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When Subaru's BRZ goes on sale Monday by novel online only means, it'll be tempting to say that you can now have the car of 2012 with its rightful badge.
The auto parlor game of the year is arguing what bits belong to which car maker. In either guise - Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ - the sum remains the same: that's two thirds Subaru technical know how plus Toyota design (and an engine tweak) equals the best affordable sports cars in decades and currently the best under $100,000.
Suffice that while Subaru supplied the heart and limbs, Toyota's provided the soul, the will and the financial way. So let's call it a draw and crack on in the far smaller brand's version.
Jaws are even now being scraped off the floor at Toyota's stunning introductory pricing - $29,990 for the base model; $35,490 for the top spec GTS, plus $2500 on both for the why-on-earth-would-you optional automatic.
Subaru, nettled by Toyota stealing the march on sales and supply (250 cars a month to Subaru's 201 for the rest of this year), has sharpened their pricing pencils to the point of pricking blood. Apart from the remarkable initiative of selling these 201 online only, the price point thereby arrived at sits the Soob neatly between the entry and top spec 86. The BRZ is $37,150 for the manual, $39,730 for the auto.
But these are driveway prices, plus a free three years or 60,000km free servicing deal to trump Toyota's capped plan. This for a car that anyone with the merest milligram of petrol in their veins would cheerfully pay double and think themselves possessed of a bargain. The only option is a $1500 leather/alcantara upholstery deal with heated front seats. Clearly a long stride over the base 86, it lacks the GTS's sat nav. But what matters this when the only direction in which you'll head is an open road with many, many curves?
The heart is, as we say, pure Soob - a flat four 2.0-litre Boxer four, though enhanced by Toyota dual injection. Its modest outputs make for unremarkable 0-100km/h sprints (a fair 7.6 seconds in the manual, a cardigan wearing 8.2 in the auto) but this car is about speed off the mark in the same way as a Porsche 911 is about family transport.
Revving raspingly but oh so cleanly to 7400rpm, maximum torque arrives barely beforehand, but there's almost always enough to prevent rowing - though this is no chore with that lovely short throw, close ratio Lexus IS-derived gear shifter.
So far, so similar to the 86. In so far as there is substantive difference between the GTS and BRZ - which both wear low profile 17-inch shoes - it's in Soob's suspension settings. The cars share to the same struts at the front and double wishbones at the back with Torsen limited slip differential.
The BRZ's stiffer springs make for what's claimed to be a quicker rear grip response (though you'd want a track to test that) and, more tangibly, even more fulsome steering. The bantam curb weight is anchored by a centre of gravity that's drawn comparisons with Ferrari's 458. And yes, it is the only two-wheel-drive Soob.
Well, it looks like a Toyota 86 GTS with a slightly changed air intake, a different badge and ... that's about it. It's the most photographed car of 2012 so you probably already get that the rear seats are for parcels not persons and that the cabin ambience isn't going to frighten Audi's TT - though in every other respect it renders that car embarrassingly obsolete. As it does any number of dearer devices, front-, rear- and all-wheel-drives alike.
That there is an odd and not an even number of BRZs for sale is down to ANCAP crashing one. Maximum five stars duly won.
We drove the BRZ immediately after a top spec 86 auto, an entry manual and before the near perfect Porsche 911. The BRZ has the best electric steering set up to be had, ever so slightly meatier than the Toyota's and perceptibly more connected just off centre than the $230,000 Carrera. A bit special then.
The BRZ is brilliant, addictive and deeply depressing. You need to drop six figures to find something comparable or better - Mazda's able but aging MX-5 is finally surpassed, but then so for sheer driving pleasure are cars with badges like BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Embracing an old formula - light weight, small and willing atmo engine, manual trans and rear wheel drive - it feels fresh and invigorating against a field of ever more sophisticated and heinously expensive sports cars, devices that are technical tours de force but which can be emotionally bereft. No track day intro for the BRZ, so no lurid power sliding. But during a nocturnal fang on one of the nation's best bits of sinuous blacktop, the Soob more than fulfills it's part of the two-brand partnership.
Swarm into a tight bend, the note of that chuntering four rises to a wail, the merest throttle input shifts to impetus from nose the tail. Yet there's acres of space and ample signals between control and untidiness. The BRZ is highly sensitive and entirely intuitive.
Please don't drive this car. You won't be able to get one till at least next year and you'll really want it yesterday.
Price: $37,150 (man) $39,730 (auto) driveway
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: 6-speed man or auto; RWD
Safety: 5 star ANCAP
Dimensions: 4.2m (l); 1.8 (w); 1.2 (h)
Weight: 1216kg (man); 1238 (auto)
Thirst: 6.4l/100km 181g/co2 km (man); 5.6l, 164g (auto)
|(base)||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$17,990 – 22,888||2012 Subaru BRZ 2012 (base) Pricing and Specs|