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Review of: 2017 Subaru BRZ 2dr Cpe Man Sport-tech
2017 Subaru BRZ: You don't need tons of power to have tons of fun
By Jil McIntosh
Nov. 24, 2016
More power and better performance: two things we always like to see, and Subaru’s BRZ gets a little of both for 2017. Be warned that the rise in muscle is very modest, though, and it’s the new features, styling tweaks, and chassis rigidity that are the newsworthy items.
The only rear-driver in Subaru’s otherwise-all-wheel fleet, the BRZ was also trimmed and sold as the Scion FR-S. With that brand’s demise, it will re-emerge for 2017 as the Toyota 86, the name that was always used in overseas markets, where Scion wasn’t sold.
The Subaru comes in only two trim levels, the base BRZ and my tester, the BRZ Sport-Tech, both available with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. For 2017, both models receive such upgrades as redesigned front and rear ends, auto-levelling LED headlamps, rear wing spoiler, hill start assist, 17-inch wheels, rearview camera, and new steering wheel, plus retuned suspension, standard hill hold, and “track” dynamic vehicle control mode. The Sport-Tech also receives interior trim upgrades and LED fog lamps.
The power upgrade is only applicable to the stick shift: 205 horsepower, up from 200, and 156 lb.-ft. of torque, up from 151 lb.-ft. The 200/151 figures now apply only to the autobox. Stick shift models also now have a lower final drive ratio for better acceleration.
The BRZ starts at $27,995 and climbs to $29,195 with the automatic. My manual-equipped Sport-Tech came in at $29,995, while adding the autobox would bring it to $31,195 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Great fun to drive
- + The joy of lightness
- + Styling
- - Rear seat access
- - Premium fuel required
- - touch screen
Changes to the styling are subtle: a wider and lower bumper cover, new fender garnish, LED headlamps and tail lights, and the new aluminum rear wing.
It’s a drop down to get into the low-slung BRZ, but that profile gives you an equally low centre of gravity, and this car hugs the curves like a long-lost lover. Needless to say, you’ll have to be very cautious when driving nose-in against parking curbs.
The BRZ is a looker from any angle, with great proportions and just enough angles. The new LED lamps fit perfectly into the front design, and their shape is echoed in the red rear lamps. Both trim levels come with 17-inch wheels, and other than the Sport-Tech’s LED fog lamps, there are no exterior differences between the two. Only four kilograms of curb weight separates the two, and the Sport-Tech with manual is an impressive lightweight at just 1,267 kg.
Subaru calls this a “four-passenger” coupe. That might be true if two of your passengers don’t have legs. Consider this a two-seater with very supportive and well-bolstered front seats that set the driver in precisely the right position for the wheel, pedals and shifter.
While Subaru’s interiors can often be too plastic-heavy, the Sport-Tech’s leather-and-Alcantara chairs (replacing cloth seats in the base model), padded dash panel, and contrasting red stitching give it an upscale look. Both trim levels include such items as aluminum pedals, flat-folding rear seat, and leather-wrapped steering wheel, but the Sport-Tech adds dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with push-button start, illuminated vanity mirrors, and heated seats.
It’s cramped in the cabin, but the controls are laid out well, and nothing’s hidden or difficult to access. On the Sport-Tech, the instrument cluster includes a gauge that can be toggled to access a g-force meter and lap timer.
There doesn’t seem to be a lick of soundproofing material in the BRZ, but that’s okay. It’s noisy, but in a really good way. It’s raw and engaging, which is exactly what you want.
Both trim levels come with the same infotainment system, which packs navigation, SMS text messaging, Bluetooth audio streaming, satellite radio, and a backup camera into a 6.1-inch screen. The system is easy to use in terms of its interface, and I appreciate that Subaru includes a large dial for on/off and for volume. The navigation system is also easy to program, and it does a good job of suggesting new routes around traffic snarls, but the touchscreen can be slow and require a lot of finger pressure to make something happen, especially if the glass is cold.
The BRZ uses a 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder, making the aforementioned 205 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque when mated to the six-speed manual, as mine was. It’s fed by direct injection, but there’s no turbo—at least, not yet, although the company has made some internal engine improvements that might hint at some form of forced-air induction in future.
Put a turbo on this and send power to all four wheels, and you’d have one super-smokin’ hunk-o-fun. Of course, while the devil on one shoulder says “go for it,” the more logical voice on the other side says that such enhancements would send the BRZ’s tag soaring beyond the car’s main attribute: a decent price for a really good driver.
It’s not a powerhouse, but that’s easily forgivable once you start putting it through its paces. The free-revving engine loves to have its needle up in the higher revolutions, and it’s easiest to snick the short-throw shifter into smooth cog changes when it’s being driven hard. The pedals are perfectly positioned for heel-and-toe, too.
The 2017 changes include a larger rear stabilizer bar, new springs and shocks, and reinforced strut tower braces and transmission crossmember plate. It’s rigid, it’s tight, and it’s a blast to drive. The sharp steering almost anticipates where you’re planning to go, and it’s glued to the ground around corners.
But what really puts a smile on your face is the level of engagement. At every step of the way, you’re driving this car. You have to shift a lot to keep the engine in the sweet spot, you need to rev-match to keep it smooth, and the steering’s just this side of twitchy. This is not for the set-it-and-forget-it crowd who just wants to get from A to B. The BRZ is a driver’s car, and those who understand that will be pleased.
It wants premium fuel, but it’s fairly frugal with it. Against published figures of 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the highway, I averaged 8.8 L/100 km in combined (and fun) driving.
Starting at $27,995 and rising to $31,195, I think the BRZ is decent value for this fun, mainstream-branded, rear-wheel coupe. There aren’t a lot of models that meet that exact configuration, now that the Hyundai Genesis Coupe has been discontinued. The front-wheel Honda Civic Si should be a blast, but it doesn’t arrive until next year.
The Toyota 86 rolls in halfway between the top and bottom rungs of its Subaru sibling. It comes in just a single model to the BRZ’s two, priced at $29,580 with the stick shift, and $30,780 for the automatic.
Ford’s Focus ST is also relatively well-priced at a starting cost of $33,498 and an impressive 252 horses out of its 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine. That price also gives you most of the features found on the Sport-Tech, but it differs in that Ford sends its power to the front wheels.
Among other great handlers that put a smile on your face, Mazda’s two-passenger MX-5 starts at $31,900 with a soft top and $38,800 for a retractable hardtop, while BMW’s 2 Series starts at $36,200; the two-door Mini starts between $21,900 and $33,740; Nissan’s 370Z begins at $29,998; and a Golf GTI starts at $29,495.
The bottom line is that you’re not going to be bragging the power numbers with your friends. But raw power isn’t the only definition of fun, and the BRZ proves that. It’s not for casual owners, or those who just want a commuter car. It needs someone who loves to drive, and if that’s you, take it for a spin.