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Subaru BRZ 2012 track review

This is a game changer for Subaru. The company that built its reputation on symmetrical all-wheel drive has ditched the front driveshaft and rekindled memories of simpler times.

This is a game changer for Subaru. The company that built its reputation on symmetrical all-wheel drive has ditched the front driveshaft and rekindled memories of simpler times with an old-school sports coupe.

The Subaru BRZ is part of a joint development with Toyota that also spawned the Toyota 86 CarsGuide drove last week. Both companies had said the two models will be identical, but until Subaru spilled the beans we didn’t know just how identical they were.

Now we know. Except for the badges and some subtleties with the suspension tuning, the Subaru BRZ and the Toyota 86 are identical. Same dimensions, same weight, same engine with the same outputs. The only thing likely to separate the two in Australia will be their prices.

So, instead of getting one new sports car, Australians will get a choice of two after production starts March 2012. Which they choose with may come down to brand loyalties.


Neither Subaru nor Toyota have revealed pricing or equipment levels, or even model ranges. Where Toyota could bring in two distinct models — one around $32,000 and another over $35,000 — Subaru is likely to go with a one size fits all priced under $35,000.

For that, we can expect air-conditioning and electric windows as standard, along with a decent sound system and bluetooth capability. The BRZ’s sports front seats adjust manually, as does the tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel. 


The flipside of creating an affordable and lightweight sports coupe is there’s not a lot of groundbreaking technology in the BRZ. No radar cruise control or active driving systems like you’d find on a Benz, for instance, because that’s not what this car is about.

Everything is focused on the joy of driving. A 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine in the nose produces 147kW and 205Nm. It’s mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, and sends drive to the rear wheels.

Liberating 100hp per litre from a non-turbocharged engine is impressive. As is getting a flat-plane boxer engine to spin to 7,500rpm. Subaru has thought carefully about the BRZ’s driving character, and that includes the way the engine delivers the goods. Some crucial changes were made to the Impreza-based engine, not the least being the inclusion of a Toyota direct injection system and modifications to the way air travels into the cylinders.


This is one of the most beautiful Subaru models in some time … because Toyota did the design work, and used its rich heritage for inspiration. So you won’t see any hints of the 1990s Subaru SVX coupe in the bodywork, or any WRX cues… not even Subaru’s airplane motif that it sometimes inflicts on fascias.

What you will see is a lot of 2000 GT in the swoopy lines and muscled haunches. And it looks good. Damn good.

The interior is all sports car. Simple and functional, and all placed perfectly. The driving position is absolutely spot on. A heavily bolstered sports seat puts the driver low behind the tilt and telescopically adjustable steering wheel, and controls like the snickety-quick gearchange fall readily to hand. The front seat passenger has plenty of room, but back seaters get next to no legroom unless the fronts give up some, and headroom is only sufficient for anyone 1.6m or less.


If Toyota’s promising a five-star rating for the 86, it’s hard to see why the BRZ wouldn’t score just as well. It has front, side and curtain airbags and seat belt pretensioners. It also has active safety systems like antilock brakes, stability control and traction control.


I’ve been waiting to drive this car since Toyota and Subaru announced the joint venture back in 2008. I was a huge fan of the last Nissan 200SX sports coupe which died in 2006. Coincidentally, it had a 2.0-litre engine which produced roughly the same as the BRZ, but needed a turbocharger to achieve that. At its core, the 200SX was a lot of fun to drive.

The Subaru BRZ is probably even more fun. I say ‘probably’ because I really don’t know, even though I drove the BRZ today. Subaru invited media to its test track outside Tokyo, and gave us the opportunity to do two laps in a manual and an automatic version. They also put a Subaru safety marshall in the passenger seat with strict instructions not to let the crazy journalists do anything stupid.

Driving a sports car quickly and enthusiastically is stupid, apparently. Lucky my Subaru minder was there to prevent me driving anywhere near the limits. He also saved me doing other stupid things like pushing on through corners and giving the brakes a good workout. And he stoically prevented me switching off traction control even though we were on a closed track. That would be really stupid.

So, I spent my two laps driving little quicker than my grandma, and subsequently I’m struggling to tell you how exciting the BRZ is. I really can’t say how lively it is on change of direction, or how planted it feels in corners. I can tell you the engine’s wonderfully effusive because I was allowed to take it to redline in second gear on the straight. But I definitely cannot tell you that the BRZ is an exciting return to simpler times, when sports cars were purist delights to drive.

Luckily for you and me, Paul Gover got to do all that and more in the Toyota 86. And, since they’re identical, I’m confident the Subaru BRZ is every bit as good as he said the Toyota 86 is.


A rorty and exciting return to the sport car’s pure origins. Sounds like a Subaru, but has a character all its own in the way it drives.


Price: under $35,000 (estimate only)
On sale: mid 2012
Body: Two-door hatchback, four seats
Engine: 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder
Output: 147kW/7000 revs, 205Nm/6600 revs
Transmission: six-speed manual or automatic, rear-wheel drive
Dimensions: length 4240mm, width 1775mm, height 1286mm, wheelbase 2570mm, tracks 1520/1540mm front/rear
Suspension: front struts, rear double wishbone
Tyres: 215/45R17 front and rear.


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(base) 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $19,990 – 21,985 2012 Subaru BRZ 2012 (base) Pricing and Specs
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Lowest price, based on 7 car listings in the last 6 months

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