Subaru BRZ

March 24, 2012

Subaru BRZ: It’s Thinker Than You Fast It Is

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Written by: Goran Has
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Subaru BRZ: Its Thinker Than You Fast It Is

How do we know when we’re going fast? Generally speaking, we don’t. Observers on Earth’s surface rotate around its axis at 40 meters per second; Earth itself revolves around the Sun (30 kilometers/second); and the Sun rotates around the galactic center at about (220 km/s). Meanwhile, the whole kit is being dragged in a stately gyre toward the constellation Virgo at about 370 km/s. What, you don’t feel that?

We don’t because we judge motion by acceleration, that is, a change in velocity. This information comes to us in several ways, including cues from our vestibular system (inner ear) and by something called proprioception, which is the awareness of our musculature bracing and flexing to compensate for our body’s inertia.

This is going somewhere, I promise.

Behind the wheel of a car we mostly rely on our binocular vision to tell us how fast we’re driving. The landscape peels away to either side of us at oblique angles. Our brains process this information in terms of what psychologists call “looming” and “changing disparity signals.” A mailbox gets bigger as we get closer. Our brains compute the growing retinal image of the mailbox (an object of known size) and integrate the difference with the apparent trajectory of the object as perceived by our left and right eyes. This is called motion-in-depth perception.

Subaru BRZ: Its Thinker Than You Fast It Is
And yet for all this formidable wetware, we’re still pretty bad at judging speed and easily fooled. Honest, officer. Imagine, for instance, how a mailbox 10 feet tall would throw you off. Speed perception is also variable depending on our age, eyesight and emotional state. If we’re frustrated and late, we feel like we’re traveling more slowly than we are. Meanwhile, a car that is supremely quiet, comfortable and capable—let’s say, a Porsche Panamera Turbo—will actually dull the vividness of speed such that we can be perfectly at ease going the speeds of small aircraft.

has turned our faulty perceptions of speed into a positive.

Meet the new : 200 horsepower, 2,800 pounds, 2+2 seating, six-speed manual gearbox (an automatic is also available) and rear-wheel drive. Figure about $25,000 to start. A joint project between Subaru and (which will sell the car in the U.S. as the ), the is a handful of sports-coupe sunshine that does something brilliant, even revolutionary: It feels fast, even though it isn’t, particularly.

Subaru BRZ: Its Thinker Than You Fast It Is

- Base price: $25,000 (est.)
- Price as tested: $28,000 (est.)
- Powertrain: Naturally aspirated direct-injection 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder with variable valve timing; six-speed manual transmission; rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower/torque: 200 hp at 7,000 rpm/151 pound-feet at 6,400 rpm
- Length/weight: 166.9 inches/2,800 pounds
- Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
- 0-60 mph: 6 seconds
- EPA fuel economy: 22/30, city/highway
- Cargo capacity: 6.9 cubic feet

The BRZ’s moderate performance expectations are telegraphed by its simple design. The volumes and cab-rearward profile of the BRZ are classically sporty (the Scion will vary only in the front and rear clips and lighting instruments), but there’s not a lot of surface excitement here. There are small engine vents at the base of the A pillars. The rear of the car is tricked out with a small deck-mounted spoiler—more for visual balance than aero balance—and a faux diffuser diapering the lower clip, including a very cool triangular brake light. But note the absence of aggressive, ground-hugging rocker panel trim or broadly flared fenders. Note also the amount of empty space in the wells around the . This is known in design parlance as “dead-cat space”—I’m not kidding—and designers try very hard to minimize it.

The problem with a lot of sporty cars is that they are so massively overqualified for the street. Take a car like the Mustang Boss 302: 444 hp, limited-slip rear differential, race-tuned and 9.5-inch-wide, 19-inch Pirelli P Zero tires. Sounds nice, right? But on the street you have to go so hard just to get the car to slide around a little bit, just to feel a little bloodlust, you’re always in danger of losing your license. Fear of incarceration is kind of a buzzkill.

The BRZ, very much by design and very much in the style of the great Mazda MX-5, goes in the other direction, drawing out and exaggerating automotive cues that give the impression of going fast at wholly more sane speeds. One hugely affective cue is auditory: Thanks to resonator tubes pumping intake and exhaust sounds into the cabin, the BRZ snarls and burrs and howls like a garage-built retro rod, even when it’s accelerating away from a light like an ice-cream truck (0-60 mph in about 6 seconds). This thing is a mouse with a megaphone. Subaru also cagily put most of the engine’s twist up high in the rev counter, with peak torque of 151 pound-feet at an astronomical 6,400 rpm—the high, hollow, splintering engine note is what you’d hear if you crashed through a grove of bamboo.

The engine is an evolution of Subaru’s flat-four boxer (code-named the FA), with Toyota-sourced direct-injection heads. Subaru says the car’s center of gravity is a mere 18 inches off the ground, comparable to that of a Porsche Cayman R. And, since this is a rear-drive car, the engine could be situated well back in the chassis, more than 9 inches aft of where it would be in the all-wheel-drive Impreza. The low CG and the centralized engine placement give the BRZ an intuitive sense of mechanical leverage over the road. This thing feels like it rotates precisely around the driver’s right hip.

Tires: If this car were built by, say, BMW, the designers would have packed the fender wells with no-profile tires and splendid 19- or 20-inch alloy wheels. Such footwear looks great and commands serious cornering grip. The trouble is, it raises the limits of adhesion so preposterously high that it is almost impossible—or at least highly ill-advised—to break traction on the street.

The BRZ is conspicuously under-tired, with 17-inch Michelin 215/45s front and rear—and thus the dead cat. You can goose the throttle around a corner and the rear tires will happily chirp as the car’s rear end steps out entertainingly, at least until the stability control intervenes. Most passenger cars are set up to understeer, which is to say, the front tires will slide before the rear tires. But the BRZ, a rear-drive car with most of the weight on the front wheels (54/46, front/rear weight distribution), wags its fanny like a runway model. There is probably not another car on the street that can execute a rally-style Nordic flip as effortlessly as the BRZ.

The 45-series tires provide much of the compliance to soak up small road jitters, leaving the (struts up front and multilinks in back) free to cope with the larger energies of body roll, pitch and yaw. The end result is a small car with decent around-town ride quality combined with a feisty, lean and taut feel.

The same could be said of the other control surfaces. The electric-power-assist steering is blink-quick and sports-car heavy, with a supple precision and tactility utterly out of the Mazda MX-5 playbook. Likewise the short-throw gearshifter, which snicks through the gates with an oily heft.

Add it all up: The nap-of-the-earth seating position and long hood; the shouty engine and exhaust; the triggerfish steering response and twitch-twitch of the manual gearbox; the merry tail-swinging and the chirpy tires. The BRZ thus perpetrates a splendid and useful fraud on its buyers: a not-so-fast sport coupe that is an absolute riot to drive.

As long as we’re going to Virgo, we might as well enjoy the ride.

Source article – Dan Neil/The Wall Street Journal – [email protected]

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