Over-Rated, Or A Motoring Sensation? Subaru BRZ Review

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Last year I had a quick spin in a Toyota GT86, and to be honest, I left the car feeling rather underwhelmed. In fact, my initial conclusion was that the car was over-rated and that the only reason it had been well praised was due to its relatively low asking price. Maybe I was missing something? Therefore, when Subaru gave me a chance to test the BRZ a week I snapped at the chance, as I really wanted to get to know the car more.

At this point you may be wondering what on Earth the BRZ has in common with the GT86. Well, in case you don’t know, they are the same car, just with different badge. You see, the BRZ/GT86 is built as part of a partnership with Toyota and Subaru, although you’ll quickly learn that the BRZ is less common on U.K. roads. Without meaning to get a bit nerdy, this is because so many GT86s have to be sold before a BRZ is allowed to leave a dealer. So if exclusivity is what you crave, go for the option with the blue badge.

Hold up, it’s an AUTO?!

Yes, I’m afraid my week’s experience was to be with an automatic model much to my disdain. An automatic? In a car like this? Sacrilege! Ok, maybe that’s a bit too strong, but you get my point. As much as I’d rather have a three pedal setup, I can see advantages of having the auto option, which I will delve in to a little later.

Subaru BRZ Review
There’s just the two pedals I’m afraid.

Design and Styling

The BRZ is an attractive car, albeit not quite as aggressively styled as some of its rivals. Despite this, it’s got its bulges in the right places, plus it’s well proportioned. The model test here is finished in Ice Silver, and is sitting on 17″ alloys with satisfyingly thin spokes. This is the SE Lux model, meaning that you get a rear wing on the boot, which in all honesty, I don’t much care for.

Step inside and you’ll find sports seats that are mounted low within the cabin to really give you a race car vibe. The seats are so low in fact, that you feel like you’ve significantly decreased your altitude every time to fall in to the car. Once, you’ve got over that, you’ll turn an realise that it’s got back seats, it won’t take you long to figure out that these are about as much use a fire extinguisher filled with petrol.

The SE Lux model gives a nice soft touch dashboard as well as a few splashes of leather in the cabin, but I’m afraid it’s far from premium. Yes, I know this car is designed to be affordable, but even so, the buttons feel rather cheap and nasty, plus the clock looks like it’s come from another time – pun intended. In fact, I had a similar clock on my Mazda MX-5, and that was 18 years old!

Rating: (3.5 / 5)

Equipment

The car’s interior may be a bit bargain basement, but there is more kit on offer than you may expect. Two trim levels are available with the BRZ, SE Lux and SE Lux Auto. The latter is tested here, offering features such as 6.2″ colour touchscreen, Bluetooth, navigation, cruise control, heated front seats, dual zone climate control, automatic headlights and LED headlights to name a few. Couple this with the automatic gearbox and you’re looking at an asking price of just over £28,000.

If you choose to forgo the automatic gearbox for the manual, you’ll be looking at a starting price of £26,525. If you’re a keen driver, this looks to be the better option and you’ll save yourself a bit of money, although in the long run it will cost more to fill up.

Rating: (4.5 / 5)

Space and Comfort

Ok, let’s be honest, you wouldn’t expect much space and comfort in a car like this, but you know what? It’s not too bad. I imagine a fair few people won’t want to daily this car, but that’s not to say it’s not doable. Believe it or not, but I covered a lot of motorway miles in this car and it wasn’t quite as tiring as I thought it’d be. Yes, the ride is definitely rather firm, and although the seats are great for keeping you place, you will get cramp in your lower back for longer journeys.

Space in the front is pretty good though, and there are enough cubbyholes to help the car maintain some practicality. The doorbins are able to hold a bottle, there are cupholders in the middle as well as a few a small storage compartment, plus there bottle holders in each door. The glovebox also offers a decent amount of space, so the front should be practical enough for most needs.

Things go rapidly downhill when you move to the rear. The fact there are even rear seats at all is nigh-on laughable as I’m yet to figure out who could actually use them. Even children would struggle for space in the rear, so it does make you wonder who Subaru thinks will be able to use them. They may be handy if you happen to know Warwick Davis or Peter Dinklage, otherwise you’re likely to use them as a secondary boot.

Speaking of which, the boot isn’t as impractical as you may expect, as it offers 243 litres. Yes, this may seem small on paper, but in practice it’s actually rather usable. I was able to fit all of my filming equipment in there as well as an overnight bag, with some space left over for some souvenirs from a trip to Cheddar.

Rating: (3 / 5)

What’s It Like To Drive?

Practicality isn’t the reason you’re reading this review, so it’s about time I let you know how the car drives. The reason why I was underwhelmed by the GT86 when I drove it last year was because it felt underpowered, there was no low-end torque, plus I didn’t much care for the engine note. In truth, the car felt old fashioned, it didn’t feel like a new car. Stepping in to the BRZ felt a bit apprehensive, but once I fell in to to low slung driver’s seat I was ready to get cracking.

Fire the car up and you’re greeted with a modest roar from the 2.0 litre naturally aspirated boxer engine, prompting me to wonder why I hadn’t enjoyed the vocal performance of the GT86 (they share the same engine). This engine offers a modest 197bhp and 205Nm of torque, which seems slow by today standards. The performance figures don’t help matters either as you’ll need to wait 8.2 seconds to hit 62mph and the top speed is 130mph.

Subaru BRZ Review
Powering the BRZ is a 2.0 litre naturally aspirated engine pumping out 197bhp.

