Subaru Australia teased us for months about whether it would bring the BRZ sports car to Australia before deciding - as first revealed by CarAdvice - that it wouldn't disappoint local driving enthusiasts.
After we enjoyed our first stint behind the wheel of the BRZ's virtually identical twin, the Toyota 86, now we want to find out how the version wearing a Subaru badge fares.
The formula is simple: a compact sports coupe that sets out to provide basic driving thrills through a mix of rear-wheel-drive, a 147kW four-cylinder engine and a kerb weight that's lower than
You might even think it’s a bit unfair for Toyota to have stolen the early headlines – Subaru led the engineering development of both cars, and will be building them side-by-side with different badges on the bonnet.
Visual variations between the pair are minimal, with different front bumpers and unique alloys. Inside, the Subaru BRZ is identical to the 86, with a very low seating position and reasonable space for front occupants.
There’s also a cramped pair of ‘plus two’ rear seats, which are fine for ferrying small (or very flexible) passengers over short distances. But the quality of the interior trim isn’t on a par with that offered by upmarket European rivals, as the same cheap, shiny plastics that have blighted all current Subarus crop up again.
However, all that can be forgiven if the driving experience is right. The 2.0-litre boxer is pure Subaru, with two pairs of cylinders laid flat on either side of the crankshaft. But the engine itself is entirely new for the car, being smaller, lighter and lower than the similar-capacity boxer that will power the new-generation Subaru Impreza that arrives in March.
Although 147kW is a healthy output considering that the Subaru BRZ does without a turbocharger, it’s not a huge number these days. And from behind the wheel it’s instantly clear that the Subaru has to be revved hard to deliver its performance: peak power arrives at a heady 7000rpm.
We drove the car on Subaru’s Japanese test track, so the full verdict will have to wait until we try it on Australian roads. But this gave us a good opportunity to get a strong first impression.
It gets off to a promising start. The engine’s lack of low-down torque means that the BRZ doesn’t feel especially quick under gentle use, but the combination of the six-speed manual gearbox’s beautifully precise action and a snarling soundtrack as the rev counter needle sweeps towards the red zone encourages you to work it hard. We also tried the optional six-speed automatic, which operated well but lacked the manual’s sense of involvement.
As you would expect, the Subaru BRZ is more at home through corners than on the straights.
The suspension settings are marginally stiffer than the 86’s, although the ride never feels harsh over bumps, while the electric power-steering system works extremely well. There’s loads of feedback, giving the driver a real sense of how much grip the front wheels have left to call on. The well balanced chassis makes it instinctively easy to adjust the cornering line using the wonderfully responsive throttle pedal (it’s no surprise that the manufacturer reckons the BRZ will appeal strongly to the drifting community).
Pricing hasn’t been confirmed, and could still depend on what the Yen/Dollar exchange rate looks like when the car goes on sale in May/June. It's likely to exceed $40,000 for the well equipped ‘high-line’ version, which gets climate control and leather seats, with the more basic ‘low-line’ car stripping some of the toys and likely to cost a couple of thousand dollars less.
As for how the BRZ compares to the 86, we look forward to finding out in mid 2012. But for anyone who is considering either car, it’s worth bearing in mind that Toyota will inevitably sell more - if nothing because of its far superior marketing budget - so the BRZ is actually likely to be the more exclusive car.