Subaru BRZ just wants to have fun

The BRZ is the result of a collaborative venture between Subaru and Toyota. The latter’s version is sold as the Scion FR-S. These sister rides mark radical shifts for both companies: The FR-S is the first Toyota to feature Subaru’s flat-four boxer engine; for Subaru, it is the company’s first car since the late 1990s to be sold without the advantage of all-wheel drive.

Does this put a damper on the BRZ and its ability? The answer is not really, as the handling and vehicle response are finely honed and the ride quality is good given the sports-oriented suspension. It does a very good job of dialing out body roll and instilling a surprisingly neutral feel to the drive. When pushed hard into a corner, it does begin to understeer, but it is easy to toss the back end out and induce oversteer. The enjoyable part is that when the back does begin to break away, it does so in an entirely predictable manner. Throw in the light, but direct, steering and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, and the BRZ’s driving dynamics are delightful.

The bonus is the feedback the BRZ affords the driver — it is as though the car rotates around the driver’s posterior, which is a very good thing. The BRZ can be likened to a roofed Mazda MX-5 — that’s how much fun it is.

The unspoken bonus is the feedback the BRZ affords the driver — it is as though the car rotates around the driver’s posterior, which is a very good thing. The BRZ can be likened to a roofed Mazda MX-5 — that’s how much fun it is.

When it is time to play, Subaru gives the driver a number of options. First, the stability control system has a sport mode, which allows the back end to twitch before stepping in. The traction control can also be turned off, which allows some wheelspin and a little more lateral movement before the control system starts to wag a disapproving finger. The fun setting, however, is when the traction control is off. Now the back end is free to drift whenever the driver decides to kick it out.

A 2.0-litre, flat-four boxer engine that spins out 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque powers the BRZ. In a car that weighs just 1,280-kilograms, this is more than enough to be entertaining — a noise attenuator brings some of the engine’s noise into the cabin, which serves to amplify the BRZ’s sporty tone. The test car arrived with the optional six-speed manumatic, which features three modes (Snow, Normal and Sport) and paddle shifters. The Normal mode sees the box nudge up the gears early to promote fuel economy. Selecting Sport mode holds the each gear longer and makes the most of the engine’s power. Kudos for leaving the paddle shifters active regardless of the shift lever’s position — it, too, has a manual gate. This allows the driver to take advantage of engine braking heading into a corner. The box also rev-matches on downshifts, which eases the transition and adds to the BRZ’s sporty appeal.

Testing pegged the BRZ’s run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour at 8.5 seconds, which is respectable — the manual transmission shaves about a second off this time. The turbocharged version of the BRZ promises to be something else.

The first thing I noticed after I slipped behind the wheel was the near-vertical nature of everything, including the steering wheel. This does not hurt the driving position, which is nicely supported by the front bucket seats. The control layout is logical for the most part and the materials are of acceptable quality. One nit to pick about the interior is how the Bluetooth microphone hangs from the headliner — it looks like an afterthought and a throwback to the infancy of hands-free technology.

The bigger issue has to do with the audio system. The volume knob is about the size of the tip of one’s pinky finger, which makes it very difficult to use under normal circumstances and impossible if the user is wearing gloves. Finally, accessing most of the vehicle set-up functions, including Bluetooth, required the car to be parked and the handbrake applied.

This proved to be a royal pain.

Any notion the BRZ is a 2+2 was very quickly quashed when I attempted to sit in back seat. With the driver’s seat set for my stubby legs, there was barely enough room between the front and rear seats to wedge my size eight running shoe into the gap called legroom. Move the front seat rearward a couple of notches and that pittance disappeared. There is a silver lining here — given the trunk measures a scant 6.9 cubic feet, folding the rear seat back down opens up some realistic (and needed) interior storage space.

Driving the BRZ taught me a few lessons. First, the lack of Subaru’s excellent all-wheel-drive system is disappointing, but not devastating. Yes, it will make a winter drive more interesting, but, with the right tires, it should be entirely manageable. Second, if you are shopping for a two-seat hardtop that is an utter delight to drive, the BRZ is very well suited. But if you’re looking for a 2+2, shop elsewhere.

Type of vehicle: Rear-wheel-drive sports coupe
Engine: 2.0L flat-four
Power: 200 hp @ 7,000 rpm; 151 lb-ft of torque @ 6,400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manumatic
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires: P215/45 R17
Base price/as tested: $27,295/$29,295
Destination charge: $1,695
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km: 8.3 city, 5.9 hwy.
Standard features: Dual-zone automatic climate control, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry and push-button start, Alcantara upholstery, heated front seats, six-way manual driver’s seat, tilt/telescopic steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/DVD with streaming audio, touchscreen, auxiliary input and eight speakers,
Bluetooth, outside temperature and trip computer, alloy pedals, multi-mode stability control system, anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, automatic Xenon headlights, LED taillights, fog lights.

Graeme Fletcher, National Post

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