The most loaded-up of the Toyobaru twins If it’s bigger, it must be better, right? It is this kind of thinking that has changed the way auto enthusiasts evaluate cars in recent years.
This 2013 Subaru BRZ Sport-Tech represents a fresh take in an age where more is always better. More horsepower, more torque, more gadgets, more safety, more fuel efficiency, the list goes on. Value for the dollar has pretty much taken over as the number one priority when it comes to nearly everything in the consumer world. If it’s bigger, it must be better, right? It is this kind of thinking that has changed the way auto enthusiasts evaluate cars in recent years.
Nowadays, horsepower is used as a crutch for many reasons. The first being for marketing (more = better), and the second reason is to combat the rise in overall curb weights. More stringent safety regulations and the constant barrage of features built into new cars means more weight gain. Even only ten years ago, it was only the full-size barges that saw curb weights approach and pass 4000lbs. Now, several larger family sedans break that mark. When it comes to having fun behind the wheel, weight is always the enemy. It affects turn-in response, overall grip, and the effect of having more weight shifting around as you are driving dynamically can produce some more drastic (read: unwanted) responses. Tires need to be larger to provide the grip necessary to safely get the car stopped, brakes need to be larger to stop the larger mass that is sitting on top, and suspensions need to withstand more compression and rebound forces. More weight also negatively impacts fuel efficiency. The cycle never ends.
The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S cousins, before release, have been widely discussed at length through nearly all automotive publications. The hype machine is a very powerful thing, and directly influences preconceived notions that people may have, long before being able to experience the real thing. As a result, both these cars had some major expectations to exceed. The fundamentals that made everybody so excited are very sound: low curb weight, manual transmission availability, limited-slip differential, low centre of gravity, and a competitive asking price. Such a formula hasn’t been available in a clean-sheet design for several years. As somebody who decries the continual weight creep that we are seeing nowadays, it was hard not to get excited about these cars.
My 2013 Subaru BRZ Sport-Tech tester was painted the ubiquitous World Rally Blue most often associated with the Subaru Impreza world rally cars. Low-slung, compact, and with an aggressive look, the BRZ managed to attract attention everywhere I went. Immediately leaving Subaru’s offices west of Toronto, I came across a group of cyclists that expressed their approval of the new BRZ. I felt the front lighting setup to be particularly attractive – bright white LEDs serve as daytime running lights, and the “boomerang” around the low-beam HID headlamp is a nice accent that serves as the parking lights. The rear spoiler, part of the Sport-Tech package, is something I would personally skip as it looks like it comes from a Pontiac Grand Am Coupe. I liked the overall size of the car (only 166.9”) which makes it easy to place the car, whether at the racetrack or on the city streets. The tops of the front fenders are visible from the driver’s seat.
In the BRZ, you sit very low and deep within the extremely well-bolstered front bucket seats. The controls for the heating/cooling system are fairly simple and straightforward thanks to the use of rotary knobs. The BRZ uses the Subaru-standard double-DIN Pioneer navigation system. It is okay – not very fast to react but gets the job done once you get used to its required load times. The all-important controls to disable stability and traction control are prominently located on the centre console for enthusiasts to quickly disable. Press to enable Sport mode (higher thresholds before electronic intervention) and hold to disable the nannies completely.
The BRZ is Subaru’s first rear-drive model in many years – they have been proud to tout the standard symmetrical AWD system across the board up until now. Under the hood lives a 2.0L “Boxer” four-cylinder motor (codenamed FA20), producing 200hp, and 151 lb-ft of torque. This motor is paired up your choice of with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Out of all the BRZs and Scion FR-S’ that belong to my friends, none are automatics. This is interesting considering the obvious trend in both the industry and consumer buying patterns that suggest manual transmissions are going out of style. This powertrain only needs to motivate around 2700lbs. of mass – relatively lightweight for today’s standards. Subaru also likes to brag about the low centre of gravity of the BRZ. What this means is most of the weight is closer to the ground, and when paired up with the near-deal 50/50 weight distribution front to rear, make for good driving dynamics.
