Posted Nov 12th 2012 12:01PM
Subaru is well known for one element of automotive technology that has huge collateral benefits - all wheel drive. Their trait as a car manufacturer has always centered around putting the power down to all four wheels for safety or for extreme performance. And they have done a stellar job at perfecting their symmetrical all wheel drive system, adapting it to all of their vehicles and offering it to the buying public at a reasonable price.
So when we first got news what seemed so long ago that they were going to develop a 2-door sports car without AWD, we thought there must have been a typo somewhere. And furthermore they were developing the car alongside Toyota which made for even stranger news. Then they dropped the bomb, the boxer engine in the car would be made by them but would lack a turbo We thought about rubbing the rosaries and bathing in holy water as the apocalypse was surely upon us.
Well, the apocalypse never came but the BRZ did and we got some early seat time with it way back in Japan After tearing up the Motegi circuit in the BRZ, we toured the sinuous roads of Southern France in the little coupe but now, here we were standing in front of a pearl white BRZ, keyless key in hand wondering what on earth to do with it in the vast, flat landscape of Southern Ontario. Not what we did in the South of France, that's for sure.
It was our first chance to spend some time with the vehicle in it's element on the daily grind. We'd be commuting in it, stuffing it with groceries and friends, navigating potholes and trying to dodge pedestrians downtown. And when time allowed, we'd go give the little flat-4 a thrashing outside the city limits. Subaru bucked convention by taking on Toyota as a partner and putting this car together. First it's a coupe and there hasn't been one of those in their lineup since the Impreza RS. It's a performance car like the WRX and STi but has no turbo, what is up with that? And finally, the car only drives power towards the rear wheels. We weren't complaining, we were applauding that the Execs decided to shake it up and we were excited to see where the BRZ would go.
Exterior wise, you get pretty much what the Scion FR-S buyer gets but with a handful of tweaks. The front fascia on the BRZ is decidedly more attractive and give the vehicle a more upscale appearance. The optional rear wing gives the BRZ more of a visual appeal and better aerodynamics although it shares the same sleek 0.27 drag co-efficient as the FR-S. The sculpted front bumper, rear wing and even the side vent insert evoke more Subaru, albeit very subtle.Subaru bucked convention by taking on Toyota as a
partner and putting this car together.
As a sub-$30K car, it most certainly appears more expensive. The BRZ commands quite a bit of attention everywhere it went. The reactions ranged from novice questions about whether it was a hatchback, to the bizarre like was it a new Jaguar? Well, the throaty exhaust note, chiseled physique and aura around the car was speaking volumes, it also strangely communicated to other sportscar drivers that we wanted to race. We didn't. We are quite fond of our licences thanks and with 200 hp the BRZ isn't that kind of car.
This naturally aspirated FA20 engine likes to rev and truth is, you kind of have to give it a whopping to squeeze power out of it.
We really craved more RPMs and curiously, the engine seems to want to keep going too. But at the same time winding a motor out that high can be costly for warranties but it sure does make some sweet exhaust notes doing it. Just like the FR-S, the BR-Z has a low-tech air intake bypass to provide engine noises into the cabin in a natural way, take that BMW M5!
Since the BRZ is a genuine effort to conjure up the spirit of sportscars past, you'll want to opt for the 6-speed manual. The automatic will set you back $1,200 and although it has decent shifting through the paddles complete with blips on downshifts, if you are going to really get the full BRZ experience you'll want to row through the gears, be able to launch the car and clutch-kick it when you want to have some rowdy moments.
When it comes to the twisties, the BRZ is ready to take hold or slide its way around depending on the driver. While the BRZ has a slightly softer spring than the FR-S, it will tend to plow ever so slightly more. However, the vehicle has the same suspension design, the same Torsen LSD in the back and the same ability to override the traction control system or switch VSD to 'sport' mode. Then the underlying character comes out making this slightly more gentlemanly coupe equally as aggressive as it's stripped-down sibling.
When it comes to the twisties, the BRZ is ready to take hold or slide
its way around depending on the driver.
We found some twisty roads and quickly went to work. When the Michelin Primacy 215/50R17 tires are fresh, they bite in fairly well up front and provide ample traction in the rear. It is however, easy to find the limits of these tires and we were informed that this is why they were selected. Wrapped around the same narrow, high-offset wheels as the FR-S, we would have liked to see a departure from it's stablemate here, how hard could that have been? For us we'd want a new size of wheels with some more capable UHP tires under the BRZ because there is lots more excitement left in there.
With the BRZ if you want to have fun by wagging the tail, flip off the traction control and prepare to have your car control skills tested. The BRZ is a well balanced car with excellent weight distribution, stiff chassis and a tuned suspension but it isn't as unforgiving as say a Subaru STi. You are making a commitment by turning off the traction control (VSC sport) during some spirited driving or go the track in the BRZ, it can bring loads of joy but it commands your full attention at the wheel and often things can get real lively.
With the BRZ if you want to have fun by wagging the tail, flip off the traction control and prepare to have your car control skills tested.
As we mentioned, the BRZ is a more civilized version of the FR-S. The softer spring rates only hint at what comfort improvements we found inside. Our Tech Package car ($2,000) has the Alcantara seats, which are less boy-racer and slightly more accommodating with a plush microfiber and leather trim. They too hug the driver to the ground and their bold red stitching can be found on both the seats and the 365 mm leather wrapped steering wheel. The insert in the dash is a brushed-aluminum look versus the woven fibre of the FR-S. The BRZ also features a keyless start that occupies some valuable real estate and wonder why it couldn't be closer to the steering column leaving that area for a storage box. Potential buyers have asked us about the back seats and we can only muster, "yes, they are there and they fold down perfectly."
The Tech Package tester included the Pioneer 7-inch touch screen. This unit features Bluetooth audio and voice, DVD and DIVX playback as satellite radio and iPod control. We doubt we would use the SD card slot on the front panel because the USB is the obvious storage method of choice. Overall, the unit sounds good and was easy to operate although we did find the Bluetooth audio constantly disconnecting even though the iPhone4 source was sitting nearby unobstructed. But considering the features also attached to the Tech Package (as well as dual zone climate and vanity mirrors) the price makes it a solid buy.
At $27,295 it is affordable to all as well. Since the BRZ doesn't have a load of options, buyers should opt for the Tech Package. This already inexpensive coupe will be inexpensive to own too since the fuel economy numbers are impressive. The manual car boasts 9.6 L/100km (29 MPG) city, a scant 6.6 L (43 MPG) highway with only 8.2 L/100km (34 MPG) combined. The automatic performs marginally better at 8.3 L/100km (34 MPG) / 5.8 L/100km (49 MPG) and 7.2 L/100km (39 MPG) combined! Let's no forget though, the BRZ needs premium fuel with 12.5:1 compression and we recorded 34 L/100km in the FR-S on the track, so it can be a thirsty motor.
Overall we appreciate this back to basics design. With the in-cabin sound engine noise by-pass, the plastic inner fender wells for less weight and a chassis and the cargo capacity to haul track rubber and a jack is something that we totally back. Would we choose an FR-S or a BRZ? Tough call, it's basically down to brand identity and who gets the turbo first!
Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Dave Pankew / AOL
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