Subaru BRZ VS Nissan 370Z
- Terrific (updated) chassis
- Improved interior
- Good value
- Engine sometimes a bit loud
- People who say it needs more power
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Dynamic balance
- Slick manual gearbox
- Classic exterior design
- Lacks latest safety tech
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Fake engine noise
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.
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Road testing the Nissan 370Z in 2011, I noted it was getting on. Yes, the rear-wheel drive two-seater had been given a design freshen up and a bigger engine a couple of years prior, but the 350Z it was based on had hit the local market way back in 2003. And it wasn't unreasonable to expect replacement or retirement in the not-too-distant future.
Okay, so that was seven years ago, which means if you (like many) consider the 370Z to be an update of the 350Z (the transition happening in 2009), this car has been on sale for 15 years straight. Can you imagine Apple trying to sell any one product without entirely reinventing it for that long?
You might say that makes it a modern classic; so good it's only required an occasional touch up to keep it on the Sports Car Most Wanted list. And in recent years, a consistent average of 30 Aussies a month have slotted a shiny new 370Z in their driveway.
Is it enough to keep Nissan's eternal Z-car flame burning?
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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).
It's hard not to be ageist when it comes to the current Nissan Zed, because 15 years in market (nine if we're generous) is a lengthy stretch in anyone's book. But somehow the 370Z is more than the sum of its parts. It has fantastic front-engine/rear-drive balance, an increasingly rare atmo engine, and a beautiful manual 'box. The value equation is decent, and it's nicely put together. Just don't expect to be dazzled with the latest safety, driver-assist and multimedia technology.
Does the Nissan 370Z have what it takes to elevate your heart rate? Tell us in the comments below.
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).
If you want to go all the way back, the 370Z clearly takes its design direction from Datsun's star of the '70s, the original 240Z.
Inspired by Ferrari, and (along with the Toyota 2000GT) a sports-car breakthrough for the Japanese industry, the first Zed's front-engine, long-nose proportions have remained largely intact in successive iterations over the decades.
With a broad, flat nose, distinctively jagged headlights, and steeply raked rear profile, there's no mistaking the 370's signature stance, with pumped-up guards sitting over fat, 19-inch alloy rims.
Sharp-eyed car-spotters will notice the update's new design RAYS forged wheels, smoked front and rear lights, and a similar smoked finish on the exterior door handles.
A new colour, 'Cherry Red' also replaces 'Bordeaux Black' in an eight-shade colour palette. Our test example was finished in 'Gun Metallic'.
Inside, echoes of Zeds past abound, with a trio of hooded gauges (clock, voltmeter, oil temp) sitting in the centre of the dash top, and the tachometer in the middle of a cowled, three-instrument main cluster shaded by an exaggerated tube.
And aside from consciously retro design touches, some elements have been present inside the car for so long they're just... ancient.
For example, old-school orange graphics for the odometer, gear position and trip computer are dated, and the small (7.0-inch touchscreen) multimedia display has the feel of an early noughties edition of Tekken 6.
Forget a digital speedo or head-up display. A CD slot still sits proudly in the centre stack, and matt silver highlights scattered around the cabin are as on-trend as double denim.
And the steering wheel (joined with the instrument binnacle) adjusts for height, but annoyingly, not reach.
That said, friends and family who rode in the car during the week I had the keys all commented on the swoopy exterior and cozy cockpit feel of the interior. So, what do I know?
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.
Two seats means practicality is a relative term when applied to the 370Z. For example, getting in and out is an athletic exercise requiring gymnastic levels of flexibility and poise. As with most low-lying coupes, I found the outer hand on the A-pillar technique helps with swinging down into the car, or lurching up out of it.
Once ensconced behind the wheel, you're confronted with a relatively modest amount of storage space, running to a medium-size glove box, a lidded bin at the rear of the dividing console, a single cupholder, and door pockets incorporating recesses for small bottles only.
There are two lined recesses for soft bags or coats behind each seat, including a fold-out map pocket, but they're not exactly convenient for retrieving things when you're on the move. What's missing is a tray where you can easily stow things likes keys, coins or a phone.
