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Subaru BRZ review (2012 onwards)
What: Subaru BRZ
Where: Isle of Man
Date: June 2012
Price: £24,995 - £27,995
Available: summer 2012
Key rivals:Toyota GT 86, Audi TT, Mazda MX-5, Peugeot RCZ, Nissan 370Z, Volkswagen Scirocco, BMW 1 Series Coupé
Summary: the BRZ is Subaru's take on the coupé project co-developed with Toyota. Just 200hp in combination with an adjustable and agile chassis, it puts the focus firmly on driver involvement to deliver its kicks.
We like: steering dynamics, balanced chassis, design detail, price
We don't like: uninspiring engine note, lacklustre straight-line performance
It is blue, but it doesn't have gold wheels. Does that mean it can legitimately be a fast Subaru? Of course it does. With the BRZ Subaru is trying to move away from the rally special and towards the cultured end of the fast car market, offering a 2+2 coupé developed in conjunction with Toyota.
There's no heavyweight turbocharged motor designed for a world rally challenger here - instead the Subaru uses a modest 2.0-litre petrol with the concept of moving things away from outright horsepower and towards a lightweight, entertaining and engaging chassis to place the focus firmly on enjoyment.
And with efficiency and engine downsizing increasingly prevalent, the BRZ seems reassuringly appropriate. 200hp, a 1,202kg kerb weight and narrow 205-section, low rolling resistance tyres all combine to produce a pared back machine - but does this concept work in the real world?
200hp doesn't sound like a lot these days, especially when you consider you can get that level of go from a sporty diesel hatchback. But it's not outright power that defines the BRZ driving experience.
Performance from the car's 2.0-litre flat-four engine is decent enough, but you have to work at it to reap the rewards. In the latest crop of turbocharged hot hatches, if you tread on the throttle you'll be met by an explosive surge of acceleration, which makes B-road overtaking a doddle.
Motor needs to be thrashed
By contrast, the BRZ's motor needs to be thrashed - peak power comes at 7,000rpm - and unfortunately, it's not the nicest sounding unit. The engine note seems to mask performance, too - it's uninspiring and drones, making it seem like it's unwilling to rev out to its 7,400rpm max.
0-62mph is dispatched in a respectable 7.6 seconds, but cars aren't always driven flat-out like that. An extra chunk of mid-range torque would be a welcome addition and help you keep in touch with those diesel rep mobiles between 30 and 60mph limit changes. Turbocharged BRZ STi anyone? Yes, please.
Ride and handling
This is where the new Scooby is meant to excel, and we have to say, it duly delivers. With less firepower, the car puts the onus on you to be neat and tidy, carrying speed and momentum through corners to make the most of the chassis' poise and balance.
Less grip on offer means understeer builds early - it's transmitted back to the driver well, and with the BRZ's classic front-engined, rear-drive configuration, the throttle can be used to trim the car's line nicely.
Impressive performance in bends
On the tight roads of the Isle of Man we didn't get to test the BRZ's high-speed cornering ability, but its performance in low to medium speed bends is impressive. It's a car you have to bed yourself into, but once you're dialled in it feels nicely direct and agile.
It's the combination of the BRZ's well-weighted and feelsome steering giving a real sense of connectivity to the front end, and a balanced and communicative chassis that notifies the driver of the limits of grip in a progressive way that makes the BRZ a beguiling car to drive.
It's a vehicle that doesn't divulge its secrets all at once, but one that reveals them to you if you employ the right methods to unlock them.
In line with the whole car's concept, you could describe the BRZ's interior as pared back, with no fripperies to distract the driver from the task in hand. Others might say it's plain spartan. It's a subjective judgement, but we think the ergonomics and layout are good.
The real triumph inside the BRZ's cabin are the seats. It's easy to get into a snug driving position and they walk the line between support and comfort perfectly.
Combined with a brilliantly spaced pedal setup that allows for heel and toeing with ease, the controls and their positioning give you confidence to explore the car's abilities that bit sooner.
The dials are clear, easy to read and simple - no illegible stylised fonts here. When you're travelling at a brisk pace (as you likely will do) it's nice to look down and instantly be able to assimilate the info on show.
Only minimal room in rear
Subaru are marketing the BRZ as a 2+2 - if that's the case then your '+2' are going to have to be extremely short of leg. In a conservative driving position there's minimal room behind the seats, but it's nice to have the option there for smaller passengers or extra storage.
Unlike its GT 86 brethren, the BRZ comes in two specifications: SE and SE Lux. The former receives cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels and air conditioning as standard, while the latter gets heated leather seats on top. If it were our money, we think SE trim is all you'd need.
Economy and safety
The BRZ's pared back nature and lowly kerb weight means efficiency is pretty remarkable. The six-speed automatic option is actually the less polluting of the two, emitting 164g/km CO2, versus 181g/km for the standard six-speed manual.
Fuel economy stands at 40.9mpg combined for the three-pedalled car, however, the engine needs to be stoked to make anything like swift progress, so the real-world returns will surely be far less parsimonious.
But the BRZ's target audience probably won't care about that too much. Driving involvement is the key here, it just so happens some of the engineering - the direct injection system, lightweight body, low rolling resistance tyres - all combine to give a welcome by-product of decent efficiency.
Seven airbags come as standard, as do a host of electronic stability systems and a limited-slip differential all helping to keep you pointing in the right direction. Besides the electronic wizardry, the car's natural, benign balance is always working with you, too.
The MSN Cars verdict
Back to the crux of the matter - does the BRZ's lightweight, low powered rationale work in the real world? Put simply, yes, it does. And with a starting price of a fiver less than 25 grand, it begins to look a whole lot more appealing.
The engine is certainly not the most rousing or aurally stimulating piece of kit, but it brings the focus back to old-school normally aspirated, rear-drive thrills. We've been spoiled by the turbo-wizardry of modern petrol engines - without this in the BRZ you need to readjust your driving style.
It could do with a bit more mid-range clout, but it hasn't got it, so you'll have to drive around it. If you're willing to put the effort in, you won't be disappointed.
|Need to know||Subaru BRZ|
|Engines, petrol||2.0 flat-four|
|Torque, lb ft||151lb ft|
|0-62 mph, secs||7.6 secs|
|Top speed, mph||143mph|
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