Subaru BRZ — The Beauty of rear-wheel drive

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The "Beauty of All-Wheel Drive" is one of Subaru's more catchy advertising slogans. And it's very apt because for more than five decades every vehicle built by the Japanese manufacturer has been outfitted with power to all four wheels, at least until the 2013 model year.

After experiencing the fun-to-drive rear-wheel BRZ sports coupe we can forgive Subaru for deviating from the all-wheel drive formula. The BRZ, developed in partnership with Toyota, provides driving enjoyment for less than 30 grand.

The BRZ is powered by a 2.0-liter Subaru boxer engine making 200 energetic horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. It's asked to move just 2,800 pounds giving it an excellent power-to-weight ratio.

On the other hand this quirky little car doesn’t do well with old and/or big drivers. Seating is very low to the ground and climbing in and out is a chore. The seats are narrow and somewhat uncomfortable. Hearing and feeling every inch of roadway becomes tedious, even if you’re having a good time behind the wheel. 

In the development partnership, Toyota headed up the styling and assisted with powertrain hardware while Subaru provided the four-cylinder boxer engine and did much of the engineering and development work.

Transmission choices are a slick-shifting six-speed manual (0-to-60 in 6.3 seconds) and a six-speed automatic (about 7 seconds) with paddle shifters. Driving enthusiasts of course will choose the manual, but according to Subaru, more automatics are being sold. Perhaps that's sacrilege to the road racers of America, but in the real world of every day driving the automatic is the more practical.

But this car is much more than straight-ahead performance. It's the balanced handling that wins the day. We drove a road course near Las Vegas to experience the road-holding attributes of the Scion FR-S — the BRZ's twin — and discovered the outstanding road-carving prowess of the two cars — enhanced by a 53/47 front/rear weight balance. Even in totally inept hands, the car was a hoot to drive quick and hard.†

We didn't take the BRZ to the track, but we discovered it was just as much fun on our favorite stretch of rural law-enforcement-deprived back road curves.

Even with all this fun behind the wheel you will probably ask, what about gas mileage? It's an obvious question in this age of unpredictable and ever-higher prices. The answer is a good one — 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, combined 28 mpg with the automatic, and 22/30/25 with the manual.

So how does the BRZ differ from the FR-S? Actually in very few ways, other than a few styling tweaks — both cars are head-turners with Porsche-like exterior styling — and the way it is outfitted. While the FR-S comes in one trim level beginning at $24,930, the BRZ comes in two trims, the base Premium at $25,495 and the up-level Limited starting at $28,265.

For that price the BRZ is loaded with standard equipment such as 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip rear differential, automatic bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, and a fold-down rear seatback.

Electronic features include a touchscreen interface, a navigation system, voice controls, real-time traffic, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, hands-free text messaging, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. Adding the automatic transmission costs $1,100. A rear backup camera and blind spot indicators are not available.

We very much like the gauge layout with the large tachometer placed front and center with a smaller analog speedometer on the left and fuel and heat gauges to the right. You will seldom look at the standard speedometer because there's a large digital speedometer display embedded in the tach.

A number of items including the audio system controls are embedded in the standard navigation unit, and are difficult to operate while under way. Getting to the pre-set radio stations, for instance, requires a study of the screen forcing the driver to take his eyes off the road. This is also a problem in other Subaru products, but most have handy redundant steering wheel controls, which are not available in the BRZ.

As noted the BRZ's seats are just okay. The back seats are not meant for human habitation; however, they can be folded forward increasing the trunk space considerably.

The BRZ brings head-turning styling and enough run-and-gun performance to keep it interesting and fun for weekend entertainment.

Base price: $26,265; as driven, $26,265
Engine: 2.0-liter flat four
Horsepower: 200 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 151 pound-feet @ 6,600 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 166.7 inches
Curb  weight: 2,762 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 6.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 30 highway, 22 city
0-60: 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Scion FR-S, Hyundai Veloster turbo, Mazda Miata

The Good
• Sports car handling
• Head-turning styling
• Spacious cockpit
• Long list of standard features

The Bad
• Aggravating radio controls

The Ugly
• Small backseat, little trunk space