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In what may be a first, the Subaru BRZ sportscar can only be ordered online. Residents in the classiest suburbs of Toronto, Canada, got an unusual postcard recently. It featured their house with a new Porsche 911 in the drive.
Not a dodgy bit of Photoshop, but a real picture taken by an advertising team that immediately turned it into a piece of highly personalised direct mail. The world's first instant direct mail, according to the agency.
Although the operation was conducted from the back of a suspicious-looking white van and risked an encounter with over-zealous security, it was clearly a success.
One-third of recipients booked themselves in for a 911 test drive with Pfaff Auto and the whole exercise was made into a video. Now this idea clearly has limitations but it's surprising no one has done it before.
SOLD OUT ONLINE
It's not as though the technology is new. It's the same with the internet. Turns out ordering online works for books and all that stuff we used to buy from Gerry Harvey, but we're still reticent when it comes to new cars.
Instead, we scour the web for reviews and specifications, and play with configurators. Then we head into showrooms to scare salespeople senseless by knowing more than they do. Examples of car-makers moving the entire transaction online are rare.
So Subaru Australia, with its new BRZ sportscar, is a pioneer. When it went on sale in July, everything was handled via a special web program. All you needed was a credit card. Spokesman Dave Rowley believes it may be unique. “We did a search and the only place we found anything remotely similar was a dealer group in the UK selling one Ford model online,'' he says.
Subaru decided to try it out when it realised that supply of the BRZ would be limited to just 201 for the rest of the year. That's fewer than two cars for each of its dealers, an impossible equation. Toyota, which launched its version here in June, has been bowled over by demand. The problem is even more acute for Subaru, with the Japanese factory making just one BRZ for every seven 86s.
“We knew we were going to be extremely limited by supply because of worldwide demand for the car,” Rowley says. “Everywhere it's been launched it's been a huge hit. We knew we weren't going to have enough cars. We thought, how can we be fair to the entire network and customers? That's where the idea came from.”
Subaru commissioned a local firm to write the online software. Rowley says Subaru was happy with the way it worked, although when it went live the site was overloaded. “There were some glitches because website traffic peaked at 50 times normal. But within a few hours it was working very smoothly. The average time to complete the contract process was 20 minutes.”
Feedback has been positive, he says, and age was no bar to using the technology with at least one septuagenarian elbowing aside the gen Ys. Dealers are excluded from the order process but clip the ticket if nominated as the delivery venue. Some have even been lucky enough to get demonstrators, but the car has sold on its reputation.
“It went absolutely through the roof and they have been steadily selling since,” Rowley says. The order bank now extends to March and the locals are sending begging letters to Japan.
Subaru kept it simple with limited options and one national driveaway price from $37,150, ironing out the state tax and insurance regimes. Three-years scheduled servicing is included, there's a facility for valuing trade-ins and an estimated delivery date.
The options are limited: apart from a spare wheel cover you can add carpets, satnav and boot spoiler. Tick everything and you'll spend about $44k. And you'll need to buy a cover, for $175.
The BRZ is an unusual Subaru because unlike every other Subaru sold here it lacks all-wheel drive, which has been a key point of difference for the brand. In traditional sportscar fashion it's rear-drive and the result of a joint development project with Toyota, which owns a stake in Subaru.
The Toyota is called 86 and the two are virtually identical. They share compact dimensions, a Subaru flat four-cylinder engine with direct injection, modest mass and a reputation as a they-don't-build-'em-like-that-any-more enthusiast's sportscar.
If you're in the queue, then I hardly need to spell out the BRZ's vital statistics. For everyone else, it's every bit as good as the 86. In fact, it's hard to tell them apart. From the outside little separates the twins, although the BRZ has different front and rear clips and the one I drove had terrific 17-inch alloys.
Inside, some of the plastics are dud and buttons old-school. But the worst bit is the bodgy Bluetooth gizmo, a bit like the old number pad security systems fitted to WRXs. At least it works.
However, the seats are good -- although even with the leather option there's more contrast stitching than leather -- and the rears fold for boot access. Cargo space is compromised by a full-size spare. So like the 86, the cabin is rudimentary but liveable.
Some ingredients impressed differently. It was especially pleasing that the engine sounds better than I remember from the 86 -- looser and with a more appealing note. Which is odd since they're the same. It's also just as well because judging by the tyre roar, the cabin seems to lack soundproofing.
The engine is more flexible than you expect, especially through the mid-range, and although it needs a few revs it's not as peaky as the output numbers suggest. As with the 86, the BRZ likes to be driven precisely and responds quickly to inputs.
The slightest adjustment to the steering wheel or pedals and you feel the weight transfer slightly, as the chassis adjusts. It's light on its feet and has poise.
But not all the ride comfort has been traded away. Over rough roads the bump absorption and damping would not disgrace something much more expensive. Subaru won't say if it will try online selling again. But it might. However, it would never do for Porsche.
In the unlikely event that I find a postcard among the junk mail from a Porsche dealer, and the even more unlikely event I have the money to spend, I'll want to touch and feel and spend a long time poring over the lengthy options catalogue. And I'm sure Porsche would not want to discourage me from that.
Price: from $37,150 (manual) to $39,730 (automatic)
Warranty: 3 years
Engine: 2.0-litre horizontal four-cylinder petrol, 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: six-speed manual or automatic, rear-wheel drive
Thirst: 7.8L/100Km, 181 g/km CO2
|(base)||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$17,990 – 22,888||2012 Subaru BRZ 2012 (base) Pricing and Specs|