The Subaru BRZ is a fun, affordable, rear-wheel-drive sport coupe that’s small, nimble and tossable. It’s fun and easy to drive on a race track.
For 2015, Subaru BRZ gets a revised suspension that makes it even more stable in hard cornering. Also new is the 2015 BRZ Series Blue edition, which will be limited to 1,000 units in the U.S. Other minor changes for the 2015 BRZ lineup include a shark fin antenna that replaces the outgoing pole-style antenna, and a revised interior trim.
Built in cooperation with Toyota, the Subaru BRZ is very similar to the Scion FR-S.
Subaru BRZ is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine that makes 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. The standard 6-speed manual gearbox is way fun, carefully designed like the rest of the car to be that way. There’s an optional 6-speed automatic, which comes with paddle shifters.
Like the FR-S, the seats and the engine of the BRZ sit lower than most cars, resulting in a low center of gravity that equates to excellent handling with very little body roll. The suspension is firm and hugs the road, though some may find it a little harsh for road trips or daily driving.
Rear-wheel drive is a modern first for Subaru, which has dedicated itself to the beauty of all-wheel drive. With no drivetrain to the front wheels, the engine could be located farther rearward, which means better balance and handling. And the BRZ’s light weight of 2762 pounds, using high-tensile steel in the frame with an aluminum hood, adds to the car’s agility. In short, it is a classic front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports machine.
Skilled, experienced drivers can throw the BRZ around aggressively, thanks to non-intrusive stability control that has five levels, including one for track driving. The summer performance tires that come standard would handle the track just fine, but enthusiasts who want to swap out for sticker tires will be pleased to know the BRZ’s trunk, with its fold-flat seat, will hold a set of four mounted tires.
Styling of the Subaru BRZ is attractive but not over the top, and some of the eye-popping colors available on the Scion FR-S are not offered.
Back seats are small and are best left to children or gear. This is primarily a two-seat car. The interior is simple and comfortable, with the focus clearly on the driving. Fabric seats are rugged and stylish, with excellent bolstering. Alloy pedals and red-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are cool. We especially liked the tachometer mounted in center that includes a digital readout for speed that’s very easy to read.
However, the Subaru BRZ, like the Scion FR-S, lacks certain convenience features such as steering-wheel mounted controls, and some buttons on the dash don’t light up at night. That means extra distraction when trying to change the station or toggle through menu items. Also, the touchscreen looks more like an aftermarket edition, and the interface isn’t easy to use.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2015 Subaru BRZ is 22/30/25 mpg City/Highway/Combined, and 25/34/28 mpg for the efficient 6-speed automatic. One important thing to note is these numbers are achieved using Premium gasoline, which lessens the BRZ’s overall affordability over time. But if you want a sports car, you’re likely willing to buy Premium gas.
The most direct competitor to the 2015 Subaru BRZ is the Scion FR-S. Although it’s a convertible, the Mazda Miata MX-5 is the closest rival when it comes to the track, though we think the BRZ and FR-S handle just as well. Base models of the pony cars are around the same price point: Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and the much larger Dodge Challenger.
The Subaru BRZ is handsome but might not turn heads, at least not in plain silver like our test model. Scion has a couple colors for the FR-S that Subaru doesn’t have, and colors on this car make a big difference.
As the BRZ was developed in partnership with Toyota, we’re told the exterior design was inspired by the Toyota 2000GT of the late 1960s. And while the BRZ lacks the long hood and relatively short passenger compartment of the old car, one can see that it echoes the 2000 GT’s long, sleek shape and its pagoda-style roof.
It’s super low, with a roof height of only 50.6 inches, or .8 inches lower than that Porsche Cayman. It has a big hexagon mouth, with the corners trimmed. HID headlamps are sharp triangles pointing toward the grille, like pizza slices smoothed out so they don’t look like pizza slices. There are plastic pretend air intakes at the corners of the front fascia, surrounding the foglamps on the BRZ Limited, but standing alone and making a statement (this car is cheap) on the (oxymoronic) standard Premium.
The roof has a wide groove, and that adds distinction; it spreads out, so by the time it reaches the top of the rear window, most of the roof is groove. The sideview mirrors are sharpened, which is also neat, but it would be neater if they weren’t black on the bottom half. There are some awful gray or black plastic things just forward of the sideview mirrors.
There’s a Subaru six-star ornament on the nose, so you know what it is.
At the tail, the lamps are round red LED lights that look good when they’re lit up, with white wings that don’t look so good, hiding amber turn signals. Twin tailpipes come out of the black diffuser that has vertical ridges that appear to have been copied from the Batmobile. Between the pipes there’s a red triangle reflector that somebody forgot to remove from the European version (where it’s a foglight), and a white backup light.
Gauge-wise, there’s a big tachometer in the center, with a small shift light on the left side of the dash; not the best place but better than nothing. The speedometer to the left isn’t always easy to read, but there’s also a digital display with your numbers in the middle of the tachometer.
The standard screen is small, 6.5 inches, and looks more like an aftermarket addition than the beautiful touchscreen displays we see from some other car companies. In addition, the menus are not always intuitive, and it can take several steps to find a function.
Climate controls are three simple knobs. Two cupholders behind the leather-wrapped shift lever hold standard-sized bottles and cans. There’s good visibility out the rear window, although the center brake light is mounted on little legs that cause it to obstruct a bit in the rearview mirror. Much worse is the big blind spot from the sloping C pillar, when the driver looks over his or her shoulder.
As for the rear seats, they’re tiny and are best for carrying cargo or children. On the plus side, the BRZ offers respectable trunk space for its small size, measuring 6.9 cubic feet, which is generous compared with the Mazda Miata MX-5’s 5.3 cubic feet.
The Subaru BRZ is tossable, thanks to its quick steering and able Michelin summer performance tires. Acceleration is smooth, but in the low revs, it might not always get you there fast, especially at full throttle on a straight freeway on-ramp. But if you’re between curves on a two-lane road, acceleration is just right.
The two-liter flat-four engine is better in the higher revs and redlines at 7400. Beyond that, the rev limiter will kick in, and both you and the car will not be happy. Torque is only 151 pound-feet, peaking at a high 6400 rpm, but we never would have guessed. The torque feels more available than those numbers suggest.
Stability control was non invasive and has five different levels, including the most aggressive setting for the track. A Torsen limited slip differential helps give the inside rear wheel traction in corners, especially accelerating hard out of second-gear curves.
The manual gearbox has very short throws, and can feel notchy at first, but we got used to it after a while. Alas, we didn’t get a chance to drive a BRZ with the paddle-shifting 6-speed with sport mode and downshift blipping. We’d buy the manual, though. A word of caution, though, the BRZ doesn’t have hill-hold assist, so you’ll have to use the handbrake the old-fashioned way when stopped on a steep incline.
The brakes do the job quite nicely. We used them good and hard, and liked the firm pedal feel. Ventilated 11.6-inch discs front and rear, twin-piston calipers in front and single-piston in back.
We liked the suspension, both the around-town ride and out there on the track. The ride is firm, and it hugs the bumps and feels tight. While it might be the perfect setup for the track and enthusiastic Sunday drives, it could be a bit too firm for some as a daily driver.
Subaru BRZ hits the mark with a capable powertrain, dynamic handling and affordable price.
New Car Test Drive correspondents Sam Moses and Laura Burstein contributed to this report.