Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX – A True Driver’s Car

Drive and handling excellent, fairly good mpg, cool looks

Interior not as good as it should be, engine would benefit from more power

Subaru BRZ?

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Subaru. It’s a brand famed worldwide for tough all-wheel-drive cars that are as at home in a wilderness, on a boggy track or snowy road as they are driving around city streets. So when they announced that they were producing a rear-wheel-drive sports car – named the Subaru BRZ – in a joint venture with Toyota (their version is the GT86), it came as a surprise to Scooby fans worldwide. Warning! The Subaru BRZ review you are about to read may contain information that could lead to your heart rate increasing…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

In more ways than one, the Subaru BRZ harks back to Japanese rear-drive sports cars of the 1990’s. A long bonnet, short tail end and a low, wide stance reminds any Jap sports car fan of superb models such as  the Nissan 300 ZX and 200 SX, and the Toyota Supra and Celica. The excitement stirs.

A quick glance at the BRZ in the flesh, and you quickly notice just how low this car is. At just over 142.5 cm (56″) high, you could quite possibly do a Fast ‘n Furious jobbie of weaving about under giant american truck trailers. I do not encourage that though, and you may find your stuntman skills are lacking to the point where your beloved BRZ gets even less tall, and subsequently more squashy-looking, very quickly.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

The BRZ is absolutely a head-turner. It is quite the angry-looking car from the front, with that long bonnet flaring up sharply to meet the wings and a slightly power bulge at the front centre, it’s got enough muscle to be mean. Aggressive-looking lights and a sharp, angular bottom lip which juts out flatly, finishes the design off nicely.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Down the sides the bodywork is clean and simple, with only a faux side vent on the wings, which looks like its been nicked from an Aston-Martin. Still, it’s a nice touch but it would be much better if it was used for real ventilation, as the engine compartment gets so hot that even the bonnet strut gets almost too hot to touch.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

The flared-out arch at the front starts off a swage line, which then flows beautifully down the side and over the thick-set rear wheel arch. The rear is a mad mix of angles and sharp, hard-edged lines with the rear spoiler’s small fins at either side slice the air around, making the BRZ look fast without it even moving. Down below, there’s a large rear diffuser with two dustbin-sized exhaust exits poking out – both of which are very real, and not some bit of fake tackyness. A statement of seriousness if ever there was one.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

The rear lights have the glare of an eagle’s eyes – one whom has been continually poked with a bamboo stick for an hour. Angry, and ready to have your finger off. All-in-all, the Subaru BRZ has all the intent and purpose of a true Japanese sports car.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Open a door of the BRZ, peer inside and your eyes will quite likely enjoy what they see. There are full bucket seats in both the front and rear, while contrasting the blackness of the alcantara and leather seating, sporty red stitching runs around the seams on them, and also the leather-bound steering wheel, manual gear stick gaiter and handbrake. Without this, the BRZ would be awash with dullness, as there are only three primary colours to the interior trim – grey, black and silver.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Slide into the driver’s seat, and you will at once be mentally transported back to the aforementioned Japanese sports cars of the nineties. The centre console has four orange LED displays, and while there is something a bit cool about seeing something brand new that looks like it has been raided from a 1995 Honda Prelude, therein also lies the botheration. It’s outdated.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

The rest of the centre console is well laid-out, with driver-friendly buttons and dials for the heating, cooling, electronic aids etc, but these don’t have a quality feel to them, and in all honesty that side of it is a slight let-down in general. As an example, the section between the driver and passenger seat has a well with a movable drinks holder, plus some storage space and a 12-volt point, but it is so absolutely cheap, crudely-made and inelegant that it made me actually feel annoyed.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Why Subaru have built such great car, and yet included switchgear and things like the part I’ve just mentioned which were seen on Subaru’s a couple of generations ago, I cannot fathom. It’s not an in-expensive car at almost £26,500 (LUX manual model), and this shouldn’t have been an issue.

