The Subaru BRZ is the type of car we haven't really had for almost 30 years. Back in the 70s and early 80s, you could buy several two-door rear-drive coupes from Europe and Japan and set about getting cheap thrills.
But 15 years ago, the only coupe option left open to you was an over-priced Celica or trying-very-hard-but-not-quite-getting-there Hyundai Coupe, neither of which were rear-wheel drive. The coupe got fatter then disappeared, the Celica simply died.
And so the BRZ, along with its Toyota 86 twin, has become one of the most hyped cars on the planet.
The Subaru BRZ comes in a single spec 2.0 litre boxer engine to which you can add trim and transmission options. The starting price for a basic, cloth trim BRZ is $37,150 drive away -- and you can only buy the car online via Subaru's website. The automatic transmission adds $2000 taking the price to $39,150.
Standard fare includes dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker stereo -- from a Corolla -- with USB input, dodgy windscreen-mounted Bluetooth unit and the genuine admiration of other road users who will photograph your car while you're driving it. A big hello to the fellow with the camera phone in the R34 Skyline who nearly killed me trying to do just that.
On the outside is a handsome set of 17-in alloys that look bigger than they really are because the BRZ is so low-slung. The headlights are Xenon and there's a set of daytime running lights set low in the bumper. All paint colours are included in the price, including the surprisingly fetching WR Blue Mica of our test car.
The Premium Pack is a $1500 option and adds leather to the bolsters of the seats and Alcantara inserts. The Alcantara is marginally more grippy and is nicer than the better-breathing cloth, but we're talking small percentages here. The seats also gain heating via two toggle switches on the centre console.
Among the short options list is an $1800 (!) sat-nav with 7-inch touch screen, a $220 fake carbon finish for the dashboard to replace the matt silver plastic (recommended), front and rear park assist and camera at $306, $612 and $470 respectively (the camera requires the sat-nav) and some less-than-tasteful exterior styling add-ons.
As for the competition, there isn't really anything apart from the Toyota GT 86. The 86 range kicks off with the $29,990 manual GT. The automatic GT loses the manual's limited slip diff, which is madness unless you are just interested in looks.
The base GT has solid rear brakes, skinnier 205 section tyres on 16-inch rims, halogen headlamps, and air-con and a more basic instrument set. The GTS betters the BRZ's specification adding sat-nav but also weighs slightly more owing to the better equipment level.
In contrast to the BRZ, you'll need to add a cheeky $400 for metallic paint – a bit sly as there's just one non-metallic colour, the lurid Fuji Red.
Further afield and the price shoots skyward - Mazda's MX-5, the closest philosophical competitor, now costs a sobering $47,280 plus on roads and is even less practical than the 2+2 BRZ. The Nissan 370Z, which is really in another league with a raucous six-cylinder, nudges $70,000.
Below the BRZ's price range is the front-wheel drive Kia Koup, but it is quite obviously based on a hatchback and can't get anywhere near the BRZ's driving appeal. Also from Korea is the Hyundai Veloster, but front-wheel drive also rules it out if you're after rear-borne propulsion.
The BRZ is low, sleek and is hard to pick from a distance from the Toyota. On closer inspection, the exterior trim pieces are more restrained, with a simple chromed blade where the door meets the front quarter panel, a gaping air intake at the front and a less shouty colour palette. The BRZ looks a little more grown-up, in keeping with Subaru's overall brand character. It is refreshingly devoid of the aggressive plastic cladding Subarus are sprouting at an alarming rate.
Inside is very basic. The plastics are mostly of good quality but the two-piece trim panel that spans the dash doesn't quite fit together and the steering column cowl is scratchy.
The standard silver dash is annoying in sunlight as it flashes back in your eyes a bit when the sun is low. The black panel option will cure that, but isn't particularly stylish.
The seats are fantastically grippy but not so uncomfortable for slightly larger folk. You sit very low in the BRZ, so low you can easily reach the ground with your hand when seated, which bodes well for the handling but less so for access.
Entry and exit requires a little planning if you are to maintain decorum and a couple of female passengers complained of the process being a little unladylike at their first attempt.
While it's easy to reach the ground, it's a long reach back to the pillar-mounted seat belt. There's a thoughtful snap-fastened strap on the shoulder of the seat that is meant to keep the belt from returning all the way, but as soon as you grab the belt it comes undone and is about as useful as your appendix.
The instrument cluster is dominated by the tachometer which is redlined at 7000rpm and has a digital screen set into it. Which is just as well, because the small analogue speedometer is comically crowded -- numbered to 260, rendering it unreadable. Happily, the tacho's digital screen displays your speed in large orange numbers, saving you from many, many speeding fines.
A secondary LCD strip screen displays basic trip computer functions and also which gear you're in. You can watch that display for handy hints on when to shift up when you're on an economy drive.
