Driving the Subaru BRZ over the past few days has left me with strong feelings of déjà vu: I’ve been here before.
And it's true – sort of.
As I mentioned on Monday, back in 2012 I drove the 2013 Scion FR-S (the clone of the BRZ), and came away impressed with the car overall, if a bit disappointed with the rather blatant cost-cutting measures Toyota made to the interior.
The car’s driving dynamics were quite impressive, however, which made it a blast to drive and, for just over $26,000 at the time, it also represented good value for those itching for a lightweight, rear-wheel drive sports coupe experience.
Fast forward four years and a few things have changed.
The FR-S is now being rebadged as a Toyota 86 following the death of Scion, the starting MSRPs of both have climbed closer to $30,000 and there’s a mild styling refresh in store for 2017.
Given all of that, plus the passage of time, I figured it’d make sense to get reacquainted with the Subaru-Toyota joint venture, but this time from the Subaru point of view.
The 2017 BRZ comes in two trims, base and Sport-tech, with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
All models are powered by Subaru’s normally aspirated 2.0L Boxer 4-cylinder engine that drives the rear wheels. After four years of stasis, power output has increased for ’17, albeit in modest fashion, and only for models equipped with the manual transmission.
Cars so equipped get a five horsepower and five lb-ft. torque increase to check in at 205 and 156 respectively. Output for the autobox models remains unchanged at 200 / 151.
As mentioned on Monday, Toyota is making a similar move with the 86, with the only difference being a slight gain in torque over the BRZ for manual transmission models (158 versus 156).
The BRZ also gets a styling update, with a revised front end that features standard LED headlights and daytime running lights, along with a retuned suspension for better handling and a VDC track mode switch on the centre console for performance driving.
There’s also a slew of new goodies including a rearview camera, 17-inch aluminum wheels, rear wing spoiler and a new steering wheel with integrated audio controls. All of this stuff is standard on the base car.
My tester, finished in World Rally Blue Pearl, is a Sport-tech model which, for $2,000, adds a handful of cosmetic touches: BRZ embroidered front seat backs, soft touch door and instrument panel materials, LED fog lights, a multifunction display meter, high-lustre door and instrument panel trim and steering wheel-mounted multifunction display controls.
While a few things have changed in terms of packaging, pricing and, in the case of Toyota, the naming convention, the BRZ / 86 driving dynamics and the principles that govern them have not.
Still low slung?
Yup – 125 millimetres (4.92 inches) of ground clearance with a total height of 1,320 mm (51.96 inches), excluding the antenna.
Yes, indeed. A 1,267-kilogram (2,793 lb.) curb weight for the manual transmission Sport-tech and 1,263 kg (2,784 lb.) for the regular BRZ manual. The heaviest model – Sport-tech with the automatic – tips the scales at 1,286 kg (2,835 lb.).
Still rear-wheel drive with a low-centre of gravity?
Double yes. The BRZ’s Boxer engine still sits low in the engine bay, still drives the rear wheels and a TORSEN limited-slip differential keeps the rear end from getting too squirrely.
Still handles like a go-kart?
The 2017 BRZ is a twitchy-fast (0-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds with the manual) sports coupe with incredibly quick reflexes and a pleasingly buzzy exhaust note. Rowing through the gears is a delight, the steering is perfectly weighted and the Boxer engine, with a 7,400 rpm redline, loves being driven hard. Taken together it makes for a very engaging and pleasurable driving experience.
It is, in other words, very reminiscent of the FR-S I drove four years ago.
The biggest difference, however, is on the inside where Subaru has softened the rough edges Toyota couldn’t (or wouldn’t) with the FR-S.
The grippy Alcantara bucket seats are comfortable and offer great support, the switches and knobs operate with a nice tactile precision and the dash materials have a look and feel of quality. No obvious signs of cost-cutting here, plus the cabin looks especially sporty when lit up at night.
Nits to pick are minor, but the navigation screen is a bit small and low-res for my taste, although it sure beats the lack of navi option I encountered in the FR-S. Also, the awkwardly placed cup holders have yet to be remedied, but I guess you can’t have everything.
All in all, the BRZ still represents a compelling package of good old-fashioned sports car performance combined with great looks and a suite of impressive technology.
In fact, the value proposition has become even more attractive over the past four years, a circumstance that is hardly a given in the automotive world these days.
Next week: 2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
Note: Because I will be travelling for the first half of next week, I won't be picking up the Abarth until Wednesday so look for our next TWPC update then.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2017 Subaru BRZ
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $27,995 / $31,645 (incl. $1,650 destination)
ENGINE: 2.0L BOXER 4-cylinder
HORSEPOWER: 205 hp @ 7,000 rpm
TORQUE: 156 lb-ft. @ 6,400 – 6,800 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,267 kg
CONFIGURATION: front engine, rear-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 11.1 / 8.0 / 9.7
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Honda Civic Coupe, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Kia Forte Koup, Toyota 86
Photography by Lee Bailie