The analogue dials are a thing of simplicity, with a clear sports theme running through. The speed dial is on the left, while the more important rev counter sits bang in the centre, with a square digital readout for the speed sat inside it for quick viewing. Aside from that, it’s old-school stuff yet again with only fuel and temperature gauges to glance at. There’s no distractions or fancy readouts here – only important stuff that you need to know.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

It’s the same with the steering wheel too. Aside from the little stalk for the cruise control, there are absolutely no buttons or controls attached to the ‘wheel. Good!

The most modern bit of tech on the interior is the optional multimedia and sat-nav system, which was fairly good to use, and the navigation worked well too with good options, a clear display and useful information about roadworks, delays and more.

Mentioning the seats again, the front’s don’t look like they’d be comfortable for more than a few minutes, but they are actually really supportive and comfy. A press day I attended while I had the BRZ meant almost a six-hour round trip, and yet I got home still feeling fairly relaxed instead of stiff and achy. The rear seats look like they’d only fit a child in, but if you have a short person in the front, and one in the back, then there’s just enough leg room for both of you. Once in, they are actually really nice to sit in, as they’re deep and angled back in a relaxed manner.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX rear seating space

 

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Boot room is, as you’d expect, not huge, but you could still fit either a big shop in there, or a couple of suitcases. An interesting and handy feature is that the rear seats fold completely flat, giving you a semi-decent amount of space in there.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

All said, although the BRZ has ‘luxuries’ such as dual-climate control, heated seats, air conditioning, folding wing mirrors and such, there’s still a lot of nasty cheap, outdated plastics used for the buttons and parts of the trim, and I don’t feel that’s acceptable on a modern car anymore. However, the Subaru BRZ is primarily – and above all – a focussed sports coupé, and believe me that’s all you’ll be interested in once you get driving.

Engine and gearbox

Emblazoned in the centre of the plastic engine are ‘Toyota’ and ‘Subaru’. While this may be a joint venture, Subaru were responsible for the main engine body here.

What gives that away easily is the horizontally opposed ‘Boxer’ engine – something Subaru have been using for ages now. I have no doubt that some of you will be thinking that Subaru have transplanted one of their mental WRX STi turbo’d unit into the BRZ, but actually no, they haven’t.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

This is a naturally-aspirated version, so you’re getting a petrol-powered 2.0 litre engine with four cylinder’s (and 16 valve’s) in Boxer formation, with a dual active valve control system (AVCS) and Toyota’s D-4S direct and port fuel injection.

The Subaru’s two-litre engine gives a modest 200 PS, but torque is lacking somewhat at only 151 lb ft (205 Nm). Both these figures come wayyy up the rev range too, so you’re going to have to give the engine more than just a tickle to get the full benefit. Currently, this is the only engine available on the BRZ, but it looks like there might be a faster, more focussed STi model due around 2014.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

As well as this being Subaru’s first direct-injection engine, they also boast that it is the “world’s most efficient naturally-aspirated sports car engine… with 100ps per litre”. It’s also much better on fuel than I’d anticipated, with quoted figures for the manual as; urban: 27.2, extra urban: 44.1, and combined: 36.2. The automatic is actually better on fuel than the manual, by a few mpg. I managed slightly over 36 mpg on a 6-hour motorway run at 75 miles per hour, and on a drive at lower speeds the BRZ was hitting just into the 40 mpg range.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

There’s a choice of two gearbox’s on the BRZ – a 6-speed manual – which is what the BRZ I got sent had – and a six-speed automatic, which features paddle-shifters and the cool ‘blipping control’ – which automatically blips the engine on the downshift – that you get on more expensive GT cars. It also features adaptive transmission control, which adjusts the gear change points and throttle response depending on your driving style. If it’s anything like the one in the Subaru Outback I tested, then it will be excellent, and very smooth.

