Subaru BRZ

April 1, 2012

Test Drive: Subaru BRZ is exotic, affordable

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Written by: Goran Has
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Test Drive: Subaru BRZ is exotic, affordable

‘s 2013 sports coupe, on sale late April, is such a ball that you seldom notice the few aggravations.

And because ‘s is the same car, furbelowed a little differently, it should be as sublime.

The twin sports coupes were jointly developed by and Subaru. , known for bland styling, handled the look — and did a wonderful job.

Subaru contributed the chassis and the engine. It’s a new version of the brand’s “boxer” flat-four-cylinder, trimmed to fit lower and farther back in the chassis for better weight balance, thus, better handling.

It’s too low to accommodate Subie’s otherwise standard all-wheel drive, making BRZ the brand’s first rear-drive car since the 1950s, Subaru says.

For , the is the front-drive brand’s first rear-drive car.

The test car was a BRZ. The wasn’t driven, but should be about the same.

Subaru says BRZ stands for boxer engine, rear drive, zenith — meaning high point.

The test BRZ had the six-speed manual transmission. Hard to imagine picking the six-speed automatic; seems as out-of-character as a hockey player with a full set of original teeth.

The manual shifts with a short stroke and firm, mechanical feel. It’s a joy, reminding that you are stirring a set of gears, not flipping a silly switch.

There’s no soft-engagement clutch. BRZ is for people who prefer to practice the art of driving, not people afraid of killing the engine in traffic.

Here’s a hoot: Subaru engines are so inherently rackety that the -developed direct-injection fuel system actually improves the sound of the BRZ’s powerplant. Direct injection typically makes an engine sound worse.

That system, called D-4S, also blends the conventional -port fuel injection that most cars have. says combining the two types of injection makes the engine smooth and efficient across a wider rev range.

Indeed, BRZ feels as if it accelerates too gradually and evenly to be quick. What an illusion. Even a light right foot yanks the buggy up to 60 mph so quickly that it’s a major threat to your driver’s license.

The engine drones when driving at constant speed, and that’s one of the annoyances. But it roars like a hungry beast under hard throttle. Ergo, you prefer to rev it hard.

Even so, it managed a respectable 21 mpg in our suburban thrash-about, which was even more spirited than usual because of how much fun it is to drive the car that way.

Other delights:

•Styling: Not only is the graceful coupe a surprise from bland , it also is a knockout on the street, yanking heads around in double-takes the whole test period.

The gratuitous fender “vents” mar the art, but the car is eye candy otherwise.

• Exotic feel: Partly comes from the look, partly from the very unusual engine sound. But a good portion is due to how low-slung the car is. You really drop down into it, as you do some cars and expensive Italian jobs.

Inside, a horizontal row of switches is much like you’d imagine in a race car or super-high-performance machine. They’re not the skinny toggles of a Mini Cooper, but engaging fat-blade switches that look and feel good.

•Price: Remarkably reasonable for look, feel and joy that you get.

BRZ will start at about $26,000, FR-S about $1,000 less, due to different standard features. Neither Subaru nor Scion would say much about that.

BRZ and FR-S are in the same ballpark as the delightful Mazda Miata, which starts at $23,895 for a five-speed manual, $26,345 for a six-speed. But the Subie/Scion coupes give you more: A nominal rear seat useful for storage if not exactly for people; 33 hp more; slightly better mileage.

Miata is a convertible, and that’s worth something, but the BRZ gives no ground on driving fun.

Annoyances, besides the engine drone:

• Hard ride that’ll please your chiropractor and dentist, but maybe not you. Smooth roads, fine. Broken, patched or wrinkled pavement, grit your teeth.

•Backup camera’s not available.

• Visors swivel but don’t slide.

BRZ is more evidence that we’re in what in the future will be longingly recalled as the automotive good ol’ days. Don’t wait. Take advantage now; the price is right.

•What? Small, rear-drive sports coupe developed jointly with Toyota, which will sell its version as the Scion FR-S. Four seating positions, but tiny back seat is nearly useless.

•When? On sale late April.

•Where? BRZ and FR-S made in by Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries.

•Why? Enliven the image of both brands.

•How much? Subaru says starting price, to be announced soon, will be “just over $25,000″ plus shipping and standard features will include high-intensity discharge headlights, navigation system and 17-inch wheels.

Scion’s announced pricing: $24,930, including $730 shipping for manual transmission, $26,030 with automatic. Standard features not yet announced.

•What makes it go? New design, 2-liter, Subaru “boxer” four-cylinder with Toyota-developed D-4S system that combines direct fuel injection and conventional intake-port injection. Toyota says port injection is better after a cold start and under modest load, and direct injection is best at other times.

Engine rated 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, 150 pounds-feet of torque at 6,600 rpm.

Available with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

•How big? About 9 inches longer, 2 inches wider than Mazda Miata. BRZ is 166.7 in. long, 69.9 in. wide, 50.6 in. tall (Scion: 51.2 in.) on a 101.2-in. wheelbase. Weighs about 2,800 lbs.

•How thirsty? Manual rated 22 miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the highway, 25 in combined city/highway driving. Automatic: 25/34/28.

Trip computer in manual transmission test car showed 20.7 mpg (4.83 gallons per 100 miles) in sporting suburban driving.

Burns premium, holds 13.2 gal.

•Overall: Yowzah!

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