In the world of modern cars, platform sharing is becoming a popular occurrence. When the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 launched a few years ago, there was literally nothing but the badge to separate them. They have both received minor updates for 2017, and whilst you still can’t separate the two, I opted for the Subaru. For me it comes down to two things: the badge, which is more synonymous with sports cars, and the exclusivity of there being fewer around thanks to number limitations on the Subaru. Time to see what those updates are all about…
Looks – 9/10
Subaru has given the BRZ some minor updates, and it certainly looks better for it. At the front the bumper has been sculpted to give a more aggressive stance. The lights are now LED, and that makes a huge difference. To the side the 10-spoke alloy wheels are a new design, and at the back the tail lights have been tweaked, and there’s a new spoiler. If I’m honest, I actually preferred the body-coloured spoiler as it was before, as opposed to this contrasted black one. But overall the exterior styling is still just what you want from a sports car: the large exhausts, those pillar-less doors, and the rounded arches which accentuate how low the BRZ is.
Inside, there are yet more changes. There are more flashes of leather throughout the cabin, with contrasting red stitching. The dials have been enhanced with the addition of a 4.2-inch multi-function display, although the clock and temperature readouts on the centre console have come directly from a 1990’s Legacy. The steering wheel is also new. Some may grumble that it’s got too many buttons and the older, simpler version was better, but I personally think that one looked like it had come from an old Sega Rally arcade game, and I much prefer this chunkier one. The multimedia screen has been updated, and no longer looks like an aftermarket afterthought. The toggle switches look good, but feel a little flimsy. That’s a shame, because on the whole the cabin feels much more robust and high-quality than it did before.
Handling/Performance – 7/10
Despite the cosmetic tweaks, the engine in the BRZ remains unchanged. It’s a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated flat four – or ‘boxer’ – producing 200PS and 205Nm of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a Torsen limited-slip differential, and you can opt for either manual or automatic gearboxes; both 6-speed. The problem is that for a sports car speed is somewhat lacking. The 0-62mph dash takes 7.6 seconds for the manual, and that’s a full second slower than the small hot hatches. The top speed is 140mph. Being naturally aspirated you have to explore the highest realms of the rev band, but the boxer engine doesn’t rev all that nicely. It sounds harsh, and you can feel the vibration through the gear stick. And 205Nm or torque is less than most lawnmowers, so you will find yourself shaking the steering wheel with rage screaming “more power!” at the top of your voice.
Thankfully the BRZ goes round corners much better than it goes in a straight line. The low centre and wide track keep the Subaru planted through the corners. Despite having reasonably skinny tyres (at 215mm wide) grip levels are good. Steering is weighty and direct, allowing you to point the nose exactly where you want it. The beauty of the lack of power is that the BRZ never feels like it’s going to kill you. Sure, the back end will start to step out when you push too hard, especially in the wet, but it’s progressive, and easily held. Despite your backside being about 2 inches from the tarmac, the BRZ is actually comfortable. I only grumbled in stop start traffic as the clutch isn’t the friendliest, but I enjoyed some long motorway slogs in the Subaru with no drama.
Economy – 9/10
When you hear the words ‘boxer engine’ you automatically fear the worst in the economy department. You see the turbocharged versions found in Imprezas and WRX STis were never exactly frugal. But the engine in the BRZ is not turbocharged. And the BRZ is hardly a heavyweight, with a kerb weight of 1,242kg. The result is a car that’s surprisingly economical, returning 36.2mpg on a combined cycle. And on some longer runs I was achieving a figure in the low 40s. CO2 emissions are 180g/km, and that’s a bit on the high side. Because whilst the subsequent years will be charged at the flat rate £140, the first year rate is £800, and that’s pretty tough to stomach. Oddly, the automatic emits 164g/km, resulting in a first year rate of £500.
Practicality – 7/10
Subaru describe the BRZ as a 2+2, and I can see why they might: there are two seat-like objects in the back. But try and sit in them and you will discover they are as useful as a chocolate teapot. Unless you have no legs. Put it this way, I am 5ft7in short, and with the driver’s seat optimised the rear legroom was approximately 3 inches. With a taller driver even kids would struggle. So if you’re buying the BRZ with a view to having people in the back regularly, then forget it. If you’re not, then you’ll do just fine with the Subaru. The boot is a decent size. Visibility is good, and the standard equipment includes keyless entry and go, dual-zone air conditioning, hill start assist, cruise control, heated front seats and automatic headlights. Frustratingly, a satellite navigation system is an optional extra.
Fun – 8/10
With that sporty styling bringing the kerb appeal, the BRZ makes you want to get in and drive it. When you take your seat, you will be impressed with the low-down, straight-legged driving position. You are at one with the road, and feel like you are an important part of the machinery that separates from the tarmac. On the right road you can enjoy that boxer engine, taking it up to the red line and wringing out every last horsepower. Unfortunately there will be times when you find yourself at the lights next to a little hot hatch, or a German saloon. And you will have to sit there, in your sports car, knowing that you can’t win. Most of the time, the BRZ is great, but you will inevitably wish for more power, and over time I think this could grow to be quite the annoyance.
The changes to the BRZ may be small, but they do make a big difference. In particular the revised instrument cluster makes the interior feel a little more modern, although features such as the clock are straight out of the 1990s. The engine still feels like it needs a little more power, as the performance is not quite as impressive as it should be. But in terms of fun, you can’t go wrong with the BRZ. And providing you don’t have children over the age of 6 – they just won’t fit – then it’s also an easy car to live with. Prices start at a reasonable £26,495, but that puts the BRZ directly in the firing line of the faster, more family-friendly Ford Focus ST. For more information visit the Subaru website or your local dealer. It may not be the obvious choice, but it’s definitely a fun choice: one you won’t regret.
Total Score – 40/50