What is it?
The Subaru BRZ is the other half of the now iconic joint venture that resulted in Toyota launching the GT86, and it’s the half that we unashamedly prefer.
Yoshio Hirakawa – the man responsible for the development, testing and production of both coupés – was adamant throughout development that the Subaru should be the more focused of the duo, so he ensured that the BRZ received slightly sharper steering, a keener front end and better high-speed damping than the more ‘luxurious’ GT86. And in our minds, it has always been the purest distillation of what the ‘Toyobaru’ should be.
But for the majority of buyers, superior dynamics will always come second to a better-equipped cabin, a longer warranty and increased refinement, so it came as little surprise that the plusher Toyota, with the added advantage of a widespread dealership network and a slick advertising campaign, outsold its more focused sibling by roughly five to one.
However, Subaru, not one to lie down without a fight (the company did win three World Rally Championship titles, after all), is back with a comprehensive mid-life facelift that promises to build on what we already love about the current car – namely, that great chassis and characterful engine – and to rectify the poor ride quality and a distinctly spartan interior that we’re not so keen on.
Therefore, on the inside, a compact 4.2in screen has been added to the old-school instrument panel, there’s a new, smaller-diameter steering wheel similar to that applied to the GT86 and the interior now features Alcantara throughout. And for the first time, all BRZs now receive a 6.1in touchscreen with a Bluetooth-compatible system that acts as the single interface for everything from sat-nav (optional) to smartphones.
On the outside, the changes are less obvious: new headlights now feature different day-time running lights, the front bumper gets redesigned side vents and the bootlid gets a tacked-on rear wing. Small changes no doubt, but to these eyes at least, the overall aesthetic is distinctly sharper and more cohesive than Toyota’s effort.
What’s it like?
Those craving improved straight-line performance are set to be disappointed, because Subaru, like Toyota, has not seen fit to add more power, so the 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine still produces 197bhp and 151lb ft. However, the strength of the engine block has been increased, the rocker arms have been lightened and friction has been reduced on the camshaft. All of these, Subaru claims, contribute to slightly lower emissions.
What hasn’t changed, however, is that the engine still needs to be revved hard to get the most from it. With peak torque arriving at a heady 6400rpm, quick progress demands fast gearchanges, clever footwork and high corner speed. Unfortunately the torque dip at 4100rpm still remains, but we found that when pushing on, you rarely find yourself dropping much below 5000rpm.
However, it’s in the corners where the BRZ really shines. For 2017 the front springs have been stiffened and the rears have been softened off, while the opposite has been done to the anti-roll bars. This makes the front end even pointier, so in slippery winter conditions you might expect this to make the car feel somewhat edgy, especially on its low-grip Michelin Primacy tyres. But combined with the remapped steering, which has been tuned to build weight more smoothly off-centre, the BRZ feels remarkably stable and confidence-inspiring at speed.
By tweaking the dampers and stiffening the suspension, the revised BRZ also feels noticeably more progressive up to, and over, the limit. Turn in to a quick corner and the car will push on initially, but trail the brakes or lift mid-corner and that push quickly transfers into easily controllable oversteer. The car’s new Track mode will also allow you to do all of this without risking getting too out of shape, and, rather impressively, if you do overstep the mark, the software now brings you back into line in a controlled manner, unlike the previous model’s distinctly binary system.
The dampers have also been fettled to transmit fewer vibrations into the cabin than before, but without testing the cars back to back, it’s hard to decipher if there has been a noticeable improvement. What we can say, however, is that while the ride is firm, it’s not too harsh, and at higher speeds the BRZ feels impressively stable, thanks in part to a relatively long 2570mm wheelbase.
Where the Subaru does let the side down, however, is in the interior. Despite the fact that most of the cheap-feeling plastics have been replaced with leather and Alcantara, the overall aesthetic is still distinctly 1990s. And for all that the BRZ has been calling out for a standard-fit sat-nav, the system fitted to this 2017 model feels simply archaic alongside the units found in the Audi TT and significantly cheaper Mazda MX-5. Ultimately, for a car approaching £27,500 (the sat-nav is a £1250 option), it’s hard to not to feel somewhat short-changed.
Should I buy one?We said in our first drive of the BRZ way back in 2012 that “the hardest decision will not be whether to part with your money at all, but choosing between the Subaru and Toyota”. Thankfully, Subaru has made this decision somewhat more straightforward in 2017.
Instead of offering two separate trim levels like Toyota, Subaru only offers one: the fully loaded £26,050 SE Lux. For that money, you get goodies such as heated Alcantara seats, a leather dashboard, Bluetooth compatibility, keyless entry and the new rear spoiler. A GT86 in the same specification would cost you more than £1500 extra.
Will it be enough to lure buyers into showrooms? It’s hard to say, but there’s no doubt that the decision to put a BRZ on your drive has never been easier.
Subaru BRZ SE Lux review
Location Gloucestershire; On Sale Now; Price £26,050; Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 2000cc, petrol; Power 197bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 151lb ft at 6400rpm; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 140mph; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1275kg; Economy 36.2mpg (combined); CO2 180g/km, 33%; Rivals Toyota GT86, Nissan 370Z, Audi TT
What is it?