For when you're really going for it, there's a red shift light in the centre of the speedo, but it's out of your eyeline when you're watching where you're going.
The Premium Pack's leather and Alcantara is nice enough and is complemented by red stitching. There's even a leather covered pad on the central tunnel right where you brace yourself with your knee while driving.
There's plenty of cost-cutting in there, though. The steering column has a blank plug for an ignition barrel, the seat release to get in and out of the back is a flimsy cloth strap and the seats don't slide forward or return to their starting position.
In the car's defence, putting people in the back seat of the BRZ is tantamount to a war crime, so it's probably just as well.
The stereo is an obviously cheap unit from a Corolla and, while this is nit-picking, has a green backlight while the rest of the dash is orange.
Supremely irritating is the Bluetooth, a black barnacle with three buttons in the upper right-hand corner of the windscreen. The larger button is to answer the incoming call and the only concession to convenience is that the stereo is muted when the call comes in.
No screen, no caller ID, nothing. The cheap stereo can be easily replaced, however, so while you're at it, change the Bluetooth.
The BRZ is powered by Subaru's fabled flat-four "boxer" engine. With direct injection, the engine produces 147kW and 205Nm of torque. The horizontal layout of the cylinders means the moving mass is kept low, resulting in the bonnet being barely higher than your knees.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual or automatic and is apportioned by a torque-sensing, or Torsen, limited-slip differential. Internet chatterers will tell you this is a calamity of hideous proportions and the makers should have used another type of LSD. But don't listen -- they're being utterly ridiculous.
The BRZ's safety features run to the usual pair of front and side airbags, with curtain airbags down either side and a driver's knee airbag. Vehicle dynamic and stability control is also standard, as is ABS. The BRZ also has slightly larger brakes than the 86. The Subaru scored five ANCAP stars for crash safety.
Driving is what this car is all about. While it's quite happy doing the daily duties as a commuter car, there's nothing the BRZ likes more than a seriously bendy road. The driver will think the same, too.
Given its comparatively low output of 147kW and a more meagre-than-usual 205Nm of torque, the boxer has to be mercilessly revved to wring out straight line performance. You'll quickly realise this is a waste of time.
What Subaru has achieved with the BRZ is an almost perfect balance of attributes - the 215 tyres are neither too big or too small, meaning the grip level is just right.
The engine's relative meekness means that you will never light the rear tyres up unless you really, really mean to. The torque means you won't slingshot out of one corner and have to stand on the brakes for the next one.
The steering is beautifully weighted and communicative, achieving an almost unassisted, uncorrupted feel, letting you know where the tyres are on the road and what the surface is like.
It's a trick many other manufacturers have completely failed to master and one only Mazda has been doing -- with the MX-5 -- for any prolonged period of time.
You’ll hear the BRZ is a poor man’s sports car, but that’s wrong... it’s not a poor man’s anything. It’s a proper sports car. And unlike many other cars on the road today, there's no slack, you're in charge. The clutch bites strongly rather than somewhere during the travel you'll never quite master. You steering changes the direction of the car straight away and there's almost no play.
It's all about the braking, the change in direction, the response from the throttle. You drive with the balls of your feet and your wrists, and it's quite delicate. It's what Gordon Murray, the fabled F1 and McLaren F1 road car designer calls "transient performance."
In a way, it's like the original Mini Cooper S or Peugeot 205 GTi - you don't have to brake hard for corners, you just brush the pedal to shift the weight forward.
You can build up the lateral Gs and enjoy that boy-racer feeling without fearing for your licence between the bends. Making the most of what you've got rather than letting technology dictate the parameters of your experience.
The engine responds almost instantly to a flex of the toe rather than a Microsoft-style "are you sure you want more revs?"
Even more incredibly, the ride is exceptionally good for a car of this type - taut, but never hard, it also manages never to bottom out.
The best thing is, you don't need a track to enjoy it, because you're having fun on normal roads at perfectly safe speeds. This is the sort of car that teaches you the basics - braking, turn-in, acceleration. You can experiment, find better ways to drive your favourite road.
The BRZ is obviously not for everybody. Many will buy it because of the hype and not get what they expected. Some might be disappointed by the lowly spec level and skip it altogether. But you don't have to care about low centre of gravity, limited slip differential or transient performance to like it. The Subaru BRZ is just a terrific car, even if you never take it for a back road thrash.
This is pure 70s sports car fun without all the mechanical dramas those cars came with -- and without all the complexity and high running and purchasing costs of a contemporary one.
Price: $37,150 (man) $39,730 (auto)
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: 6-speed man or auto; RWD
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Safety: 5 star ANCAP
Dimensions: 4.2m (l); 1.8M (w); 1.2M (h)
Weight: 1216kg (man); 1238KG (auto)
Thirst: 7.8L/100km 181g/co2 km (man); 7.1Ll, 164g (auto)