The manual is an adapted version from the 2012 Impreza, and I’ve got to say it’s a great ‘box, and is hugely enjoyable to use.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

It’s saying something when every time you get into a car, you get that tingle of excitement – no matter what your mood is, what the weather is like, or what time of day it is. That’s how I felt. As my morning started, and I pottered around the house, I’d occasionally catch a glance of the BRZ out of a window, and instantly a tiny sliver of adrenaline would shoot though my system, making me speed up whatever process I was doing, just so I could get out to the car quicker.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Once out, and walking towards the Subaru, the excitement would heighten a little more as the sun ran across the bonnet and down the muscular flanks, flitting of the little fins on the spoiler. Pull open the noticeably-light door of the BRZ, slide down and into the kerb-high bucket seat -where your legs are then fully surrounded by the dash – press the starter button and the dials and switch lights light up. Foot down on the clutch, press the starter button once more, and the BRZ’s engine bursts into life, a growl from the two exhausts filling the street with their sweet tone.

The smooth Boxer engine idles high at 1,500 rpm for a while as it warms, the exhaust already giving out heavy vibes that this really is a sports car, not some pretender. After a minute or so, the rev counter needle drops to normal, and you’re ready for the off.

The second – and I mean the very second – that I push the manual lever into first gear, the BRZ feels like a proper drivers car. The gearstick is well positioned, and the throw is short and clicky, making me feel like I’m selecting gear in a touring car. This is exciting stuff. The clutch is not over-heavy, but it’s nothing like a city car’s – you have to work this thing properly, with a little bit of thought almost. Not like a little town car which you can drive in a zombie-like state.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Acceleration is brisk and immediate with no hesitancy, and thanks to a short ratio ‘box you’ll find yourself going quickly through the gears. As you accelerate, there’s a utterly joyous tone from the exhausts which penetrates the cabin, and sounds even better with the windows down – a deep, throaty growl which translates in written form as ‘GRRRRRRRRR!’.

If you’re not accelerating much, and just cruising along, you’ll not get much back from those exhausts, but get back on the throttle and it’s back again. It’s one of the best sounds I’ve come across in a long time on a new car, and it’s utterly addictive too. Smiles-per-miles in the Subaru are absolutely 1:1 if you’re on the gas.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

The BRZ is rear wheel drive, with the engine up front, and it’s also light at just 1,230 kilo’s. It has absolutely has got to be one of the nicest handling cars around currently, and it rewards eager driving so well that it’s almost addictive. You’re sat low down, and being surrounded by the steering column and dash, you feel almost part of the car, and as you drive you get the sense that you are in absolute control of every degree of the BRZ’s handling.

The electric power steering is weighted well, and is heavy enough to get good, accurate feedback. It’s not as sharp as the Peugeot 208 GTi‘s, but definitely very good still. A boot-full of acceleration on a wet bend with have the electronic safety nannies clucking and stopping any fun quickly. Regarding driving safety, Subaru have made sure the BRZ has a load of tech on, so there’s four-channel ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and a Brake Assist and Brake Override system.

The BRZ’s Vehicle Dynamics Control is a clever thing, which allows you to drive it hard without reigning you back full, so there’s enough slip to have fun but as soon as it detects you’ve rather overcooked thing, it’ll bring you back into line safely. That’s the plan anyway.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

A press of the VSC Sport button next to the gearstick, and the computer allows you to take more control, and slacks off the stability and traction control, so there’s more sliding the back end out, in other words. Subaru state that with the VSC Sport on, the BRZ will drive as one imagines it would. I left the VSC Sport on for the majority of drives, as it makes for much more enjoyable driving – which is what the BRZ is entirely about.

