Subaru BRZ review – New updates for 2017 refine the fun coupe, but only slightly

Blessed with an excellent, involving chassis, but feeble engine and poor tyres prevent the BRZ from achieving greatness

The Subaru BRZ, much like its close relative the Toyota GT86, serves up many of the fundamental elements needed for a truly enjoyable sports car. It has a solid structure, an excellent seating position, a low centre of gravity, a balanced chassis and brilliantly malleable handling. It’s far from being the fastest car on the road, but it’s interactive and involving in a way that most performance cars at this price simply aren’t. There’s a definite sense that the engineers behind the BRZ truly enjoy driving, and you can truly engage with the mechanical components.

But the way the BRZ drives isn’t perfect. Its engine, although lively and responsive, doesn’t have the grunt to help you exploit the car’s rear-wheel drive layout as often as you might want. Consequently Subaru has fitted the BRZ with skinny, low rolling resistance tyres to allow the car to break traction more easily. In reality though, the tyres only make your inputs feel indistinct and erode away at the strong connection you can build with BRZ.

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For 2017, the BRZ has received a slightly refreshed exterior including LED front and rear headlights, a wider front bumper and taller rear wing. Inside, there’s a new infotainment system, a smaller steering wheel and slightly higher quality materials.

...in detail

Performance and 0-60 time – The BRZ hasn’t been designed to break acceleration records, however it sets a respectable 0-62mph time of 7.6sec. 

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Engine and gearbox – The Subaru really breaks the modern performance car mould here, with a naturally aspirated flat-four engine, a manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive. 

Ride and handling – Designed to be fun, and the BRZ really delivers on this promise. Its engaging chassis is enjoyable, but is let down by a lack of grunt and low grip tyres.

MPG and running costs – Not the cheapest car on paper, but the Subaru manages to stay true to those numbers, and not many other cars can claim that.

Interior and tech – The BRZ’s biggest weakness, its interior. The cheap materials and out-of-date tech are forgotten thanks to the excellent seating position.

Design – Overly styled wings and lights tarnish well-proportioned rear-wheel drive coupe looks. 

Price, specs and rivals

The Subaru BRZ is now only available in one trim level, SE Lux, and costs from £26,050. It comes with satnav, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, climate control and a limited slip differential as standard. There is an automatic transmission available, but that costs an extra £1500.

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The BRZ’s most obvious rival is the Toyota GT86. They are both essentially the same car, with the same drivetrain and body and are only defined by minor tweaks to the exterior and the chassis. Choosing between the two really only comes down to which one you prefer the look of, or which badge you prefer.

If what you’re looking for is a four-seater coupe that costs less than £30,000 then the BRZ comes up against BMW’s 2-series, VW’s Scirocco and Audi’s TT. These German alternatives look and feel more prestigious than the Subaru and offer higher quality interiors, too. However, the BRZ is a far more focused and entertaining drivers’ car.

As a car purely to put a smile on your face, the BRZ finds itself up against stiff completion. For less than the price of a basic BRZ there’s a collection of truly talented hot hatches, including the Ford Fiesta ST 200 and the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport. They may not be rear-wheel drive, but they offer a driving experience that’s entertaining, involving and exciting.

The Mazda MX-5 and Abarth 124 follow a similar concept to the BRZ – light weight and rear-wheel drive. Neither can match the Subaru for precision, but both are open top cars and that alone will be enough for some people to plump for them over the BRZ. 

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