There are also two 12-volt power outlets, a USB port and an aux-in audio connection.
Rear load space is limited to 195 litres, mainly due to the boot's shallow floor (an alloy space-saver spare sits underneath). It does incorporate a cargo blind and four tie-down hooks, but we only managed to squeeze in the largest (105-litre) suitcase from our three-piece hard set, or a combination of the two smaller ones (35 and 68 litres).
We also had a crack at stuffing in the CarsGuide pram (there is a top-tether hook provided for child seat fitment) and managed it with only a couple of beads of perspiration expended.
Forget the nappy-bag paraphernalia, though. The soft bags with all the baby stuff would have to go in the storage bays in the cabin behind the seats.
Price and features
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.
The arrival of the tricked-up 370Z NISMO in August last year, offered Nissan Australia an opportunity to reposition the regular model, dropping the MSRP for the manual version from $56,930 to $49,990.
Aside from adjusting the car's value-for-money proposition (and pissing off those who'd bought one in July), that close to seven grand haircut delivered more pricing headroom up to the Roadster (starting at $60,990), and NISMO (from $61,490) versions.
For that money the standard equipment list includes, keyless entry and start, cruise control, climate control air, go-fast alloy finish pedals, 'HDD' (Hard Disc Drive) sat nav with 3D mapping, a 7.0-inch colour multimedia touchscreen, and Bose eight-speaker audio with 9.3GB 'Music Box' hard drive.
You'll also pick up sports seats with lots of features. First, they're 'leather accented', which is code for genuine hide in all the places you regularly contact, and a faux equivalent everywhere else. Not uncommon, and not necessarily unpleasant. Then they're heated and four-way power-adjustable, (with manual lumbar and height adjustment for the driver).
The steering wheel and gear knob also cop the 'leather accented' treatment, plus you can expect LED DRLs and tail-lights as well as auto headlights. It's worth noting that the headlights are garden-variety xenons, and things you might expect in a $50k coupe, like, rain-sensing wipers, dual zone climate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity or tyre-pressure monitoring are 100 per cent absent.
Lining up direct competitors for the 370Z isn't easy, because there aren't any. But the closest is arguably a 2.3-litre EcoBoost version of Ford's Mustang at $45,990 for the manual. A further stretch of the imagination could haul in the Mazda MX-5 RF ($43,890) or the 86 GTS+ ($39,440) and Subaru BRZ tS ($39,894).
Engine & trans
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.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual.
The 370Z is powered by an all-alloy, 3.7-litre (VQ37VHR), naturally aspirated, quad-cam V6, producing 245kW at 7000rpm and 363Nm at 5200rpm.
It features the 'Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System' (CVTCS) with 'Variable Valve Event and Lift' (VVEL) on the intake side. And while all that may sound new and ultra-high tech, it was actually introduced in 2007.
Transmission choice is between a seven-speed auto (with manual mode and paddles) or six-speed manual gearbox, as tested here. And this 2018 upgrade brings a high-performance clutch from Japanese specialist Exedy.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a carbon-fibre composite drive shaft, connecting with a viscous limited slip differential (LSD).
Additional features that won't necessarily be music to purists' ears include 'Active Noise Cancellation', and 'Active Sound Enhancement'.
The former monitors and measures engine sounds, using the audio speakers to produce "acoustically opposing signals to cancel undesirable sounds". So, okay, maybe filtering out the messy noise is a good thing.
But at the same time Active Sound Enhancement employs "digital signal processing to enhance the engine note, using the vehicle's sound system to augment or modify the spectrum of select powertrain sounds in the cabin". Yuck.
I can cop a tube that channels a bit of genuine engine noise into the interior, but in this context, the phrase 'digital signal processing' is a turn-off.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 10.6L/100km, the 370Z emitting 249g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 250km of city, suburban and freeway running, we averaged 15.6L/100km, at the bowser. Far from miserly.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, although Nissan says "for optimum performance" you should stump up for 98 RON. And just to rub it in, you'll need 72 litres of it to fill the tank.
