What is it?
Subaru’s all-new sports coupe, driven for the first time on a Japanese test track. The BRZ is the sister car to the Toyota GT 86 that we’ve just tested, with both cars being differentiated by barely more than badging, wheels and the shape of their radiator grilles.
It’s set to go on sale in the UK in June next year, and although prices haven’t been confirmed, it’s anticipated to cost somewhere between £25K and £28K.
The Subaru is mechanically (almost) identical to the Toyota – the only difference of note between the two cars is that the BRZ gets marginally stiffer suspension settings. But, although the two brands are officially happy to split the corporate acclaim, it’s worth nothing that the project was almost entirely engineered by Subaru, and both cars will be produced in its factory.
The creation of a new lightweight sportscar, powered by an all-new boxer engine, is an impressive achievement for a company of Subaru’s relatively modest size. And although there are some links between the BRZ/ GT 86 and the next Subaru Impreza, including shared bit of floorpan, the relationship is a distant one. Somewhat amazingly, the new ‘FA20’ 2-litre boxer engine in the BRZ is almost entirely unrelated to naturally aspirated boxer engines that will power the next Impreza. The coupe’s motor is more compact, lower and lighter – sitting 240mm further back in the chassis.
Suspension has been derived from the Impreza, but cleverly reworked with the lower arms of the front McPherson struts turned back-to-front to make the minimal front overhang possible. Twin wishbones at the back are pure Impreza, but the BRZ gets a larger differential to cater for the fact it's rear-drive only.
One of the engineering team’s core aims was to give the lowest possible centre of gravity – just 460mm. Toyota likes to point out that this is lower than the C-of-G of a Porsche Boxster, Subaru preferred to tell us that the figure was better than that of 458 Italia. Clever weight saving includes the use of high-strength in the roof and upper structure of the car, to reduce mass further, and even the use of thinner glass for windscreen and side windows.
What’s it like to drive?
Our too-brief drive, on Subaru’s smooth (and sodden) test track was too short to deliver any kind of definitive verdict – not least as Subaru unsportingly sent the cars out with chaperones in the passenger seat to prevent any deactivation of the stability control system.
But with that read into the record, first impressions are good – very good. The BRZ doesn’t feel particularly rapid in a straight line – the naturally aspirated motor needs to be thrashed to deliver its best, with peak power coming at a heady 7000rpm. Taken all the way to the redline the BRZ should be capable of dispatching 0-60mph in just under second seconds (I guessed 6.7 and my chaperone just smiled), but it feels like the gearing has been very carefully chosen for the benchmark – the manual transmission (just) allows 100km/h in second gear. Actually getting a sub-7 0-60 would mean interfacing with the rev limiter a couple of tenths afterwards.
But it’s corners that make the BRZ special – even wet ones – with a beautifully poised chassis that talks to the driver through exceptionally communicative electric power steering. Take too much speed into a corner and there’s well-flagged understeer, but judge your entry speed right and then use the immediately reactive throttle to bring the car to the point where the rear tyres are just running out of grip and it’s clear that this is a car that really wants to play. The ‘sport’ setting for the stability control - which I was allowed to activate - even allows a modest slip angle before the yellow light starts flashing and everything gets reined in.
The automatic option, anticipated to be a minority of sales in the UK, is less impressive with a slight delay in response, even when control is taken through the paddles behind the steering wheel. It’s a conventional torque-converter auto, and even trick electronics can’t give it reactions to match a DSG.
How does it compare?
It’s going to be down to price – and the strong value of the Yen means that Subaru’s UK distributors are unable to confirm what the car will actually cost when it gets here next summer. Reckon on around £25,000 for the basic version and between £28,000 to £30,000 for the higher spec model. But on first impressions, the BRZ feels more than capable of taking the fight to rivals like the Audi TT, BMW 1-Coupe and even – power deficit withstanding – the Porsche Cayman.
Versus the Toyota, though? That’s a tricky one – design is always subjective, but we reckon the GT 86 looks slightly better. But with Subaru UK anticipating selling around 1000 cars a year – versus 4000 for the Toyota – the BRZ is always going to be a more exclusive option.
Anything else I need to know?
The base model (which we didn't drive) sounds like it might be a bit of a star – it will come with 16 inch wheels in place of the 17s on our test car, which may well work better on British roads. Its lack of toys and gizmos (Subaru is even threatening to give it black door handles in place of body-coloured ones) could suit the minimalist nature of the car.