The Subaru BRZ has always been an impressive – and affordable – driver's car. Now with some clever STI fettling both inside and out, meet the top-of-the-range Subaru BRZ tS.
There’s a go-fast Subaru BRZ tS, finished in white with discrete red accents, with red Brembo calipers nestled inside 18-inch black alloys. The back sprouts a high-mounted, adjustable (and rather large) carbon-fibre wing, while black spoilers around the front splitter, flanks and rear of the car further emphasise its sportiness.
There’s some trickery under the skin, too – uprated dampers, and a stiffer chassis – that adds up to a more dynamic driving experience. The interior receives a spruce-up as well, with swathes of red Alcantara and red racy accents adding to the sportiness. It looks like the ultimate Subaru boy-racer makeover, and in a way it is, styled and tuned as it is by arguably the ultimate boy-racer outfit, Subaru Tecnica International.
But, this is not that car. No, what we have on test may share the same nameplate – Subaru BRZ tS – but our test car is a way removed from the limited edition (just 500 units were made) Subaru BRZ tS that went on sale in the US last year.
Instead, the local version arrives Down Under with a tamer exterior (that huge carbon-fibre wing didn’t, er, wing its way to Australia, nor the nifty black spoilers that surround the US version). The good news, though, is that under the skin and inside, the Aussie-delivered BRZ tS has undergone a transformation, all in the name of further improving its already capable handling dynamics.
The 2018 Subaru BRZ tS lands at the top of the BRZ range at $39,894 plus on-road costs for the manual variant we have here. For $2000 more, you can opt for the six-speed auto, but really, the joy in this type of car lies in the tactility and engagement of a manual ’box. Both represent a near six-grand premium over entry-level BRZs, which tip the dollar scales at $33,990 and $35,990 respectively.
Some housekeeping: the ‘tS’ badge adorning the rear of the BRZ stands for ‘tuned by STI’, Subaru’s famed tuning house, Subaru Tecnica International. There are STI badges too, adding to its overwhelming Subaru-ness.
The entire BRZ range has received a mild 2018 update. All models now get Subaru’s third-generation infotainment system featuring previously unavailable sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
While most of the extra $6K over the base model is invisible, hiding under the skin of the BRZ tS, the cabin has undergone a transformation, making it feel pretty special. Swathes of black Alcantara are nicely accented with red highlights throughout. Splashes of red abound – from the STI-branded stop/start button to miles of contrast stitching and those special red seatbelts – the red theme is everywhere. It looks and feels like a sports car inside, because red.
Some clever touches too, continue to impress; like the headrests – concave at the rear – which can be switched through 180 degrees to allow for greater helmet clearance, should you decide to track your BRZ tS. The rear seats fold completely flat too, opening up boot space, enough it’s said to carry four wheels and tyres for those fun track days.
As in any two-door sports car, those rear seats are best left for occasional use, although I did punish myself – and my three-year-old – by installing a child seat (there are two ISOFIX connections and two top-tether anchor points). She was happy enough back there, and unlike her reaction to other STI-fettled Subarus (“This car is too bumpy”), didn’t complain once about the ride.
The red sporting theme continues under the bonnet, with a delicious red intake manifold holding centre court in the engine bay (manual variant only). And those black 18-inch alloys offer the perfect frame for the red Brembo stoppers.
None of this window dressing leaves you in any doubt that this is no standard BRZ. But, despite the heavy-handed red touches, the real trickery that turns an ordinary BRZ into a tS lies underneath that Pure Red (no-cost option) exterior.
In seeking to take what was already a compelling chassis, STI’s team of tuners have added a suite of suspension and chassis upgrades designed, it’s claimed, to improve on the BRZ’s already excellent dynamics.
Starting at all four corners, the tS scores Sachs dampers and STI coil springs (finished in red, of course) all ’round, tuned to provide more linear steering and reduce body roll, according to Subaru.
