Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2017 Subaru BRZ with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Subaru's BRZ is a bit of an oddity - it's as good a car as its Toyota twin, but there aren't that many around. There's bound to be corners of the internet that swear blind it's completely different under the skin to the 86, but it really isn't. And that's okay, because the BRZ is a good car because the 86 is.
Thing is, there's a ton of detail differences both inside and out and that might be enough to sway you to order the BRZ online through the Subaru website (yep, they're still doing that) rather than heading to your local Toyota emporium. Before you go, though, you might like to know what the recent mild refresh of both cars has meant to the Subaru.
Subaru BRZ 2017: (base)
Premium Unleaded Petrol
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The BRZ is priced at $32,990, a price cut of $1230 over the MY16 car. You save more if you go for an automatic, which is now $34,990, a price cut of $1735. But seriously, an automatic sports car?
The BRZ arrives from the internet (that's how it works, yeah?) with 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, a new 7.0-inch touchscreen for the six speaker stereo head unit, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, cruise control, LED fog lights, leather shifter and steering wheel, cloth trim, limited slip diff, power windows and mirrors and a full-size spare.
You can choose from seven colours, and all of them are no-cost options (hooray!). You can also add the Premium Pack which covers the seats in leather and Alcantara and adds heating.
The six-speaker stereo is run from a Subaru-branded 7.0-inch touchscreen, with the most basic interface imaginable and no sat nav. Irritatingly, despite it being far better than its predecessor and infinitely better than the Toyota head unit, the simple inclusion of CarPlay and Android Auto has been missed. That kind of thing adds to the value proposition and just isn't hard. The sound is fine and the interface finicky-but-useable, but I guess many buyers rip it out and replace it with something fully sick/hectic/ill.
By comparison, the 86 is $30,790, has smaller wheels, single-zone air-con and a genuinely terrible stereo head unit. And if you don't want red, you have to pay $450 for a different colour. So the pricing of the BRZ does include more stuff as well as exclusivity - the arrangement with Toyota apparently restricts sales of the Subaru to a tenth of 86 sales.
For two people, the BRZ is not bad. Despite a long drop to very comfortable seats, you've plenty of head and leg room, two each of bottle holders and cupholders (although bigger cups will cop an elbow during gear shifts) and if you lift out the cupholder/phone holder, you have a long shallow tray for other bits. A small slot under the climate controls could be used for the key if you like losing it.
The rear seats are hopeless, with a falling roofline, head-to-glass interface for the passengers and virtually no headroom at all. There's a pair of baby seat anchors for those who just can't give up the BRZ.
Boot space is a distinctly weedy 218 litres, the floor suffering from bootus interruptus where the full-size spare has been placed in the middle. Thoughtfully, it has been installed face down so the inside of the wheel acts as a fairly handy shopping bag restraint. You can flop the rear seats (snigger) forward to slot in a suitcase or two if you so desire. Or four wheels and tyres, as per its amateur trackday intentions.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
The BRZ's relationship to the 86 is blatantly obvious, but there are enough styling differences to allow the average punter to tell the two apart. The 17-inch wheels are a good start (and the vibrant blue, if you pick it, is reminiscent of Subaru's nineties WRC blue cars), the front and rear bumpers are different and some of the external trim pieces are blacked out, like the blank vents ahead of the driver's door.
The BRZ also has Subaru signature shaped LED daytime running lights which are a hook rather than the Toyota's eyebrow-of-light.
Inside is basically the same, right down to the wheel, with just Subaru badges to distinguish the BRZ and Subaru graphics in the dashboard's start-up animation. The cabin has steadily improved over the years, with less scratchy plastics and better-fitting trim pieces. The gentle arch over the air-con vents still looks like it doesn't fit properly though.
The new dash pack is a huge improvement. It still has the worst analogue speedometer fitted to a car - it's cramped and unreadable - but the tacho now has a BMW-style info screen cut into it, with big, easy to read digital speed readout. No excuse for speeding fines now, officer. The right hand dial space is now taken up with another digital screen with various info options including power and torque graphs and a stopwatch. The graphics are very easy on the eye, too, not dodgy low-res '80s-style LCD figures that you still find on some Mazdas (for example).
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
The gravelly Subaru 'flat' four remains unassisted by turbos or superchargers, but has had a small hike in power to 152kW (+5kW) and 212Nm (+7Nm). The 0-100km/h time is still a handy if not blistering 7.4 seconds for the 1282kg rear-driver.
Subaru claims 8.4L/100km on premium unleaded, we averaged a creditable 8.9L/100km in scorching hot temperatures and a mix of, "See, sweetie, it's a sensible car and I am being sensible" and "How good are these corners?" driving.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
Even just starting the BRZ, you know you're in something special. It's because you're sitting low, peering out of the windscreen over what feels like a wide, low bonnet (low, yes, wide, not really). The BRZ always looks bigger than it is in photos and when you sit in it, you're instantly reminded that it's tiny. You're below the window line of most SUVs, even a Mazda CX-3 or our long-term Honda HR-V towers over it (the BRZ's total height is just 1320mm, the HR-V 1605mm).
The long gear shifter slots easily into first and the initially snatchy-feeling clutch gets you moving without needing too many revs. Turning a corner for the first time in a BRZ feels like the first time I turned the wheel in a Peugeot 205 - instant, predictable response, the promise of plenty of fun.
And it really is. There's an identifiable bounce to the suspension, like a Mini, that's attributable to the short travel on the springs and dampers. You soon discover it takes very little for the rear tyres to chirp when you punt it out of a corner. It's all still the same - low grip, quick change of direction, fun times.
The shell of the coupe was recently given a few minor tweaks to improve things, mostly at the back. There are more spot-welds for more rigidity which in turn meant tweaks to the springs, dampers and sway bar. All of this adds up to a transformed driving experience.
Actually, no it doesn't. That's what's great about this update. Current owners will notice the difference, as did I, but it's subtle. The rear feels tauter, you can't detect as much (or any, really) flex at the back which was minimal anyway. It just feels tighter, but you can still swing the tail out in the same way as before.
The joy of this car is the lightness and the feel, much like its compatriot, the MX-5. With wonderfully direct and subtly assisted steering, this is a car that revels in its purity. It's old-fashioned in a good way - you have to work the engine and gearbox when you're out having fun. You'll be having that fun at low speeds, too, leaving your brain plenty of time to make decisions. The new Track mode loosens the reigns a bit and the engine's software has been re-mapped for better response.
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
The BRZ scored five ANCAP stars in July 2012, the maximum available. It was tested under the niche vehicle policy, which means the manufacturer conducted the test, with ANCAP supervision and approved test facilities.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Subaru offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with the first 12 months joined by roadside assist.
Service intervals are nine months or 15,000km. A three-year service plan is available for $898 and covers the first three years or 60,000km of servicing and covers you with roadside assist for the duration, a loan car and all the usual guarantees. The plan seems to cover everything, so three years for $300 per annum is reasonable.
Everything in the cabin works, nothing is overdone and it feels dependable and unburstable. You can attack that same set of corners time after time, wet, dry or indifferent and you'll know exactly what's going to happen. The car encourages and rewards consistency, the much-maligned power 'deficit' working for the driver rather than against the driving experience.
Yes, it's a bit noisy and yes, as soon as you've parked up in the sun and turned off the engine it starts heating up immediately. More insulation means more weight and a certain amount of disconnection from the car that wouldn't suit its character. You'll live. The new BRZ is a better car than the old, with a better interior, better chassis and it might just be better value than its Toyota counterpart.
Toyota or Subaru? Or Fiat or Mazda? Let the debate begin (in the comments section below).