Sports cars should only come with manual gearboxes. Or should they? After driving Subaru's BRZ two-door coupe last weekend with a six-speed automatic transmission I believe there is a place for an auto that also can be shifted manually.
You can still have fun changing up and down using the paddle levers behind the steering wheel or the gear stick while also having the added advantage of full automation when stuck in the grind of commuting.
Purists won't have a bar of autos, particularly in performance cars, but even Ferrari and Porsche are heading towards autos only. Soon the manual gearbox will be a thing of the past. Many modern autos change a lot faster than the driver can manually shift. Some autos are quicker than the manual and more economical too. It makes the manual seem redundant.
I loved the Toyota 86 GTS manual and now I love its twin, the BRZ auto. Sales are hampered by supply. Last month Subaru shifted 105, against the 86's 608 units, the class leader Hyundai Veloster on 302 (4107 last year) and Mercedes Benz's C-Class Coupe of 176 (2336 in 2012). Last year just 200 BRZs found homes versus the 86's 2047.
So the BRZ is more exclusive and more elusive but the company has managed to secure another 140 models for delivery this and next month.
The review car was $39,730 drive away with leather and heated seats.
All BRZs get cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, USB input, seven airbags (dual front, dual side, side curtain and a driver's knee airbag) and stability control, LED daytime running lights, aluminium pedals, keyless entry with push button start, dual-zone airconditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tyres and DataDots, which identify components and make them less attractive to thieves.
Inside the BRZ is disappointing. There's too much plastic. The silver strip across the dash was cheap and nasty, like someone had been at work with a spray can. But the red stitching is classy while Subaru's coloured badge in the steering wheel livens the look. The orange illumination lifts the mood but the green-lit radio clashes badly.
The digital speedo is great because the speedo markings are too small. Head room is OK and the driving position is low so you get the sports car feeling. Storage is light but there's a handy slot for smartphones in the centre console, something other makers should take note of. Usually I have to leave my phone in a drink holder. The boot is shallow, only useful for soft weekend-away bags. Rear vision is hampered by the slender windows.
The engine is more Subaru than Toyota, yet both companies had an input. Subaru provided the basic 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer horizontally opposed layout (essentially a 180-degree V) while Toyota added direct injection for better efficiency and more power.
The result is 147kW. While there are many more powerful family sedans, few weigh as little as 1.2 tonnes. That's where it delights. At times it feels like more power would be welcome, but the engine revs cleanly and builds steadily into a frenzied crescendo as it approaches the 7500rpm cutout.
Peak torque is a modest 205Nm and produced very high at 6600rpm, so its best work is about 5000-6000rpm. But even at 2000 or 3000rpm it'll pull relatively well, which makes for relaxed motoring around town. Fuel economy isn't great. I managed 10.5L/100km, nowhere near the claimed 7.1L/100km for the auto. Also bear in mind that the BRZ requires costlier 98-octane premium unleaded fuel.
There are five stability control settings that allow the traction control (to stop wheelspin) and stability control (to stop skids and slides) to be turned off and to different levels independently.
Initially it feels lethargic until the revs spool and it takes off, whipping around to the red line. It's at higher speeds or on the open road where the performance feels more modest but if you're prepared to rev it harder, it's feisty. I love the way the six-speed auto exaggerates downshifts when calling on all kilowatts.
The BRZ is a lot of fun. It's light and nimble and points accurately at a corner with the sort of steering precision and feedback that's at the top of the sports car game. It has high grip levels and it hangs on tenaciously through the twisty stuff. With 53 per cent of the weight over its nose and the remaining 47 per cent over the rear the BRZ feels beautifully balanced through corners.
Go into fast and the front wheels will scrub wide, while if you're too aggressive on the throttle in a slow corner the stability control will kick in to settle things down. It can easily oversteer and drift, but not viciously. In the right environment the BRZ will reward when driven surprisingly hard, hunkering down through corners and allowing the driver to have some fun with its balance.
Push hard or on a low-grip surface and the tail will let loose in a relatively controlled way, allowing a slide for those who feel confident. It was a marvel up the Gillies Range where I was able to string together many corners smoothly and confidently without being hampered by slower drivers.
It was a similar story over the road between Walkamin and Oaky Creek Farms, just a lack of power dampening quick times. A trade-off is the firm ride, more noticeable at lower speeds where it can be testing on poor surfaces, but it's relatively compliant and controlled given the excellent dynamics. Tyre noise is rowdy.
Late in the weekend I discovered the sport button, which allows the engine to rev fully to the red line, after my drive to the Tableland and back so I had another blat to revel in its sportiness again.
The BRZ is engaging and agile with great steering and generally good brakes, although they were fading after a couple of hard runs. The ride is firm as expected, there's heaps of grip and good performance. Boy racers will want more but I feel it will upset the almost perfect balance of the car.
The auto is a good combination for lazy drivers around town and for a whole lot of fun on winding and twisty roads. The interior is a mix of good and bad with some interior parts looking cheap, especially that awful silver strip across the dash.
The Subaru two door is thirsty for its size and requires expensive 98-octane premium unleaded. There's a sporty note piped into the cabin. I quite like it, others don't. There's no rear windscreen wiper which will be a bummer in our wet.
The BRZ is a car which puts a huge smile on the dial without breaking the bank account. Just having to wait for one may sour the experience.
Body: Two-door sports car
Price: $39,730 drive away
Engine: 2.0-litre boxer four
Power: 147kW @ 7000rpm
Torque: 205Nm @ 6400-6600rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 0-100km/h in 8.2s, top speed 210km/h (limited)
Fuel consumption: 7.1L/100km, (10.5L on test) premium unleaded,
CO2 emissions: 164g/km
Dimensions: Length 4240mm, width 1775mm, height 1285mm, wheelbase 2570mm, tracks 1520/1540mm front/rear
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Price: from $47,280
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 118kW/188Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 8.1L/100Km, CO2 192g/km
Price: from $29,990
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manial, RWD
Thirst: 7.1L/100km, 164g/km CO2
Renault Megane Renaultsport 250 Cup
Price: from $41,990
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 184kW/340Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 8.7L/100km, CO2 201g/km
Volkswagen Golf GTi
Price: from $38,990
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 155kW/280Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.7L/100km, CO2 180g/km