Granted, things improve if you choose the manual (7.6 seconds and 140mph), but even so, a Porsche Cayman will show it a clean set of tyres. I know, I know, the Cayman costs more money, but you get my point. To give a fairer example, a 2.0 litre MX-5 will crack 62mph 0.5 seconds faster, but does have a slightly lower top speed.

Thanks to the BRZ’s lack of turbo does make the car feel rather old school though as you really need to wring its neck out to get to the performance. Do this, and you’ll be greeted with a raspy engine note that can sound a little coarse, but it certainly has character. The automatic gearbox does get in the way somewhat though. Left to its down devices, you’ll find there is a delay between you stamping the pedal on the right and the car actually building revs.

Subaru BRZ Review
Ready for takeoff…

Thankfully, you can put the car in to Sport mode to improve matters, but even then you won’t need to work overly hard to find the 6-speed autmatic ‘box napping. Slot the gear selector the right, however, and you can take full control using the paddles mounted to the steering wheel. Once completed, the gearbox feels a lot more responsive and complaint.

Other than that bugbear, the BRZ is a fun and rewarding car to drive. Like the MX-5, it’s not built for out-and-out speed, and instead it’s built for motoring purity. Through the corners it handles fantastically and there is plenty of grip when you want it, but you can get the back end out when you manhandle the steering and the throttle. The car is wonderfully predictable, so you have plenty of warning before the Michelins are the back decide to give up their duties.

Subaru BRZ Review

The advantage of having a boxer engine as opposed to an inline 4 is that it can be mounted in lower in the car, thus giving it a lower centre of gravity. This pays dividends as the car responds with every input you make, giving you the impression that it’s pivoting around your hips. The steering also offers a nice weight and offers the communication needed to really enjoy a car like this.

Subaru BRZ Review

The brakes felt a bit spongy to begin with, but I think that’s mainly because the brake pedal itself just needs more pressure to be applied through it. Adapt your driving style a little bit and you should find that the brakes perform just fine. What about the ride though? As you would expect, the ride is firm, but I still think it’s comfortable enough to use day-to-day. There is quite a lot of road noise though, so driving it on the motorway can be wearing as you’ll have to crank the stereo up and you may find yourself having to raise you voice to talk to your passenger. Bluetooth calls are best avoided for the same reason…

Rating: (4.5 / 5)

Fuel Economy

I know, discussing such an area for a car like this does indeed feel like a bit of a moot point. However, this area could worthwhile to some of you – other readers feel free to gloss over this part – so let me cover it in a bit of detail. This is where the automatic gearbox starts to make a bit of sense, as it offers 39.8mpg on a combined run as opposed to 36.2mpg offered by the manual.

Subaru BRZ Review
As you would expect, it’s not the most frugal…

In my experience I found I was getting around 34-35mpg, but that will of course fall when you really start to rag the car.That’s better than what a 2.0 litre MX-5 can muster as that offers 30.4mpg on a combined run. The auto also emits less CO2 than the manual – 164g/km as opposed to 180g/km. Even so, the 2.0 litre MX-5 emits slightly less CO2 – 161g/km.

Rating: (3 / 5)

Final Thoughts

Has the BRZ won me over after my disappointing drive in the GT86? Yes, it most definitely has. Yes, it’s not the most refined car in the market, nor is it the fastest, but it offers a driving sensation that’s rare to find on the new car market. The BRZ feels analogue, it feels raw, it feels pure. At first I would have called it a bit old fashioned, but I think a better way of putting it is old-school.

I won’t lie, I’d rather have a Mazda MX-5 as it has a nicer interior, you can take the roof off and it costs less money. However, it is worth noting that I’m biased because I own a first generation model of said car. The BRZ is less common though, and throughout my time with the car it got a lot more attention than I would have predicted. You also won’t have to worry about anyone saying you have a “hairdresser’s car”…

Subaru BRZ Review

The BRZ is a brilliant car. It’s not perfect, but I suppose if it were, the car would less character. I would describe this car as a rough diamond, and despite its flaws, I now finally understand why so many rave on about this car.

Car Obsession Rating: (4 / 5)

Pros:

  • Sporty looks
  • Engaging drive
  • Crisp handling
  • Practical Boot
  • Good level of kit
  • Good value for money
  • Old school performance wrapped in a new package

Cons:

  • Automatic gearbox can be sluggish
  • Rear seats aren’t really usable
  • Cheap interior
  • Loud tyre noise

Rivals

Toyota GT86

GT86 Blue EditionThe obvious choice as the main rival for the BRZ. They essentially the same car, but their driving characteristics are ever so slightly different. I would have to drive both cars back-to-back to give an informed comparison, but others have commented that the BRZ has a sharper turn-in whilst the GT86 is a bit more playful at the rear. The GT86 is also easier to get your hands on, too.

Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 First DriveAh, the MX-5, the most popular sports car ever made. It has a similar approach to the BRZ, but it’s cheaper, plus you can take the roof down when the sun is out. Yes, it has no back seats, but you could really argue that the BRZ doesn’t either. The MX-5’s boot is smaller though, and it’s not as frugal (unless you opt for the 1.5 litre model).

 

Nissan 370Z

The 370Z is yet another sports car to come from the land of the rising sun. Unlike the other cars on this list, this alternative wades in to battle with 3.7 litre V6 engine. Therefore you get some ‘proper’ sports car performance as well as a 6-cylinder soundtrack. It’ll obviously cost you more at the pumps, plus it will cost more to buy.

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