic talents.

It even rewards its driver when the threshold of its cornering limits is reached. Purposely induced oversteer isn’t exactly the easiest thing to exploit with the BRZ – you really need to be deep in the power band to break it loose- but once properly provoked, tail-out slides are so controllable with the throttle, that the pedal may as well have “steering wheel” written on it. And thanks to skinny, low grip tires (!), the limits of adhesion, and all the slip slidey fun that goes along with it, can be explored at speeds that your grandmother would deem reasonable. What a car!

A proper sports car wouldn’t be complete without a proper drivetrain. The BRZ delivers with a naturally aspirated 2.0L flat-4 boxer engine. It’s mounted front-midship, right in front of a slick 6-speed close-ratio manual gearbox and a Torsen limited-slip differential. A paddle shiftable 6-speed automatic is available as an option. The new boxer is by no means the most powerful engine – it makes 158lb-ft of torque at 6600rpm, and the 205 hp power peak arrives at 7000rpm, 400rpm before redline – but if you have ask “where is the power?” then this car simply isn’t for you. It’s an athletic and potent engine that delivers its best at the upper end of the power band; as such, it requires work on the part of the driver to give its best, much like the handling. If I could ask for anything, it’d be for a more exciting exhaust note as its being worked.

If you get a moment to ease off on the excitement, you’ll find that the BRZ does an excellent job at serving double duty as a track day toy, as well as a daily commuter. The suspension is adequately compliant over most road surfaces. The car’s small size makes it a breeze to manoeuvre and park just about anywhere. And the interior execution, though a tad cheap looking in some areas, feels as though it would be comfortable and user-friendly enough to provide years of relaxed driving enjoyment.

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In fact, there is much to be said about the interior. In the interest of simplicity and weight savings, the BRZ does not offer superfluous gadgets like different driving modes, a sunroof or power seats. All you get are comfortable and supportive Recaro-like seats, straightforward crisp gauges with a centre-mounted tachometer, an 8-speaker Pioneer sound system, and rotary-dial climate controls. That’s about it. Like the rest of the car, the sense of minimalism you get is all quite refreshing to the enthusiast’s eye. That being said, there is a limitation, and it comes in the form of nearly useless, Porsche 911-like, backseats. Toyota and Subaru say that, with the seatbacks folded, they can accommodate four wheels for track days. No question, tires would feel more at home back there than two passengers ever would.

The BRZ probably won’t have the easiest time overtaking those big-boy exotics at track day events, but at least you’ll be able to wave your saved dollar bills at those who pass by. The starting MSRP is only $27,995. And since this is a Toyota/Subaru concoction, predicted reliability and running costs are about as reasonable as they come. As a bonus, the BRZ is capable of consuming as little as 7.0L/100km on the highway in fuel.

It is difficult to describe how special this car really is. It takes little more than a drive, or even a glance at the spec sheet, to tell that the BRZ is a car built by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts; people who truly care about driving. It offers a level of pure, usable, and affordable fun that’s becoming increasing rare in today’s market. So if your heart was set on that wildly entertaining six figure-priced sports car before your wallet hit you with a reality check, not to worry, because now you can have just as much fun for a whole, whole lot less.

For more details, please visit the Subaru Canada website.