Vancouver, BC — I’d just stepped out of the WRX (review coming soon) and slid behind the wheel of the Pure Red BRZ. Changes for 2016 are limited to this car’s new exterior colour and some refreshed interior trim accents. Although there’s nothing much different from the ’15, it’s the moments we shared that renewed my love for this car.
The BRZ (and Scion FR-S) is a driver’s car, much like the fantastic Mazda MX-5. And by driver, I mean those who want an experience behind the wheel and not the placebo effect that is falsely generated by high-power, technology-laden overburdened cars. I’m talking about the person who is looking to feel something and be in charge of the weapon they are sitting in. I felt something while charging along British Columbian country roads.
A driver’s car
The BRZ is a back-to-basic sports car that delivers on every promise, but they do not include ¼ mile victories or fastest laps. It promises to make you feel like an accomplished driver once you tap into its core and allow it to become an extension of your soul and body.
I got to do something a little unusual with the BRZ and that was drive hard on a marbled-gravel road at speed, and more often than not: slideways. When I got to the unpaved road, I immediately wished I’d been aboard a WRX, but that feeling quickly passed. After a few bends, I was Ari Vatanen at the wheel of his MK1 Escort RS1800, only much slower and nowhere near as good. But I felt damn good.
The BRZ reveals itself to those able to understand it. Don’t take me wrong, my mother could easily take one for a spin and report to me that the car’s loud, not very comfortable, but drives nice. And that’s the truth, but represents but the tiniest portion of the BRZ’s true nature.
Enough is plenty
Let’s being with the 200-hp 2.0L flat-4 cylinder engine. This, like my beloved Nissan Micra Cup car, is a momentum machine. Once up to speed, it’s up to the driver to keep things going. Sure, a little more torque and hp would make coming out of a bend faster but it wouldn’t be much more satisfying or rewarding. The key is to keep the H4 in the right range and it is happiest above 6,000 rpm.
The BRZ can “drive itself” but the right dexterity and touch from a driving enthusiast make it come to life. The clutch is easy but mustn’t be dropped, the shifter’s tight gate is rewarding to navigate but be mindful that a 5-2 downshift is possible if concentration fails for a moment (I almost made a big booboo…). The pedals are brilliantly positioned for heel and toe, far better in fact than those in the WRX.
Speaking the driver’s language
Once under way, the momentum builds almost slowly; the flat-4’s delivery is incredibly linear, without peaks or ruts. The sense of speed only comes in after three digits are reached, in km/h obviously, although in mph, the car keeps its composure, even at speeds above 160 km/h (I’ve tracked the car a few times…) This is due in part to the fact that the 2016 Subaru BRZ’s chassis is so incredibly neutral and light with only a minimal amount of roll when under harsh inputs. Nimble and alive are two other ways of describing how the car transmits itself to the driver. Likewise, the suspension is taut without punishment, with the proper amount of damping to keep the driver aware of what is going on at all four corners.
The BRZ communicates loud and clear with the driver, and it is up to him or her to use the information, for good, or for bad. On the previously mentioned gravel road, I quickly realized that I could unload the rear axle by simply lifting lightly off the throttle, inducing a mild slide by steering into the slide to then feather the throttle back into the floor accompanied by a good dose of opposite lock. Creating and controlling a pendulum (the old scandi-flick) with the BRZ is as easy as finding reefer in Vancouver. It is here that the BRZ tapped into my psyche. She and I could do no wrong from there on in.
I won’t admit to going fast on this event, but I drove the BRZ hard, real hard, and it kept up with me (and the WRXs) the whole time. The RWD Subaru’s electric steering is one of the most precise, touchy-feely on the market and it, combined with the MacPherson front and double wishbone suspension, make for an enormous amount of malleable grip. The front end would bite down as hard as it could, but getting on the gas too soon through an apex would overwhelm the Michelin’s ability to synchronize with the steering wheel’s angle and the driver’s intended direction. Despite this, when driven smartly, the BRZ’s grip is phenomenal.
Perhaps my only real desire would come in the form of stronger brakes. Granted, we pounded on the middle pedal hard and repeatedly, far more than any normal driver would. My past track experience with the BRZ and FR-S revealed the same where the brake pedal feels slightly wooden at the top end with responsiveness improving as pressure builds. The WRX’s brakes suffered more than the BRZ’s given in large part to its propensity to catapult itself to speed faster and its extra girth.
Must be “driven as though stolen”
I love the BRZ. It’s a staggeringly good car, like the MX-5, and although the thought of extra power is mouthwatering, I cannot imagine having had a better time… Oh, who the hell am I kidding? 20% more oomph would go a long way but in the meantime, this is one brilliant automobile that one experiences, and that cannot be fully appreciated on the daily grind. Track it if you own one!