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On the Road review: Subaru BRZ Limited – Knox County VillageSoup – Courier-Gazette & Camden Herald

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Tim Plouff reviews the Subaru BRZ.
Driving purity is seldom a prominent consideration for new car buyers today, partly because many new products are so vastly improved over what we used to purchase twenty years ago. Steering feel, braking prowess and kinetic handling have all markedly increased in today’s driving fleets as computer engineering, lighter materials and higher manufacturing tolerances have helped erase the shortcomings of an era passed.
Yet for drivers who still relish the thrill of driving, and savor this passion on a limited budget, the automakers still produce a small sampling of cars that can excite those nerves at the base of your spine.
This week’s Subaru BRZ 2+2 coupe is the sibling to Toyota’s similarly designed 86 coupe, a joint project meant to share expenses, but also to cater to a small (and apparently shrinking) cadre of driving enthusiasts. Generation two of these compact speedsters brings us sharper styling, some interior enhancements, a lower center of gravity, plus more power under the hood with a Subaru-supplied 2.4-liter boxer-four engine making 228-naturally-aspirated horsepower.
The gain in power over the previous 2-liter, 205-horsepower powerplant is notable. Acceleration is stronger with better low-end and mid-range responsiveness. Running through a standard six-speed manual gearbox — another rarity today — the BRZ’s rear-drive chassis is both playful and much sportier. Weighing barely 2,800 pounds, the BRZ displays go-cart-like handling, albeit with a stiffer ride that lacks some compliance over pock-marked surfaces. The cat-like performance administered by the helm and the close-ratio transmission will keep even moderate drivers engaged in the driving experience.
While it may conjure up youthful exuberance visually, you will need to be limber and athletic to both enter and exit the lowered cabin. Ride height is very close to the ground, meaning you fall into the nicely-bolstered sport seat, and must utilize all of your dexterity to climb back out. At a highway pace, the Subaru is also noisy — too much road and tire noise comes through. While the 2+2 cabin offers the promise of tiny backseats, they are not practical for adult travel. The rear seatbacks do recline however, affording extra cargo space that few rivals can come close to.
Inside, buyers choose between Premium and Limited trim levels — with a starting price $900 lower than two years ago. More content, like Apple/Android/XM upgrades, heated seats, keyless access and ignition, plus electronic driving aids with blind spot detection and an expanded rear camera, complements new hardware like a new Torsen limited-slip rear differential, front strut-tower brace, as well as an aluminum hood, roof and doors to keep the weight down. The coupe also has a more rigid body, due to the shift to Subaru’s Global Platform engineering chassis.
Limited trim ($30,495 start, $31,455 as shown) adds suede and leather accents on the seats, steering responsive headlamps, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and 18-inch alloy wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport4 summer-performance tires. A 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters is optional, $1,600, but includes additional safety driving aids like Subaru’s full EyeSight system with adaptive cruise.
EPA ratings are 20/27-mpg for the slick 3-pedal setup, while automatic models earn 21/30-mpg numbers. For our purposes, the BRZ returned 30-mpg for the week while commuting, running errands, and exercising on the highway.
So, this segment is small, figuratively, and sales-wise. Mazda’s MX-5 Miata has to be included, yet the BRZ packs a performance punch that the Miata severely lacks. Perhaps Toyota’s Supra, Nissan’s new Z, or even Subaru’s own WRX could be considered contenders for entry-level performance buyers, but the Supra and Z start out $12,000 more expensive and the WRX (with a turbo version of this motor) is a four-door sedan with AWD. Honda’s Civic Hatchback may be the go-to two-door for young buyers looking for zesty drivers; however, it is a front-driver with very different performance dynamics. Hyundai’s potent Veloster N is similar to the Civic, but it goes out of production after this year.
A different offering from Subaru, the brand known for its AWD family wagons named Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback, the BRZ proves Subaru (and Toyota) are willing to try new niches. With new-found power, the BRZ proved to be more than competently entertaining.
One could be forgiven for asking if there might be a BRZ Sport in the wings with the 271-horsepower turbocharged version of the WRX’s engine nestled under that aluminum hood. With this low weight and crisper handling chassis, it would create a BRZ that would make Supra and Z really sit up and pay attention.
Enthusiast buyers would love the opportunity to exploit that kind of driving value.
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.
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