The regular BRZ still gets looks, but the owner of this will get a constant reminder that they made the right choice.
Five minutes. Five minutes were all it took for someone else to nearly cause an incident on the road while distractedly looking at the 2017 Subaru BRZ Inazuma Edition. Immediately upon picking the car up, a motorist in a Honda nearly rear-ended a minivan because he was too busy looking at the sleek lines, red calipers, and bright yellow accents of the Inazuma. So, it attracts attention – noted. However, what I set out to do over the course of a week, was to see if the BRZ Inazuma Edition (which translates to “lightning”) was any different to drive, and whether or not it was worthy of a “special edition” title.
Unless, you’ve been living under a rock since 2013, you probably have driven, or read about and therefore formed an opinion on the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ. This also means you likely fall into one of two camps: those that think the BRZ is a wonderfully-balanced and engaging sports car, or those that think it’s a wonderfully-balanced and engaging sports car with not quite enough power. Full disclosure: I generally fall into the former camp. After blasting around in several of these on the race track, it becomes evident that what they lack in power, they make up for in chassis balance and design.
The Inazuma, like all BRZs before it, could maybe do with a bit more torque, but with only a proper set of dedicated tires, you can set surprisingly fast lap times while maintaining a stupid grin on your face. Once you carry some sideways speed through a sweeping corner in one of these, you’ll likely stop worrying about it being underpowered.
The BRZ has never felt under-braked on the track. I was always impressed with the way these cars could bleed off speed in a confident manner, which I’m sure, is due largely to the low curb weight. Now however, with fixed-caliper big Brembos all the way around, this Inazuma Edition STOPS. In fact, the brakes way outperform the amount of rubber on the road. Brake feel is wonderful, with a solid pedal, excellent feedback, and tons of confidence. With these Brembos, you are ready for extended track sessions. Oh, and since they are bright red, they look really, really cool.
The other performance difference with the Inazuma Edition is the addition of Sachs dampers all the way around. As they are a bit beefier, you may notice a difference in extended sessions on the track, but likely won’t differentiate from the standard Sport-tech BRZ trim. However if you are coming from an early BRZ, you will find the ride much more supple and controlled. Back in 2013 the BRZ sort of “crashed” over bumps, but the 2017 model (reviewed here) seems to glide down the road in comparison. These changes make for a comfortable commuter. In fact, the whole 2017 BRZ lineup underwent several different changes – not just in the Inazuma edition. With a facelifted front, new steering wheel, and new gauge cluster, I was immediately intrigued by the updates.
One of the selling points of the BRZ when it was released was an uncluttered driving experience. The steering wheel was fat, perfectly shaped, just the right diameter, and void of any distracting buttons. The 2017 seems to have forgotten all of that; the new steering wheel is way too thin, and is filled with buttons. It may be a nicer-feeling leather, but it simply isn’t thick enough. The buttons on the steering wheel, while necessary to control the new screen on the gauge cluster, are too busy and not intuitive. On the upside, the buttons on the steering wheel allow you to toggle through a nifty screen in the cluster that displays a whole host of different diagnostics.
Huge props to Subaru here, because one of the selectable performance screens will tell you oil temperature, coolant temperature, and battery voltage. ALL cars should have this. If I could make one request, it would be having an oil pressure gauge as well. The other few screens are cool to look at, but a bit gimmicky. The lap timer function seems handy, but you have to push the lap button yourself on the steering wheel, rendering it a bit inaccurate for real lap timing, and the torque and horsepower graph does nothing except clearly illustrate for you the massive torque dip that the engine suffers from around 4000RPM. That being said, these screens add a bit of a premium feel to the interior. Speaking of the interior, this is where the Inazuma edition feels a bit special.
Pretty much everywhere you look in the cockpit, you’ll find bright yellow accents. The seats have yellow trim, the door handles have yellow trim, and essentially every part of the interior is stitched in the same thread. The dashboard trim is now finished in black leather and the yellow stitching accents it nicely. The result of all this, is that you aren’t likely to forget you are in the Inazuma Edition, which is a good thing, considering you are paying $32,695, over the $29,995 of the Sport-Tech trim. If you step back for a second, and consider that a Brembo big brake kit is easily a couple grand on its own, and that you are also getting a wicked, yellow trimmed limited-run BRZ with a cool name, it’s a bargain.
The rest of the interior is broadly the same as previous BRZs. The infotainment system is fine, but certainly not a highlight of the car, and the controls are the same as the pre-facelift car. The seats are comfortable and very supportive, and the driving position is essentially perfect. The pedals are spaced well, and you never feel cramped, whether on the track or driving up north for the weekend. However, the 2017 has lost a bit of rawness sadly. I drove it back to back with a friend’s 2013 BRZ Sport-Tech, and I can tell you with certainty that the clutch is lighter and the steering is lighter. The new car’s steering still retains impressive feel and feedback for an electrically assisted rack, but I would prefer more weight to the controls. Thankfully, the shifter still has the same short throws and positive feel.
Driver engagement and chassis response is still there with the BRZ. Due to the flat profile of the four-cylinder boxer engine, the car retains an impressively low centre of gravity. It feels very, very flat in the corners, and since you sit so far down, you feel every bit of movement in the car. This allows you to predict the chassis’s movements and react to them before anything gets out of hand. This is by far and away my favourite part of the car, and the area that it shines over obvious competition such as the Mazda MX-5 RF (reviewed here). The RF sounds better, feels quicker, and has a nicer interior, but it can’t compete with that low centre of gravity. That feeling of connection, as well as a Torsen limited-slip differential, and just enough power to get the wheels spinning, the BRZ Inazuma retains the recipe for easy sideways action.
The refresh this year includes a whopping five horsepower increase (205 horses at 7,000RPM) and a five foot-pound torque jump (156 lb-ft.). You also get a slightly quicker final drive ratio, but unless you drive this back-to-back with the previous model, you likely won’t notice the changes. Right around 4000RPM, there is a noticeable dip in oomph that sort of robs you of the experience of running the gears all the way out; hopefully this improves in later models. The new model also includes a “Track” mode, which essentially raises the limits of traction control interference from the previous “Sport” mode.
In the past, I’ve driven many different BRZs on and off the track, but I have never had one for an entire week, with the express purpose of commuting with it. After spending a week in the BRZ, I can tell you that it is an absolutely awesome commuting car. Since it’s so responsive and engaging, it isn’t difficult or scary to drive in heavy traffic, and when you need to exploit a gap, or respond to an incident in traffic, it’s there for you. To top it all off, I managed 7.9L/100km in a combination of highway, stop and go, and back roads.
It occurred to me at some point near the end of the week, (after about the thousandth 20-something dude ignored what his girlfriend was saying to steal a look at the Inazuma as it drove by) that I was driving something pretty special. The regular BRZ still gets looks, but the owner of this will get a constant reminder that they made the right choice. It costs a bit more, but that’s made up for with the brakes and dampers. And on top of all that, you get something with the name Inazuma. All things considered, and since I find it easy to get caught up in all this stuff, it gets my approval as having a special edition title. Now excuse me while I go listen to the “Initial D” soundtrack. ** Eurobeat intensifies**