If you want to have the ultimate entertaining drive, then hold down the traction control button for 3 seconds, after which the TCS and VSC will be off altogether and you can drift ’til your heart’s content and your tyres are worn down. It’s still very controllable like that though, and you can get some excellent oversteer action going, knowing that it’ll come back smoothly without snapping viciously or going into a tank-slapper.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

The 200 PS of power is highly useable. That means it’s realistic for the road. Having a car with 550 horsepower might sound like a superb thing, but believe me, you quickly start to question why you need it all – especially if you live somewhere where there are approximately one billion speed cameras and police men who seem to think going a few miles-per-hour over the limit is worse than burning down a house full of nuns.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

You can hammer the Subaru without getting into license-losing territory too easily, and that translates to keeping it more ditch-free too. The max power is reached at a heady 7,000 rpm, for example, while the torque reaches v-max between 6,400 – 6,600. However, the measly 151 lb ft of torque was just too little I felt, at least for straight runs. I noticed it the most when accelerating at motorway speeds and overaking, where the speedo’s needle didn’t climb anywhere near as quick as I’d have liked. 0 – 62 mph in 7.6 seconds for the manual isn’t impressive for a sports car, and there’s a call for more power – and definitely way more torque, I believe.

The all-round fully-independent suspension is of course, sporty., and firm. There’s no wallowing about in this car, and chucking it around a roundabout at high speed, you’ll be glad of that. However, I didn’t think it was stiff to the point of being uncomfortable at all, and although you certainly feel the bumps way more than you would in a normal family saloon, your back and butt won’t be in agony at the end of a drive.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

Price

Starting at just under £25,000 and topping out at around £28,000 for the SE LUX Auto, the Subaru BRZ isn’t as highly priced as most people guess. It twin, the Toyota GT86 starts at the same price but has a higher top end that’ll see you past £32K, thanks to a sports exhaust other gear. Then there’s the Nissan 370Z, which starts at £26K and runs pasts ten grand more than that for the Nismo version. As standard, the 370Z is a much quicker car though.

The interior quality isn’t as good as it should be, and it felt like I’d climbed into a Jap sports car from the early Nineties, thanks to old-looking switchgear and trim parts. But that’s irrelevant really, as you are paying for what the BRZ delivers in terms of driving pleasure – and that comes by the barrel-load.

Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX review

2013 Subaru BRZ SE LUX Manual verdict & score

The BRZ is really a return to the days when sports coupé’s delivered absolute enjoyment to their owners. In a time of o.t.t. political correctness, boring sensibleness and a ‘you must drive like this otherwise’ society, the BRZ is a car that makes you realise that there can still be fun in driving. It’s a bit of a hooligan’s car, one that positively encourages you to hammer, thrash and extract ever bit of power from the engine, while the back end wags about like an excited dog’s tail.

All said and done, Subaru have made a car that handles in a truly superb manner. It is balanced beautifully, and with power that you can put down without worrying about overkill it makes for one of the best – and cheapest – true driver’s cars on the market today.

Do you own a Subaru BRZ? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  9
Interior  7.5
Engine  8.5
Gearbox  8.5
Price  8
Drive  9
Overall Score  8.5 / 10 

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2012 Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX manual
Spec includes  17″ steel wheels, Pioneer sat nav & multimedia system (opt), LED daytime running lights, cruise control, heated seats, dual climate control  See spec sheet for more
Options you should spec  Blue Mica paint, Pioneer sat nav & multimedia system
Price  £26,495 (SE LUX manual)
Engine  2.0i litre petrol, horizontally-opposed (Boxer) 4-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC, naturally-aspirated
Power, Torque, CO2  200 PS, 151 lb ft (205 Nm) | CO2: 160 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Rear wheel drive | 6-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 140 mph | 0 – 60 mph: 7.6 seconds | No Euro NCAP test as yet
Fuel economy (mpg)  (Manual) Urban: 27.2, Extra urban: 44.1, Combined: 36.2
Weight (kerb)  1,230 kg’s (2,712 lbs)
Websites  Subaru UK, Subaru America, Subaru worldwide

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Jason Fanthorpe, Matthew Davies

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