A rear-wheel-drive Subaru? Surely it must be a misprint.
But, no, loyal Subie shoppers are in for a shock when they discover that the new BRZ doesn’t drive all four wheels.
And that’s not all, folks. Subaru has teamed up with Toyota, which owns a small stake in the company, to create the BRZ and its doppelganger that will be marketed on these shores as the Scion FR-S.
Wow, two separate manufacturers introducing nearly identical models at almost the same time. Who would have believed it possible and, more to the point, why is it happening?
Of course, because it makes sound economic sense. It costs big bucks to bring any brand new model to market, but it’s hard to justify the development costs when that model is a low-volume sports car. Spreading the tooling expenses between two manufacturers allows both to more affordably market a vehicle that creates some enthusiast buzz while also building sales for more mainstream metal.
Toyota is an old hand at making sporty coupes (the Celica, Supra and MR2 are examples) but hasn’t headed down that road for years As for Subaru, its last two-door effort was the 1990s-era SVX, a mildly quirky all-wheel-driver that was priced at the premium end of the scale.
This time around, the BRZ faces formidable competition other than from the Scion FR-S. Hyundai’s Genesis coupe is a leading contender, but the pricier Nissan370Z is in the hunt as well. Then there are the V6 versions of the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger.
In this class, one of the BRZ’s primary advantages is weight, or rather a lack of it. At just 2,762 pounds, the Subaru weights about 500 pounds less than the Genesis and anywhere from 700-1,000 pounds less than any V6-equipped North American example.Although the BRZ’s extra-stiff platform is completely new, much of the suspension pieces originate with the Impreza and its performance-focused WRX STI variant. A quick steering ratio that’s more in tune with the BRZ’s sporty nature has also been installed.
To aid turning and cornering capabilities, the engine has been positioned closer to the center of the vehicle for better weight distribution. Also helping in this regard is the car’s Subaru-based 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that sits lower to the ground than similar powerplants due to its horizontally opposed design (two cylinders fire at a 180-degree angle to the other two), thus lowering the car’s center of gravity.
Creating optimal front:rear balance also involved relocating the battery to the back of the engine compartment and angling the radiator rearward 17 degrees.The 200-horsepower engine bears little in common with the 148-horsepower 2.0-liter engine used in Subaru’s Impreza. Among other things, the engine combines traditional intake port fuel injection with direct injection that sprays gasoline directly into the combustion chambers under very high pressure for a more efficient burn. The injection system is Toyota’s contribution to the engine project.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is available. The latter features manual paddle shifters, rev-matching downshifts plus a “sport” mode that, by activating a switch on the floor console, delivers quicker shifts.
In the flesh the BRZ looks flat-out terrific with its properly planted stance, prominently bulging fenders and generously sized windshield. In back, the twin exhaust pipes encased in a blacked-out diffuser is a neat touch.
The cabin/dashboard design doesn’t impress to the same degree, but is nonetheless straightforward clearly presented. Additionally, the bucket seats are well bolstered and supportive. The rear seat folds for increased stowage space, but a hatch opening instead of a trunk lid would have added greater practicality.
Still, these are only minor gripes. Overall, the BRZ, which arrives this spring promises to shake up the sport-coupe world with a balanced and lightweight package that really is as sporty as it looks.