Another benefit of the relatively low curb weight is the increased fuel efficiency. The engine doesn’t have as much mass to move and this is reflected in the BRZ’s fuel consumption ratings. Rated at 9.6L/100km in the city and 6.6L/100km on the highway, these numbers aren’t too far off what would be considered acceptable for a standard compact family sedan. I managed a respectable 7.8L/100km during my week of mixed driving with the BRZ. This did include some amounts of driving sideways accompanied with dabs of opposite steering lock on a closed course! Premium fuel is required for this car.
What stood out to me about the BRZ was how easy it was to drive, and how it flies in the face of convention by proving that less really is more. Always one to be a little cautious when getting behind the wheel of an unfamiliar car, I enabled the VSC “Sport” function first which lets you have a little more fun but still keeps the electronic safety assists on for when you really get out of shape. I was surprised at how easy it was to step the rear end of the car out, and how easy it was to control. Disabling the VSC system entirely leaves everything to you. One reason why it is so easy to slide around is down to the tires Subaru fits on to the BRZ. They are Michelin Primacy HP – summer “touring” tires, in size 215/45R17.
Internet sleuths would be correct in suggesting they are Toyota Prius tires, and they would be right. Top-level Toyota Prius V models could also be equipped with this rubber. These same internet sleuths were the first to cry foul over the tire choice. I think Subaru (and Toyota) made the right choice, to ensure maximum fun out of the box. The Primacy HP provides enough grip, but the important item here is that it is predictable grip. Part of the reason why the BRZ is so easy to drift and drive sideways is because of these specific tires. A stickier summer performance tire would help lap times on the track, but hinder your ability to set up those sideways drifts that are always worth a million points on the internet. Tires are by far the cheapest and most effective upgrade one can do on any car, so if you desire more grip, it is easy to swap out to a more aggressive compound. Drift versus grip: what do you fancy?
The other thing that was on my mind until I tested this BRZ was the constant moaning and groaning on the Internet (again) about the car being underpowered. With only 151 lb-ft of torque high up in the rev range, I came into this week expecting to have to flog the go-fast pedal to produce any kind of meaningful result. My modest expectations were more than met: I found the torque curve to be fairly flat. Getting around the city was no sweat even in higher gears. This is attributed to the low curb weight (again) and the short gearing. Your hands and feet will be busy in this car, which is not a bad thing, but you will see revs over 3000rpm at 120km/h on the highway. I know of people who bought the Hyundai Genesis 2.0T because they desired even more power, but that car isn’t as attractive to me personally because it is so much larger, weighs more, and does not feature a limited-slip differential to help deliver that increased power down to the ground.
The last item on my mind was how suitable the BRZ would be to me as a daily driver. I am of average height, at 5’9”, but even with my average dimensions, my seating position renders the rear seat behind the driver useless. For those who are on the fence trying to justify the BRZ as an occasional family car: please think about your decision. As a car for two people, headroom and legroom are excellent. As soon as you need to carry more passengers, the situation changes quickly. I would personally use the rear seats as a deck to store more stuff in the car (read: another set of wheels and tires for the track). On the bright side, the rear seats do fold down.
Subaru’s BRZ deserves all the good press it has gotten – it really is hard to beat from a driving dynamics versus value perspective. There has been some discussion about a BRZ convertible, which would give the Mazda MX-5 some direct competition. As far as I’m concerned, that is good company to be associated with. There is even some talk about a high-performance STi model, which is sure to resolve the issue with power that some people have. As I returned the BRZ to Subaru, there were three catchphrases that came to mind: “save the manuals!” and “less is more”, and “more more more”. Everybody wins when cars like this hit the market.
2013 Subaru BRZ Sport-Tech Gallery