BRZ: Subaru's Rear-Wheel-Drive Sports Coupe

By Frank A. Aukofer, July 2nd, 2016

Like the drivers it is aimed at, the 2016 Subaru BRZ can get raucous, randy, and ridiculous, depending on the mood of the moment. That's because it's a sports car, pure and simple, spawned from a partnership between two of the best manufacturers in the business.

Manufacturer photo: Powered by Subaru's FA-Series naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower BOXER engine, the BRZ is a sports car that does not sacrifice everyday comfort and practicality, including up to EPA-estimated 34-mpg highway fuel economy (with available 6-speed automatic transmission)
Manufacturer photo: Powered by Subaru's FA-Series naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower BOXER engine, the BRZ is a sports car that does not sacrifice everyday comfort and practicality, including up to EPA-estimated 34-mpg highway fuel economy (with available 6-speed automatic transmission)

Toyota chipped in its engineering, manufacturing, and quality control expertise, while Subaru was ready with its unique powertrain and European rally experience. You'd think either automaker could come up with a sports car of its own. Well, they could -- and they have. But the BRZ, sold as the FR-S over at Toyota and soon-to-be extinct Scion stores, is an affordable sports car with limited sales potential. So, it made sense for a partnership to keep each company's development costs down.

Originally, the FR-S was a Scion from Toyota's youth-oriented division, but the company has decided to eliminate the nameplate. The joint venture is more Subaru than Toyota: The BRZ and FR-S are powered by a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, also called a flat or boxer engine. In a boxer, the cylinders lie flat, feet to feet on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing straight or leaning sideways as with in-line or V engines.

Subaru is the only automaker that uses boxer engines in all of its models. The configuration is the same as that used in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses from the 1930s until the 1970s.

The other manufacturer currently using boxers is Germany's Porsche, which installs them in its Boxster, Cayman, and 911 models. But in those cars, the engine is mounted midship, forward of the rear wheels, or behind them in a rear-engine design.

Manufacturer photo: Powered by Subaru's FA-Series naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower BOXER engine, the BRZ is a sports car that does not sacrifice everyday comfort and practicality, including up to EPA-estimated 34-mpg highway fuel economy (with available 6-speed automatic transmission)

That leaves the Subaru BRZ with a unique layout because its boxer engine nestles up front and sends its power to the rear wheels via a driveshaft. Nobody else does a boxer front-engine, rear-drive layout. It also is the only two-wheel-drive model in the Subaru lineup; the others come standard with all-wheel drive.

There are many sports cars around the world, most of them with nosebleed price tags. Only a few are what might be called reasonably priced under about $35,000 -- if spending that kind of money on a toy is reasonable.

Besides the BRZ and FR-S, the main sports car in the affordable category is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. It comes as a convertible and as a partial convertible. The BRZ and FR-S come only as coupes.

Actually, it's more accurate to describe each as a "Plus Two," which describes a sports coupe with a vestigial -- and usually useless -- back seat. The BRZ's two tiny back seats are useful only for carrying purses or small items.

Think of the BRZ as a two-seater with a bit of trunk overflow space in back, needed because the shallow trunk holds only about 7 cubic feet of stuff.

Manufacturer photo: Powered by Subaru's FA-Series naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower BOXER engine, the BRZ is a sports car that does not sacrifice everyday comfort and practicality, including up to EPA-estimated 34-mpg highway fuel economy (with available 6-speed automatic transmission)

But back to the raucous, randy, and ridiculous. The BRZ obviously targets young folks -- mainly guys -- who like to show off in the neighborhood and flog their toys around racetracks on weekends. The latter is where the ridiculous part arrives.

Buttons on the console allow the driver to turn off the stability and traction controls. On a race track with a skilled driver, shutting down those safety elements allows faster lap times. But no novice should punch those buttons for street driving.

Even if you never take it to the track, the 2016 BRZ delivers driving excitement. The electric power steering is stiff but precise with good road feedback. Clutch action is smooth and progressive, and the shift linkage for the six-speed manual gearbox is sturdy, even a bit clunky. A six-speed automatic is available.

However, the turbo engine's torque, at 151 lb.-ft., is not particularly staunch, so you have to keep the revs up to maintain power.

The BRZ's front seats, upholstered in cloth trimmed with leather on the test car, felt like wearing old fitted jeans, with a cozy grip and snug seatback bolstering to hold the torso in fast cornering.

Manufacturer photo: Powered by Subaru's FA-Series naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower BOXER engine, the BRZ is a sports car that does not sacrifice everyday comfort and practicality, including up to EPA-estimated 34-mpg highway fuel economy (with available 6-speed automatic transmission)

Gripes include sun visors that do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side, and a lack of redundant audio and other controls on the steering wheel.

On the other hand, the tested top-line HyperBlue BRZ model came with a price tag of $28,485

Specifications

Base price $27,700 (as tested: $28,485)
Curb weight 2,784 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type DOHC 4-cyl. Boxer w/DPFI
Epa mileage rating 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 13.2 gal.
Horsepower (net) 200 at 7000 rpm
Overall length 166.7 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 151 at 6400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Vehicle type 2+2-passenger RWD compact coupe
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