Further chassis enhancements are arrived at courtesy of flexible V-bars inside the engine bay, which Subaru claims enhances the BRZ’s steering response and control. Adding more control, flexible draw stiffeners link the front suspension cross member to the chassis. Joined at an angle, the system applied a preload that, according to Subaru, reduces the delay in chassis movement after steering inputs. The upshot of all this trickery is a more responsive chassis, claims Subaru, further enhancing the driver-focussed nature of the BRZ.
Can you feel it working away? Not really, but there’s no doubt the BRZ tS feels firm and planted on the road, no matter what you ask of it.
Underneath the bonnet remains the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder boxer engine as found in all BRZs. Power outputs remain unchanged too, meaning you get 152kW (7000rpm) and 212Nm of torque (6400–6800rpm). Frankly, as we’ve often said in the past, we’d like more power and, for what’s it worth, lower in the rev range.
The BRZ is a rev-happy little beast, needing the needle high in the range if you want to extract the most from it. Off idle, there’s little urgency (although plenty of noise from the boxer four), which probably accounts for its 7.4-second 0–100km/h claim. That’s not to say the tS is slow, but it’s not as manic as one would expect from a sports coupe.
And then there’s that torque dip in the mid-range, just when you need it most. Maximum torque only comes on at 6400rpm, meaning you’ll have to apply plenty of throttle to keep the BRZ singing.
Luckily, the BRZ’s strength isn’t in outright power figures or sprint times. Where the BRZ shines, and in this tS iteration even more so, is in its handling and driver engagement.
The six-speed manual ’box is a decent enough unit, offering plenty of tactility as you navigate your way through some twisties. The steering, too, offers plenty of feedback and just the right amount of resistance to ensure plenty of smiley-face moments behind the wheel. It’s simply a delight to link some corners together, with the revs singing freely and your soul singing joyfully. This is what driving pleasure is about – a simple dance between driver and machine with all the tactility one could want.
There’s no question, the tS errs on the firm side of comfortable, but it’s by no means unbearable. You do feel every bump and rut and road join, but it’s less intrusive than what we’ve experienced in some other sports-focussed cars. Where that firmness shines, again, is when you’re having a proper drive on some country backroads with plenty of corners in the mix. You feel what the BRZ is doing at every point, such is its feedback. There’s no second-guessing the BRZ, and that’s as it should be in a car of this nature.
Those Michelin Pilot Sport 4 boots offer plenty of grip, but not at the expense of playfulness. There’s enough slip to have some fun, but not to the point of ‘whoa there’, although fellow CA tester, Curt Dupriez, did report back that in the wet, the BRZ tS is “waaaaaay too slippery”. Temper that right foot, then, in the wet, is our advice.
There is a Track mode too, which tempers the electronic stability control and allows for some neat drifting. While our time with the tS precluded switching over to Track, previous CA reviewers have urged strongly to save this drive mode purely for when you’re wanting to explore the BRZ’s sideways chops on a racetrack, as per its name.
The BRZ tS is covered by Subaru’s standard three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and the company’s three-year capped-price servicing plan. Services are required every nine months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, and the first four services (up to 36 months) will set you back $224.55 each for a total of $898.20.
The BRZ comes with a five-star ANCAP rating, although that was awarded way back in 2012 when the model first launched on our sunny shores. There are seven airbags crammed into the cabin – dual front, dual front side, curtain and knee – although it does miss out on modern active safety tech such as lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control (it has standard old-school cruise control) and autonomous emergency braking.
We’ve often lauded the Subaru BRZ and what it represents – sports car handling and performance on a (relatively) modest budget. And the good news is, nothing has changed with the introduction of the tS variant into the range. It’s still a completely engaging and thrill-a-minute car in which to link some corners together while also remaining pliant enough to use as a daily driver.
That the near $6000 premium Subaru is asking for the BRZ tS offers plenty of window dressing is apparent. Less obvious, though, are the bits of engineering under the skin that have enhanced the BRZ’s dynamics, an area, arguably, that needed little to no improvement.
As we’ve often said in the past, a touch more power wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps CarAdvice's Curt Dupriez summed it up best after his stint behind the wheel of the BRZ tS: “When is Subaru going to stick a proper rocket up its bum?”.