Subaru BRZ (2016) road test review

01_Subaru_BRZ_TMRTThe B in BRZ stands for Boxer, but it could so easily be Balance. The Subaru BRZ – or Boxer Rear-wheel-drive Zenith – is one of the most finely balanced cars you can buy, both in terms of its execution and the way it drives. And with prices for the BRZ SE starting from £22,495, we’ll chuck Bargain in for good measure.

The Subaru BRZ has been on sale since 2012, but we couldn’t help revisiting it. Just for old times’ sake.

What are its rivals?


Its chief rival is obviously its sister car, the Toyota GT86. Prices start from an identical £22,495. And while there are subtle cosmetic and dynamic differences, the GT86 and BRZ are fundamentally the same car.

Other rivals include the all-new fourth generation Mazda MX-5 and – dare we say it – the Porsche Cayman. Before you scoff, the Cayman R was used for benchmarking purposes during the development of the GT86/BRZ.

Which engines does it use?


“Needs more power”, is one criticism often levelled at the Subaru BRZ, but while it would certainly be interesting to see how well the chassis would cope with more horses, it doesn’t need more power. It all goes back to balance. More power could simply upset the equilibrium of the finely-balanced BRZ. Put it this way: we don’t look back at the performance heroes of the 80s and 90s and wish they had more power. There’s an old-school feel to the BRZ, which is central to its appeal.

The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Boxer engine is mounted low in the chassis, giving the BRZ a lower centre of gravity. It develops 200hp at 7,000rpm, which means you have to rev it hard to get the best from it. But in the BRZ that’s simply part of the fun. Peak torque is 151lb ft between 6,400rpm and 6,600rpm, and the BRZ will accelerate to 62mph in 7.6 seconds.

What’s it like to drive?


If a car can give you the fizz (© James May), it must be doing something right. From the moment you make yourself comfortable in the low-slung driver’s seat, you get the sense you’re driving something pretty special. The leather and Alcantara seats – standard on the SE Lux – are snug and supportive, while the steering wheel is small and wonderfully free of buttons.

But it’s all about the drive, with the Subaru BRZ delivering a waspish driving experience, quick to change direction, with a darty and delicate feel. It’s such a communicative thing, with the steering wheel delivering heaps of feedback, so rare in cars these days. Tiny imperfections in the road are transmitted through the wheel, which just seems to dance in your hands. A good hot hatch might be quicker on paper, but because you sit lower to the ground, there’s more of a sensation of driving quickly in a BRZ. This is a proper driver’s car. Few cars come close, especially at this price.

Fuel economy and running costs


You’re going to be working the BRZ hard if you want to get the best from it, so forget thoughts of achieving the claimed 36.2mpg. That said, the figure is more than respectable, so you could use the BRZ for the daily commute, choosing to take the long way home should the opportunity arise. Opt for the automatic transmission – which would mean doing without the joy of shifting up and down through the six-speed manual gearbox – and the combined economy increases to 39.8mpg.

The lack of a turbocharger means the 2.0-litre engine isn’t the greenest motor you can buy, with 181g/km CO2 translating to VED band I (£350 in the first year and £225 each year thereafter). The Subaru BRZ comes with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty, so you can thrash your sports car to your heart’s content. Well, until 2021, at least.

Is it practical?


The Subaru BRZ is classed as a 2+2, but while there are a pair of seats in the back, space is limited to the smallest of children and pygmy goats. Buyers used to the practicality of a hatchback may struggle with the BRZ, but there is a useful 243 litres of boot space, which can be extended to 1,270 litres by folding the rear seats.

All models come with a USB port – almost an essential requirement these days – while SE Lux models get heated front seats. A Pioneer sat nav system is available as an option.

What about safety?


The Subaru BRZ hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but it does offer front, side, curtain and knee airbags, whiplash-preventing front seats and brake-assist. There are even ISOFIX anchoring points in the rear, meaning you can safely secure your pygmy goats.

All models come with stability control and a Torsen limited-slip differential.

Which version should I go for?


For use at weekends and on sunny days, the entry-level SE is arguably all the BRZ you’ll ever need. If you’re prepared to go without the Alcantara and leather-trimmed heated seats, the £3,000 saving could buy you an awful lot of petrol.

Then it comes down to the choice of colour, with Crystal White Pearl available free of charge and other metallics priced at £500. Our money would be on Subaru’s iconic WR Blue Mica, which not only suits the BRZ, it also gives it a USP over the GT86.

Should I buy one?


Even writing about the Subaru BRZ gives us James May’s patented fizzing sensation. There’s just something about it that gets under your skin. If we had one of these parked in the garage, we’d be endlessly popping out for milk or offering to take folk to the station. Alongside the likes of the Suzuki Swift Sport, Ford Fiesta ST and Mazda MX-5, it’s a car that feels perfectly equipped for British roads.

And by this we mean affordable and with just enough power to entertain. You don’t need to be breaking the speed limit or hurtling around a track to have fun in a BRZ; just find a roundabout or an empty B-road. It’s an out-and-out driver’s car and, believe us, you’ll be able to look beyond the questionable interior quality and dated infotainment system. The BRZ’s qualities lie elsewhere.

Pub fact


To enable the fitting of the Torsen rear differential, while maintaining rear-seat passenger room without raising the vehicle height, the 50-litre fuel tank is saddle-shaped. Thanks to the use of highly mouldable plastics, it is 12% lighter than sheet metal tanks of the same shape.

Footnote: overall, the Subaru BRZ is a four-star car, but when judged on driver appeal, it gets the full five stars.

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