The Subaru BRZ is a back-to-basics sports coupe which ditches the soft-touch interiors and chic lines associated with other style-focused coupes such as the Audi TT and puts the focus firmly on driving fun.
Where stylish machines such as the TT and VW Scirocco major on design and instant turbocharged power over raw driving thrills, the BRZ turns that equation on its head.
The BRZ has one very close rival though; the practically identical Toyota GT86 which was developed alongside it and shares the same engine, body and oily bits. The BRZ is around £1,100 cheaper than its Toyota sibling however.
Another rival which shares the same ethos of simple driving fun, is the Mazda MX5, which is available in roadster and hard-top coupe forms. Other affordable rear-wheel drive coupes include the BMW 2 Series and more expensive Nissan 370Z.
The BRZ is a compact and lightweight ‘2+2’ coupe which has space for two adults and two children. With its small size and rear-wheel drive layout the BRZ focuses on providing an engaging driving experience, with its rorty two-litre engine and pared down interior, though it does without the luxurious feel you’d find in other sports coupes.
With prices starting at £23,995 for the manual and £25,495 for the automatic, the BRZ offers a lot of performance for the money, with the manual requiring just 7.6 seconds to accelerate from a standstill to 62mph. Just these two models are available, with both offering a long list of standard equipment.
Thanks to its low driving position and snug cabin, the BRZ offers a much more engaging experience than most sports coupes. The car has snug leather sports seats, which grip you well around corners and a rorty engine which goads you into driving harder.
Work the engine hard and the BRZ accelerates with enthusiasm above 5,000rpm, though a number of turbocharged rivals provide power a lot lower down the rev range, making them feel more responsive; you’ll need to change gears regularly to keep the engine at high speeds for meaningful acceleration in this Subaru.
As the BRZ is down on power compared to some other coupes, it does mean that you can make the most of its speed without putting your licence at risk – a rarity in a modern sports car. The engine has a loud baritone quality, which makes the car feel faster, but can prove grating on longer journeys.
The car has a very short throw gearchange, which requires just the slightest flick of the wrist to change gears, along with precise steering, which weights up nicely around bends, giving you lots of confidence in how much grip the car has.
The lightweight BRZ turns eagerly into corners, though its skinny eco tyres which are shared with the Toyota Prius, mean that even moderate acceleration can unstick the tyres’ traction. Standard fit traction control keeps the car on the straight and narrow, but those used to modern fast cars may be disappointed by the relative lack of grip. In the wet the rear tyres may run out of grip sooner than you expect. Thankfully the brakes decisively bring the BRZ to a halt.
With its focus on making driving at legal speeds exciting, the BRZ has few concessions to refinement compared to most coupes – road noise is high and the engine can be boomy when you work it hard, though it’s quite enough when cruising. Other sports cars do make a more enjoyable engine sound though.
Rev the engine hard and a buzzer sounds when you get close to the rev limit. This chimes in well before the redline however, which can be irritating. Drive the BRZ more gently and the engine is smooth and the ride is firm, but comfortable enough on smooth roads. Sharp ridges can send a jolt through the cabin though.
We didn’t find the BRZ the most comfortable sports car to drive. The driving position is very low, and our tester found that the seatbelt cut across his neck uncomfortably when driving. The high-level rear light impedes on rear vision slightly and the analogue speedometer is tricky to read on the move. Thankfully there is also a much more legible digital speedometer.
The BRZ’s interior feels distinctly low-rent compared to rivals. The design is unappealing, some of the controls slightly tricky to use on the move and many of the materials feel very cheap for a £24,000 car.
The shiny silver dashboard trim looks very low quality, while the hard leather-look material on the dashboard also feels cheap. We found the sat nav controls hard to fathom on the move too.
If you’re used to other sports coupes such as the Audi TT, the BRZ will feel like a jump back in time. The leather and Alcantara seats though are comfortable and supportive around corners
The front cabin offers a reasonable amount of space for taller passengers, though you’ll have to be relatively nimble to drop in and out of the low-slung seats. Move the seats all the way back though and there is absolutely no leg room for rear passengers.
The BRZ is very much a two seater, rather than a full-blown four-seater. You may be able to fit small children in the rear seats, but even the smallest adults will feel cramped.
The boot has a large footprint but is very shallow, reducing its usefulness. It doesn’t come with a spare tyre either, and the space under the boot floor isn’t usable.
The relatively large rear pillars and high boot mean that judging the back of the car is tricky. Similarly the long bonnet can be hard to place accurately too.
The BRZ offers a very engaging driving experience compared to most modern cars. If you’re after a nippy, low-slung sports car, that is fun to drive at legal speeds, the BRZ puts up a good case.
However, other sports cars are nearly as engaging to drive, but are much easier to live with, with higher refinement levels and engines which don’t need to be worked as hard for quick progress.
The interior also feels very cheap, though the BRZ is over £1,000 cheaper than its Toyota GT86 sibling, which makes it a better value option.
For pure driving thrills a Mazda MX5 may appeal more, as it offers the ability to take the roof down and the VW Scirocco, BMW 2 Series and Audi TT all offer much more grown-up driving experience and higher quality interiors.
If you’re happy to settle for a car that doesn’t cover all the bases, the BRZ could suit you well, but the sensible money would be on the £25,000 BMW 220i Coupe which offers rear-wheel drive handling, faster acceleration and substantially better fuel economy.
Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Subaru BRZ in our classifieds here.
Subaru BRZ 2.0i SE LUX manual
List price: £23,995
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder petrol
Top speed: 140mph
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 27.2mpg (urban), 44.1mpg (extra-urban) 36.2mpg (combined)
Emissions: 181g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested
August 22, 2014