What is it?
The Subaru BRZ is the twin car of the Toyota GT86, using the same mechanicals - a 197bhp 2-litre boxer-four engine driving the rear wheels - and costing an identical £24,995. We’ve also driven the Litchfield BRZ Spec S, a tuned up BRZ. On paper it should turn the BRZ into a hero car. The BRZ Spec S benefits from a supercharger to realise 280bhp and 210lb ft, and at £29,477, the package is less than £5000 up on a standard Subaru or Toyota GT86.
The power output from the naturally aspirated two litres is an impressive 197bhp, but when you look at the graph tracing the outline of how it’s produced it resembles a climb up Mount Fuji, with a steady, steep rise all the way to 7000rpm. Combine this with a maximum torque figure of just 151lb ft at a heady 6400-6600rpm and it’s clear that this is an engine that’s going to need revving.
The BRZ has a drag coefficient of just 0.27Cd, you can fit four tyres in the boot with the rear seats folded flat, the front-to-rear weight distribution is 53:47, and it’s shorter and narrower than a Porsche Cayman. And if you’re wondering, BRZ stands for the catchy dictum ‘Boxer Rear-wheel-drive Zenith’. So now you know.
The Litchfield Spec S package is appealingly simple and relatively affordable. The Rotrex supercharger kit costs £3500 plus fitting and the handling kit – consisting of Eibach springs and new anti-roll bars – is just £530 plus fitting. Power is up to 280bhp at 7300rpm (from 197bhp) and torque to 210lb ft at 6700rpm (from 151lb ft). This car also benefits from 18-inch wheels with sportier 225/40 tyres (up from 215s) and an Alcon brake kit for both axles.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s a stiffer car than the GT86, with more immediate front-end response, less body roll and also a little less oversteer dialled into its balance. I actually rather like the compromise because it makes this low, lightweight car feel just that, and brings welcome added precision. The downside is that the BRZ can be pretty unsettled on bumpy roads and a little of the GT86’s low-speed driftiness is sacrificed. However, at higher speeds the BRZ has a really good neutral balance with none of the slightly odd-feeling yaw that can make the Toyota feel like the rear axle is actively steering itself into a pre-programmed oversteer slide. It also retains all of the strengths we’ve outlined before – superb brake feel, a great driving position, excellent six-speed manual gearbox and well-weighted, feelsome steering.
The Litchfield aims to be the Subaru BRZ with enough firepower to really do the chassis justice and with tyres that put a premium on response and progressive breakaway behaviour instead of rolling resistance and low grip. On the track it lives up to the promise that drips from its spec sheet. Body control is significantly ramped up, an effect magnified by the stiff sidewalls and general responsiveness of the new tyres. However, the biggest change is in power delivery. A standard BRZ needs to be absolutely wrung out to really deliver on road or track, but the Spec S has really useable torque while retaining the rewards at the very top end. The engine still sounds rather strained and the whine of the supercharger adds to the racket, but it’s finally providing you with the power to work the chassis hard just at the time when you want to.
The Subaru takes part in evo Track Car of the Year 2013
The result is that the Spec S oversteers everywhere: either a little bit when you’re on a timed lap or a lot when you’re just driving for fun. With the predictable torque curve and the excellent turn-in response, the BRZ enters into a slide with real progression. You need to be quick to catch it comfortably, but once you’re on top of the car everything happens in slow-motion. To use a cliche, you genuinely steer the car on the throttle more often than not. Perhaps it lacked the edge of the Mini GP it battled during our 2013 Track Car of the Year feature, but it’s equally engaging because you’re always working the balance of the car. The Alcon brakes are also absolutely superb.
It’s a well-judged package of upgrades and delivers on the promise of a chassis that’s been crying out for more power. We love it.
How does it compare?
Opinions are divided on whether the BRZ is good value at £24,995. It’s only £2000 cheaper than the 326bhp Nissan 370Z which is significantly more powerful, while the 261bhp Renault Megane 265 Cup is fantastic fun and almost as adjustable despite being front-drive. The BRZ’s uniqueness – UK sales are estimated at around 100 cars a year – ensures there’s rarity value to purchasing one. Around 1000 GT86s sell in comparison.
At around £30,000 (depending on how much you want your Subaru upgraded), the Litchfield marches into Audi TTS and entry-level Porsche Cayman territory, but is oodles of fun, and with a scant number of BRZs sold in the UK, it’s sure to be a more individual choice than its German rivals.
Anything else I need to know?
Thanks to the BRZ’s shared mechanicals with the Toyota GT86, both cars can be given the Litchfield Spec S treatment, allowing you to pick the one whose styling and spec you prefer. Our full 2013 Track Car of the Year test is in evo issue 189, on sale now.