Subaru BRZ long-term test review: first report
Toyota’s GT86 stole headlines and hearts when it arrived, but its twin, the Subaru BRZ, spent less time in the limelight. We’ve got six months to redress the balance
You can’t buy a much purer car in 2017 than a Subaru BRZ.
With a naturally aspirated engine up front, a six-speed manual gearbox in the middle and drive that’s sent to the back, it really is a mouth-watering recipe for motoring nirvana. It is, of course, one that’s shared closely with the Toyota GT86, so that leaves us with one burning question: why would you buy the Subaru?
For me at least, there’s one very obvious answer: the colour. Admittedly, World Rally Blue isn’t the only colour the BRZ comes in, but it’s the only one you should go for. The paintjob hints at a motorsport pedigree that even Toyota – a firm with a history of performance models and a fine competition heritage – can’t quite match. That’s what Subaru’s 28-year stint in the World Rally Championship gets you, I suppose.
Of course, it isn’t the only reason why you might buy a BRZ over a GT86; there are technical reasons, too. Subaru gives its car a slightly more aggressive chassis set-up, making it the sharper of the pair, and the brand is also more closely aligned with the car’s distinctive 2.0-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, so it arguably warrants the right to a Subaru badge on its nose even more than it does Toyota’s.
Then there are the visual details. The Subaru gets its own design of bumpers and light graphics, creating a more aggressive look front and rear. For me, the Subaru, in 2017 facelift guise especially, edges the GT86 for looks, although I admit that opinions will vary. Then again, only one comes in World Rally Blue.
Inside, the Subaru gets a slightly different trim finish to an interior that’s otherwise identical to that of the Toyota. Our car comes with the £1500 option of a touchscreen satellite navigation and infotainment system, and it’s an option box well worth ticking.
Overall, the cabin feels pretty solid. It bridges the line between functionality and sportiness quite well, although some buttons do feel like they’ve been transplanted directly from the early 1990s. In particular, the digital clock on the centre console looks like it belongs in a museum.
I like the driving position, which allows you to get nice and low in the car and have your arms stuck out straight ahead. That said, I’m quite long-legged, so in order to achieve the perfect arm reach, my legs are just slightly more cramped than they’d be in, say, a Porsche 718 Cayman.
But it’s unfair to compare the BRZ, which starts at £26,050 in its entry form, to a car whose entry price starts at around £13,000 more. Better to compare it with the Mazda MX-5 RF, which, with a 2.0-litre engine, costs from £23,395. While the BRZ lacks a folding roof, it feels significantly more focused on the road than the MX-5, while its boxer engine just edges the Mazda’s more conventional in-line four for character.
The BRZ also faces competition from the Nissan 370Z, which costs from £29,185. Not even the BRZ’s flatfour is a match for the 370Z’s brawny 3.7-litre V6, which is both more urgent to use and more aurally pleasing to listen to. The 370Z’s muscular appearance gives it a more grown-up appearance, too, whereas the BRZ, especially with its sporty rear wing, looks a little more youthful.
But the BRZ wins in the way it tackles any given road. You have to stroke a 370Z along a twisting country lane, managing the car’s hefty 1496kg kerb weight, while the sprightlier BRZ – it weighs 1242kg – can be hustled like a hooligan. The engine needs to be thrashed in order to work properly, because maximum torque of 151lb ftis only available between 6400rpm and 6600rpm, while its 178bhp power peak follows later still at 7000rpm. But this hunger for revs suits the car’s character perfectly.
The Subaru is certainly no rocketship, taking 7.6sec to reach 62mph from rest and maxing out at 140mph. But it’s a proper sports car with old-school charm and bags of character, so even after just 1500 miles of ownership, my first impressions of it are very good (if you hadn’t already worked that out).
We’ve got the next six months to find out what it’s like to live with SU13 ARU (see what they did there?). It’ll need to be as frugal as it is fun, as flexible as it is agile and as comfortable as it is attractive. In exchange, I promise to keep that World Rally Blue paint gleaming.
SUBARU BRZ 2.0i SE LUX MANUAL
Price £26,050 Price as tested £27,550 Options Sat-nav £1500 Economy 27.9mpg Faults None Expenses None
Source: Autocar Online