The world of affordable sports cars has been barren for decades. Buyers looking for a fun, simple RWD sports car were essentially forced to buy a Miata. All of that changed last year when Toyota and Subaru teamed up to create the FT-86. Originally shown as a concept car in 2009, this prototype machine would grow to become the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ.
The cars received near universal acclaim since their debut, and I have been aching to get my hands on one. As fate would have it, two weeks ago a Dark Gray Metallic Subaru BRZ rolled into my driveway, complete with three pedals and everything.
My desire for the BRZ comes from multiple levels. As a car lover, and a dog owner, I want something fun that I can also carry my pets in. I own a Porsche 944 that served that purpose admirably for years with its large hatch and fold-down back seat, but an engine issue has left the Porsche inoperable for a long time now. The Miata feels like perfection to drive, but if I have the wife, I can’t have the dogs and vice versa. Would the BRZ be my salvation? Would this unholy creation of Subaru insanity and Toyota practicality be the one vehicle I have been longing for? I spent a week driving the wheels off it to find out.
The first thing everyone notices about the BRZ and Subaru FR-S is how great they look. They pull of that modern aggression without looking immature or obscene. Tiny touches make a huge difference and they both exude a certain sporting presence. Every person that sees one of these cars knows what its built for.
Despite the 17-inch alloys, HID headlights and navigation system, the BRZ I held the keys to is a dead base unit. With an as-tested price of $26,390 after destination, the BRZ is as well equipped as most anything else in its bracket of price and performance. The moment you sit inside the BRZ however, you realize how they could offer so much content for so little. In true Subaru fashion, almost every interior trim piece feels cheap and old. There are some truly great spots in the cabin, the steering wheel and seats are perfect, but the door panels, center console and dash are all sub-par.
None of that matters though, does it? You are here for entertainment. You buy a BRZ to go fast, not to go softly in luxurious comfort.
With that in mind I dropped the short clutch to the carpet, hit the key and listened to the flat-four rumble to life. The D4-S engine that was created for this car is a strange piece of kit. It is a standard Subaru Boxer four, but it sounds much more vicious than any other Subaru I have been in. At idle it feels a bit unhinged and ready to go. It was a promising start.
The shifter feels solid as you slot it into first, and the clutch is easy to modulate. With absolutely zero we were off. I made my way towards my closest back road and proceeded to let the BRZ loose. One thing became immediately clear in the first 5 miles. The BRZ feels a LOT like a Miata. That same nimble steering wheel, quick shifter and short clutch combine with a slightly underpowered, but very revvy motor to provide miles and miles of motoring fun. Unlike the Miata though, I had two extra seats, acres of headroom and a big trunk.
The engine is a playful companion that is willing to roar towards its redline, but usually you won’t bother taking it that far. The engine starts to lose most of its grunt past the 5,000 rpm mark, well below its 7,800 rpm limiter. That is fine though, as shifting gears in the BRZ is a pleasurable experience, so keeping it square in the powerband is an easy feat. When you are done being serious, a quick flip of the traction control switch and your canyon carver becomes a tire-shredding monster. Burnouts, drifts, whatever sort of rubber-destructing activity you wish to perform, the BRZ will oblige.
I had a hard time finding any type of road that the BRZ was not comfortable on. From the most technical and switchback laden single lanes I could find, to the high-speed curved onramps, the BRZ ate up every mile and asked for more. This thing is a true driver’s car.
Sadly, that is where the fun ends. As pretty as the outside is, and as playful as the drivetrain is, the interior is littered with faults. The moment I turned up the radio, I was assaulted by a loud rattling coming from the driver’s side door. It’s the door lock, which doesn’t auto engage at speed. I make that last point, because I noticed that if you lock it, the mechanism quits rattling. Without the rattle I was then able to notice that there was an excessive amount of wind noise coming from the passenger window. Oh hey, the passenger window switch in the driver’s door doesn’t work. This is a Subaru after all.
I found that the noise was being caused by a simple window fault. The doors are frameless, so the windows drop ¼ inch upon door opening. The passenger side would not automatically raise after the door was closed. This wouldn’t be as large of an issue, if the window switch on the driver’s side worked. Instead I would have to lean across the car to access the switch on the passenger door. A quick Google search reveals that I am far from the first to have this issue, and thankfully there is a simple fix.
When lowering the window from the passenger door hold the button until the window is all the way down and continue to hold it for at least 5 seconds. Then close the window and repeat the five second wait. This will apparently “reset” the window switch, but it is likely to malfunction again. If the forums are to be believed, it happens more often in cold weather.
It may be a sign of my old age, as I am pretty sure my 18-year old self wouldn’t have cared less, but the fact that a $26,000 car with less than 6,000 miles on it already has rattles and malfunctioning electronics bothers me.
Beyond those issues, the stereo/navigation unit in the BRZ is utter garbage. The entire unit consists of three buttons and one knob that only controls the volume. That doesn’t sound all that bad until you want to change the radio station on the satellite radio. If I am on channel 100 and I want to go to channel 50 I have to press a small on-screen button. 50 times. There are some quicker ways to get around the system, but trying to operate those functions while driving is difficult and idiotic. One more knob is all I ask for Subaru.
Ideally, I would prefer if Subaru cut out the navigation unit, and dropped the count of terrible speakers from 8 down to 4. With the money they saved, they could have upgraded the interior with some better materials and made the cabin a much more enjoyable place to sit.
Make no doubt about it, the BRZ is incredibly fun to drive. There are very few machines on the road today that feel this solid, communicate as much to the driver and allow you let out your inner boy racer; especially at this price point. For my money though, I’d take bullet proof build quality over two extra seats and I would buy the Miata. I tried so hard to love the BRZ. In truth it gives you lots of things to fall in love with, but I have a hard time looking past the faults that popped up during my time with this enthusiast machine.
I want a RWD sports car that I can fit my wife and my dogs in, but the Subaru BRZ is not it.