The Subaru BRZ is a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive sports car that provides nimble handling and spirited performance at an affordable price. Co-developed with Toyota (which sells its own variant as the Scion FR-S), the BRZ was designed to buck the trend of increasingly heavy, technologically complex vehicles and instead provide a pure, driver-focused experience.
For the latest model year, the BRZ gains a revised suspension tuning designed to deliver a sportier ride. It also gained a limited-edition model called Series.Blue but the 1,000 examples earmarked for the United States have all been sold.
Weighing in at just 2,762 pounds for the manual transmission model, the BRZ is one of the lightest sports cars on the market - it undercuts the mass of the Porsche Cayman by 160 pounds and is around 800 pounds lighter than a V6-equipped Ford Mustang. The low weight pays off in the realm of fuel efficiency and, more importantly, handling.
The BRZ - which stands for "Boxer Rear-drive Zenith" - rides on a unique platform that shares little with other Subaru and Scion models. The rear-wheel-drive configuration allows the boxer engine to be mounted low down and close to the center of the car. This helps to create a near 50/50 weight distribution as well as an extremely low center of gravity, which Subaru says is among the lowest of any production car at just 18.1 inches.
Design-wise, the BRZ features traditional sports car proportions with a long hood and a short rear deck. Only minor details, such a unique grille and distinct wheels and taillights, differentiate the BRZ from the mechanically identical Scion FR-S.
The two cars also share an interior, which is simple and performance-focused thanks to touches like well-bolstered seats and a central tachometer in the instrument panel. The rear seats are best used for short trips or carrying luggage, while the trunk provides 6.9 cubic feet of stowage space. With the seatback down, the cargo area can hold two standard golf bags. Those who enjoy slalom or track events can also fold the rear seatback and have room for four wheels, a helmet and basic supplies and still have room for the front passenger.
The BRZ comes standard with a navigation system that's accessed, like the audio system, through a 6.1-inch touchscreen display. That sounds like a good thing, but unfortunately the control interface features a labyrinth of menus and too-small buttons that makes performing simple tasks a slow, frustrating process.
At least the setup gains more functionality for the latest model year with Subaru's new Starlink infotainment system. Through a user's Bluetooth-connected smartphone, Starlink provides access to Aha radio, which offers tens of thousands of stations of Web-based content like Slacker, MOG and Rhapsody.
Starlink can also help keep Subaru owners stay connected to the social network via Facebook and Twitter news feeds in audio.
Subaru Engine, Toyota Technology
The BRZ utilizes a Subaru 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder motor with a Toyota D-4S fuel injection system, which uniquely combines direct injection and port injection technology. A direct-type fuel-injection system, which sprays fuel directly into the combustion chambers rather than upstream into the ports, provides a cooling effect in the cylinders, enabling the use of a sky-high 12.5:1 compression ratio to extract maximum energy from the fuel. In light- and medium-load conditions, the system's port fuel injectors help produce precise combustion, increasing performance and efficiency.
The result of the joint effort between Subaru and Toyota is 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, which may not sound like much in a time of 280-horsepower family sedans but is actually more than enough to move the lightweight BRZ with authority.
Shifting duties are handled by a standard six-speed manual transmission, which features a short-throw shifter and is aided and abetted by closely spaced pedals for easy heel-and-toe downshifts. City-dwellers and the clutch-averse can opt for a six-speed automatic, which features a Sport mode for quicker, firmer automatic shifts as well as paddle shifters for full manual control.
Unlike all other vehicles in the Subaru lineup, the BRZ is rear-wheel drive only. A limited-slip differential comes standard with both transmissions.
Manual-equipped BRZ models are rated at 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, while opting for the six-speed auto ups mileage to 25/34 mpg.
Trim Level Breakdown
The BRZ is offered in two trim levels - Premium and Limited.
The BRZ Premium includes a generous helping of standard kit, including a navigation system, an eight-speaker sound system, aluminum pedal pads, a leather shift knob and handbrake, a tilt-telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel, HD Radio, Sirius satellite radio, a six-speed manual transmission, a Torsen limited-slip differential and 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 205/55/R17 all-season tires.
The upmarket BRZ Limited adds leather-Alcantara upholstery, heated front seats, a rear lip spoiler, foglights, keyless access and start, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights and slightly meatier 215/45R17 summer tires.
The BRZ comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, front seats designed to protect occupants against whiplash, electronic traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system.
The BRZ doesn't have any direct competitors - the Mazda MX-5 Miata provides a four-cylinder rear-wheel-drive experience, but only as a convertible. The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro are priced similarly but both have much more power - and much more mass.