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.
The Nissan 370Z is actually the car many want the Toyobaru 86/BRZ to be. I can sense some of you spluttering out a sweary response to that notion. But hear me out.
If you, like many others, think the 86/BRZ would be perfect with an extra 50kW/80Nm, just bolt on a turbo or supercharger, and voila. You'll get that extra grunt, but remember, the 86/BRZ was conceived to be light, tactile, and, not least of all, affordable.
Up the outputs and you light the wick on an engineering arms race that should also lead to bigger brakes, an engine with more exotic pistons and a tougher bottom end, a stronger gearbox and clutch, a beefier diff, sturdier chassis, fatter rims and rubber... the list goes on, and on. Until you end up with something very much like the spec, weight, and price of the 370Z.
That's not to say this car isn't a fun drive. It is. Just don't expect the quick reflexes of an MX-5 or 86/BRZ.
Despite light-weighting tricks like an aluminium bonnet and all-alloy suspension, the 370Z weighs in at a not inconsiderable 1467kg. And although its 3.7-litre V6 develops a solid 245kW/363Nm, first impressions are dominated by its hollow mid-range.
Much as I love the free-revving nature of a naturally aspirated engine, there's no denying a modern turbo typically delivers lots of torque low down, with peak power also available within a useful rev range.
All the action here is at the top end, with maximum torque arriving way up at 5200rpm, and peak power taking over at a nose-bleed 7000rpm (the rev ceiling is 7500rpm). Not exactly an easily accessible sweet spot.
But there's still so much to like about this evergreen Zed. Its classic front engine/rear-drive layout results in a 53/47 front to rear weight distribution and the car feels balanced and beautifully predictable.
Suspension is double wishbone front, multi-link rear, and ride comfort, even over choppy bitumen surfaces is surprisingly good. On the flip-side, rumble coming up from the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber (245/40 f / 275/35 r) is always noticeable, and often intrusive.
The steering is supported by old-school hydraulic power assist and while connection with the front wheels is impressive, overall feel is light. Hello 'Merica.
The gearbox is a sweet reminder of what a pleasure it is swap ratios in a top-notch close-ratio manual, and hats off to Exedy for producing a wonderfully progressive clutch. Personal preference was to turn off the standard 'SynchroRev Match' function, because I like having a go at the ol' heel 'n' toe tap dance myself.
Brakes are ventilated front and rear with almost equal size rotors (355mm f / 350mm r) clamped by four-piston calipers up front and two piston units at the rear. They are reassuringly powerful and consistent.
Age has not wearied the 370Z's ergonomics. Although the lack of a digital speedo and no reach adjustment for the steering column is annoying, the sports seats are snug and comfortable, the moderately chunky wheel feels great, and all the major controls are simple to use. Who needs slick screens and 'piano black' finishes?
Standard safety inclusions run to eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, and brake assist.
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.
The 370Z must feel like a wall flower at the crash-test disco because it currently isn't rated for safety performance by ANCAP, its Euro NCAP affiliate, JNCAP in Japan, or the USA's NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
That said, in terms of active safety features you'll find ABS, BA, EBD, traction control, 'Vehicle Dynamic Control' (stability control), and a rear-view camera with 'Predictive Path' guidance lines.
But if you're looking for more current active tech, look elsewhere, because things like AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise, lane-keep assist, auto high beam or any kind of pedestrian detection are missing-in-action. They're not even available on the options list.
If all else fails and a crash is unavoidable, primary passive safety runs to active head restraints and eight airbags (driver and passenger front and side airbags, plus roof- and door-mounted curtain airbags).
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.
But it does include 24-hour roadside assistance for three years, and Nissan's 'myNissan Service Certainty' capped-price servicing program applies for up to six years/120,000km.
The scheduled maintenance interval is six months/10,000km, with charges ranging from a low of $283, to a high of $831 (100,000km), averaging out to roughly $428 per service.