When the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S — now the Toyota GR86 — debuted back in 2013, they were a rebirth of affordable, rear-wheel-drive sports cars in a world where affordable, rear-wheel-drive sports cars had been disappearing. The 2023 Subaru BRZ carries on that tradition, this time offering a little more of everything while staying true to the original recipe.
I’m intimately familiar with the previous-generation BRZ, having owned a 2015 for a few years. It was a great car, offering up a level of performance and engagement at a price point that was unheard of, and frankly, still is. Having driven and owned that BRZ alongside a Porsche, it was easy to see why the BRZ and its then-twin, the FR-S, were viewed as the poor man’s Porsche. The balanced chassis, steering feel and suspension tuning were leagues above anything else at the price point.
Taking that old BRZ to the track was a rewarding experience — once you addressed the two things it didn’t do well. One was the tires: why Subaru (and Toyota) chose to equip a “sports car” with Prius-spec Michelin Primacy tires will forever be one of life’s mysteries. For me, a swap to some Bridgestone RE-71Rs took care of that problem. The second issue was power: not so much outright power, but the utterly terrible torque
dip crater between 3,000 and 4,500 RPM made for a less-than-pleasurable daily driving and track experience. Aftermarket headers and a tune addressed that on my car, but this new 2023 model solves both of those issues and then some, making for one of the best ‘out of the box’ sports car experiences you can get today for the money.
It starts with the engine, now growing in size to 2.4 litres. This results in a 23-horsepower bump to 228 at 7,000 rpm, and more importantly, torque is up to 184 pound-feet at 3,700 rpm. Even more important, torque “under the curve” has been optimized to finally erase the dip; this is immediately noticeable to anyone who spent any seat time in both generations.
Because of the added torque and improved power delivery, the new BRZ is easier to drive slow, and more satisfying to drive fast. You can rev out this new Boxer engine to an unexpectedly high 7,500 rpm redline, although it still sounds a little unrefined and truck-ish. The six-speed manual transmission is a little notchy, but offers up shorter throws tied to short clutch pedal travel, making for a pretty good experience overall. However, I’m learning that Subaru’s clutches seem to have little margin of error, as executing perfect shifts can sometimes be a bit challenging. Nothing egregious, but it’s not a car you get in and feel instantly at-home with the manual.
The next key upgrade comes in the form of tires. In this top-trim Sport-tech, the BRZ now wears upsized 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires that make all the difference. This is no longer a good chassis you can just mess around with at low speeds it’s a chassis (and tire combo) that will help you set surprising lap times at your next track day. The (still) lightweight chassis, and upgraded suspension and steering components come together to give you a lovely sense of what the car is doing, allowing you to comfortably explore its limits. The fact that it manages to be so communicative and engaging without a rock-hard suspension deserves way more credit; in a day and age where even adaptive suspensions can’t get things right in any setting, the BRZ’s single-mode approach is refreshing.
The only knock I have is against the BRZ’s steering. Although surprisingly communicative for an electric rack, it could use a little less boost, feeling a touch too light for my liking. The brakes also felt pretty good overall for backroads duties, but having owned the previous generation, they likely won’t hold up well to extended track sessions right out of the box.
The interior takes a similar leap forward, offering improved quality throughout, a better infotainment system albeit with middling graphics on a larger screen, and a sound system that has gone from unusable in the previous generation to acceptable in this one. The seats feel as good as ever, with grippy fabric and good support, but they were a similar strong suit in the previous generation, and the backseat is still just for show.
The gauge cluster has gone from analog to purely digital, and although the graphics are simple, it’s clean and easy to read, and the screen is cleverly shaped like the pistons in a Boxer engine. That theme continues in the startup graphics as well, with the left- and right-side gauges punching inwards and outwards. Track mode changes the gauge cluster to a horizontal rev counter with a giant shift light front and centre, making it ideal for quick downward glimpses while on the track.
The second-gen BRZ is a good little sports car. Yes, it’s built to a price — our tester tops out at $33,495 before fees and taxes — but it punches in far above its price point from an engagement perspective. The Honda Civic Si is fun, but it’s a front-wheel-drive sedan. The Mazda MX-5 is equally engaging and also rear-wheel-drive, but it’s costlier and not everyone wants a tiny two-seat convertible. And while you could get a Nissan Z once upon a time around the $30,000 mark, it now starts north of $45,000. If you love to drive and still care about value, you really can’t do much better than the 2023 Subaru BRZ.