When it comes to building a good driver’s car, some automakers go to extreme great lengths and complexity to put down record numbers when it comes to performance. A few others elect to keep things a little more pure and simple, and go with a tried and true formula: front engine, rear-wheel drive, manual transmission, and light weight. These ingredients, when combined with suspension, steering, and brake tuning that emphasizes road feel, make for a fun car in almost any driving situation – slow or fast, and in rain, snow, or shine. The 2019 Subaru BRZ Raiu Edition is a small sports coupe from the Japanese car company that subscribes to this philosophy, and even after a few years on the market, looks the part for a 2019-model year vehicle.
To test out the perks that the Raiu Edition brings, Subaru Canada lent us one for a week to test. Jointly developed with Toyota (who makes the 86 – the vehicle formerly known as the Scion FR-S) and originally released for the 2013 model year, the BRZ and its Toyota twin have withstood the test of time as good performance machines. They can regularly be found at track day and autocross racing events, and were developed with motorsports in mind. As a good platform to either enjoy stock or modify out the wazoo, more than a few have taken them and built them into monster performers.
The Raiu in particular alters both the function and form of the Subaru BRZ a bit more than the next-best Sport-tech RS trim. It adds performance-minded Subaru Tecnica International (STI) branded front, side, and rear lip spoilers, a short-throw shifter, dark gunmetal grey 17-inch alloy wheels, black mirror caps and badging, and a Raiu-exclusive Cool Grey Khaki paint option.
Other standard features include a 7-inch touch screen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, SiriusXM satellite radio, black leather and Alcantara seats (heated up front) with red stitching and embroidered BRZ logos, Sachs performance dampers, dual zone automatic climate control, and a Torsen limited slip differential. The Raiu can be all yours for $33,795, which is a $1,900 premium over the Sport-tech RS.
Powering all 2019 BRZ models is a 2.0-litre horizontally opposed “boxer” four cylinder supplied by Subaru. Outputting 205 horsepower at 7,000RPM and 156 lb-ft. of torque between 6,400 and 6,800RPM (automatic cars get a little less), power and fire-breathing torque isn’t necessarily the name of the game here. With a curb weight of 1,265 kilograms (2,789 pounds) and a low centre of gravity that a boxer engine affords, balance and handling is more of the BRZ’s M.O. A small “dip” in torque happens around 4,000RPM, but both low end and top end grunt is more than enough to start with.
For the Raiu Edition, transmitting the engine’s power happens with only a six-speed manual transmission – automatic seekers are stuck with only the mid-trim Sport-tech model. When outfitted with a shortened-throw shifter, the throws do indeed feel shorter, but shifter precision takes a bit of a hit, especially when hovering around the second and third gear range. Perfectly straight and smooth inputs are required to prevent binding on both 2-3 upshifts and 3-2 downshifts. In a motorsports setting when drivers are under the gun, it might be easier to make a mistake.
Rated fuel consumption for a relatively lightweight but sporty car is neither good nor bad, and the BRZ’s official Natural Resources Canada numbers come in at 11.2L/100KM in the city, and 8.2L/100KM on the highway. Observed economy was 8.8L/100KM in a pretty even mix of driving that included all of city, highway, spirited, and sedate driving. Fuel tank capacity is 50 litres, and remium fuel is required – Subaru recommends 93 octane (AKI, or R+M/2) or better.
As the only Subaru sold today without all-wheel drive, the BRZ doesn’t let you think for even a second that this is a disadvantage. Leaving out the need for drivetrain components at the front axle reduces both sprung and unsprung mass, and gets the weight distribution to a respectable 53/47 percent front and rear. While many assume that the standard-issue tires are all-seasons, the Michelin Primacy HP is actually marketed as a grand touring summer (read: lower performance) option.
With the fixed Sachs dampers present on the Sport-tech RS and Raiu, handling is turned up a notch compared to regular BRZ models. Despite the less aggressive tires, grip levels are surprisingly high, and neutral handling up to the limit turns into progressive and easy-to-control oversteer when going above it. With the stock tires, this is a great car to learn advanced car control techniques with – but do keep in mind that this should be done on a closed course or racetrack only. Throwing sticky rubber on can mask poor habits and technique, so be sure to burn out the original tires before going further.
From the factory, ride quality on the BRZ Raiu isn’t bad at all, but tuners may want to go a heck of a lot stiffer for motorsports use. Owing to lower curb weights and less sound insulation, the cabin isn’t the quietest place to be when at highway speeds, but it’s to be expected for a car of this type. The average younger buyer looking to have some fun won’t care too much. It’s soft enough to be a daily driver, yet firm enough for ten tenths.
Inside the BRZ, the interior is fairly spartan and monotone, with plenty of black and grey tones. Red stitching and silver accents help to break things up, but function over form is the best way to describe it. The dual zone climate control and heated front seats are useful for winter driving, and the trunk is surprisingly voluminous. When developing the platform, Subaru and Toyota considered the fact that the rear cargo area behind the front seats needs to be able to hold a set of its own four wheels and tires – perfect for ferrying a set of race wheels to the track and back.
Compared to its peers, the 2019 Subaru BRZ Raiu Edition stacks up well as a performance machine. It doesn’t feel as fast as cars such as the Volkswagen GTI and Subaru’s own WRX, but ends up being much more precise when cornering is involved. Bigger, more powerful cars feel more like a sledgehammer in comparison, and the BRZ is very much a surgeon’s scalpel doing what it does best. The Mazda MX-5 is thousands more and features a convertible roof, and while it’s more capable and has a better shifter-clutch combination, its steering feel is not as good, and practicality goes completely out the window with two seats and a tiny trunk. While we’re due for a new generation of BRZ soon, don’t write the old one off: it gets the heart pumping just as good as any of ‘em.