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Subaru's back, baby! Keeping the affordable sports car dream alive with BRZ... and why the WRX is even better than we dared hope | Opinion

Along with many upgrades, the redesigned Subaru BRZ continues its predecessor's legacy of pure, affordable sports car thrills.

Subaru, take a bow.

The latest BRZ reaffirms the series’ esteemed place alongside the Mazda MX-5 as a keeper of the affordable sports-car flame, especially as hot hatches are increasingly pricing themselves out of reach.

Launched late in 2021 from $38,990 before on-road costs, the second-generation coupe represented something of a conspicuous bargain, with all initial 500 cars selling out in no time at all.

And who can blame them? A big engine transplant, updated styling, an interior redesign and upgraded features for not much more money than before, while carrying through with cut-price Porsche Cayman agility and athleticism, is very hard to resist. Even the $42,790 auto justified its $2210 jump with worthwhile safety and convenience gains.

What a steal.

While the MY23 versions that cost $1300 and $1400 more (from $40,290 and $44,090 respectively) are slightly less so, there’s nothing like the diminutive, delicate yet sideways-hungry Subaru coupe anymore, because there simply aren’t rivals left anymore.

Obviously, the same also applies to the BRZ’s Toyota GR86 twin due by year’s end, as long as Toyota doesn’t follow the hot-hatch gang and get too greedy with pricing.

Along with the iconic MX-5 (from $37,990 as a two-seater roadster and $42,300 in elegant RF targa guise), they represent something both unique and endangered, to the point of almost being completely lost.

Consider that, following the first BRZ/86 launch 10 years ago, Australians seeking a cheap yet stylish and sporty two/three-door coupe or convertible could choose from a Honda CR-Z, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Cerato Coup, Kia Pro_cee’d GT, Mini Coupe, Mini Roadster, Mini Paceman, Peugeot 207 CC, Peugeot 308 CC, Renault Megane CC, Volkswagen Eos, VW Scirocco, VW The Beetle and VW Golf Cabriolet. All have disappeared.

But there’s more going on that makes the BRZ and MX-5 special.

Besides being Japanese, both the Subaru and Mazda share a commitment to a specific engineering and design philosophy that is otherwise out of reach for most buyers – front mid-mounted engine placement, rear-wheel drive and sexy low-slung styling redolent of mid-century icons. In the BRZ’s case this means influences from marques like Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo, while Lotus, Austin Healey, MG and Honda’s S600 helped shape the MX-5.

Oh, but what of today’s delightful little supermini hot hatches you say, as defined by the ultra-sharp and terrifically tactile Ford Fiesta ST from just $32,290?

Well, that – along with the $27,990 Suzuki Swift Sport (joyously frisky), $32,990 Hyundai i20 N (laser focused) and $38,750 VW Polo GTI DSG (mature all-rounder) – all have a place in the hearts of keen drivers seeking inexpensive fun.

However, none are sports nor even merely sporty cars. They’re based on conventional if extremely competent front-wheel drive hatchbacks and so are shaped like boxes-on-wheels.

Then there’s the important job of what drives the rear wheels in the BRZ and MX-5. Fun fact: both offer exactly the same, specific Aisin torque-converter six-speed automatic transmission, though the standard six-speed manual gearbox is what they’re really all about. Short, crisp shifters that can be nothing less than life-affirming in the right circumstances.

In contrast, other carmakers like VW don’t even bother about a manual ‘box any more in the Polo GTI.

The same also applies to the bigger breeds, like the Golf GTI DSG (from $54,990), which – along with the Renault Megane Trophy (from $60,090) – are in real danger of pricing themselves out of relevance.

Hopefully the excellent Hyundai i30 N (from $45,000) and Ford Focus ST (from $47,490) – which start with a manual transmission as their opening gambits ­– can hold on to their price points for a bit longer.  

They’d better if they know what’s good for them, since they have the second of our brilliant Subaru models to contend with, the latest WRX.

Now from $44,990 or a tenner under $50K for the WRX Sportwagon (aka new Levorg), we’re talking about a return to fierce form, not seen since the series’ ‘90s heyday. Turbo oomph and all-wheel-drive grip on one hand, taut control and surprising comfort on the other. The handsomely proportioned sedan, especially, deserves a callout. Do call it a comeback.

Subaru pulled something very special out of the hat with the first Impreza WRX in 1993, replicating Audi’s ascension to rally domination with the Ur-Quattro from a decade earlier, but then spent three subsequent generations (2000, 2008 and 2014) getting the recipe wrong. The latter even broke away from Impreza, to no avail. It couldn’t capture the essence of the original.

That’s all ancient history now, however, as the MY22 WRX and BRZ prove. Subaru’s back, baby!

Just hope it doesn’t become complacent or greedy with price hikes.