Subaru BRZ S Review

$45,145 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    7.8L
  • Engine Power
    147kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    181g
  • ANCAP Rating
    5Stars

STI parts add $8K to the price of a Subaru BRZ, but do they add anything to the drive?

Sports coupe fans for whom a turbocharger is a necessity may be disappointed with the Subaru BRZ S. The S is still two letters short of (potentially) offering a turbine to force more air back into the engine - just yesterday we saw a BRZ STI teaser - but it does offer STI-look goodies above the standard BRZ.

Above the $37,150 driveaway price, the optional ($7995) BRZ S adds black front and rear lip spoilers, side skirts, black STI alloy wheel (wrapped in the same 17-inch Michelin Primacy HP tyres as the regular car), a sports gearshift knob and red STI-badged starter button.

Mechanical changes include a lowered coil spring set, flexible tower bar and short-shifter kit for the six-speed manual transmission. (The S is available as an automatic, too, but considering it misses a short-shift kit, costs $7195 extra.)

A total $45,145 driveaway price for the Subaru BRZ S is quite an increase considering this car started out as a $29,990 (plus on-road costs) Toyota 86 GT.

The BRZ uniquely continues to be available for purchase solely online, and the S pack is retrofitted by Subaru technicians at a local dealer prior to collection.

It’s been exactly one year since we fell in love with the 'Toyobaru' twins and you blew out waiting lists and demanded production increases. Currently the BRZ is outsold by the 86 five to one, a reflection of the manufacturing skew towards the Toyota; despite, ironically, all 86/BRZ models being built at Subaru’s Gunma factory in Japan.

Cars tend not to get better with age, but there remains so much right about the Subaru BRZ.

No need to force a groundhog day and wax lyrical about the superbly tactile, brilliantly mid-weighted and beautifully sharp yet progressive electro-mechanical steering; or the fact the flat-four-cylinder engine sits as low in the engine bay as the passengers do in the cabin, with a low centre of gravity and wonderful legs-forward driving position the respective result; or the fact the BRZ is rear-wheel-drive running Toyota Prius tyres so it is more playful than a pup with a squeezy toy.

The question here is whether the S is worth the extra.

The front lip spoiler will certainly feel (or hear) its worth on steep driveways, signalling with a scrape that this is a lower Subaru BRZ.

Ride quality on the base 86 GT’s 16-inch Yokohama tyres is quite good, but the BRZ not only gets the 17-inch tyres shared with the flagship 86 GTS, the standard car also gets slightly stiffer front springs, while the lowered coil springs set in the S makes things harder again.

Around town at low speeds the BRZ S does require some flexing of abdominal muscles when driving over bitumen repaired thrice by the local council, but which remains uneven and lumpy.

Yet the BRZ S is highly sophisticated dealing with multiple intrusions at greater speed, and over the broken concrete slabs of the Princes ‘Highway’ through the Sutherland Shire of New South Wales, for example, the BRZ S strides with surprising fluency. A Renault Megane RS 265, over the same stretch of 70km/h urban arterial, bangs like a skateboard.

Likewise, when towns are cleared and country roads appear the BRZ S demonstrates a terrific blend of comfort and control, always biased towards the latter, but only slightly, which is appropriate for a sports coupe.

With 205Nm of torque not delivered until 6600rpm, and 147kW of power not available until 7000rpm, the 2.0-litre non-turbo boxer four-cylinder engine demands to be worked hard to deliver performance.

Even then, a 7.6-second 0-100km/h is nothing special for a $45K car, and that time fails to accurately convey the low-rev lethargy of this engine (it’s hinted at by the peaky delivery of its outputs).

Off the line, the BRZ S feels slow unless plenty of revs are dialled up and the clutch is dumped. In sixth gear at 110km/h the engine is spinning at 2800rpm, not quite enough to maintain that speed on hills, which is slightly disappointing.

A Honda CR-Z, for example, despite being much slower overall, offers plenty of turbo-like boost from its electric motor at low revs to provide far superior driveability around town and on the freeway.

Some driveability flaws are not means to write off this engine, however. The FA20 Subaru engine has been picked specifically to not add weight (screwing on a turbo would), to keep throttle response (a turbo would reduce it), to not overwhelm the tyres or chassis (a turbo would necessitate stronger parts) and to therefore keep costs down.

On twisty roads, the BRZ S gels harmoniously, like few other cars do regardless of their price.

The engine may not tolerate drivers unable to judge good corner entry speed and intensely work the wonderful, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox, but that can only be a good thing. Kept above 4000rpm, and preferably close to its 7500rpm cut-out, the Subaru BRZ S sends a wonderful single-pitch induction rort into the cabin.

Throttle response is sublime, as is the aforementioned steering, and because the tyres aren’t particularly grippy, feeling the front end start to lose grip and progressively getting the tail to slide marks the BRZ as one of the most intimate drives. Only the stability control could be more progressive, even in Sport mode.

In terms of driving purity this seemingly humble Subaru is to a grippy turbocharged car what natural springs are to a can of Coke.

Without a regular BRZ to drive back to back the benefits of the BRZ S in handling terms are, however, somewhat more difficult to define.

Easier to judge is the value equation of this BRZ S. While the regular BRZ is reasonably well equipped with bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and a full-size spare wheel, the S gets no extra trinkets. Leather/alcantara heated sports seats remain a $1500 option, as are satellite navigation ($1815), reversing camera ($468.85) and front and rear parking sensors ($918.40).

Nav is definitely the most worthy selection, as otherwise by far the most disappointing feature of the interior is the basic audio system and aftermarket, crudely-attached (to the top-right of the windscreen) Bluetooth phone kit. The BRZ therefore lacks audio streaming tech but adding nav also integrates that necessity. The lime green display of the standard audio system - Toyota-derived, but more basic than a base Yaris - also contrasts with the orange lighting everywhere else in the cabin.

One year on and the Subaru BRZ, as with its Toyota 86 twin, remains a brilliant sports car. Understand the car’s philosophy, feel the engineering harmony and accept that it demands driving talent to properly be exploited, and the BRZ/86 absolutely don’t require a turbo. But this BRZ S, fully equipped, struggles to justify a near-$50K pricetag. At that level, maybe it does need a turbo…