New model a real charmer
SUBARU'S BRZ is an amazing testament to the power of collaboration.
The Japanese company teamed up with big brother Toyota - a natural alliance given the latter owns a 17% stake in Subaru's parent company - to create a sports car that was fun to drive and gentle on the pocket.
Out of the fires came the Toyota 86 and this Subaru BRZ - twins, almost identical but for a few tweaks.
Such was the worldwide interest in these two cars that supply was always going to fail to match demand.
Subaru was dealt the smaller hand in the monthly allocations and as a result could only bring 201 vehicles to Australia this year.
Having just made peace with the fact they had gone against their philosophy of releasing only all-wheel drive vehicles here (the BRZ is a rear-wheel drive), Subaru now had the problem of finding a way to divvy such a meagre number of cars among an extensive network of dealers.
A marketing masterstroke brought the announcement that the BRZ would only be sold online. All you needed was a credit card.
The high volume of traffic caused the website to crash when it opened for business in July - no surprises there - but still all 201 BRZs were accounted for within three hours.
The heated front bucket seats are stylish and supportive with contrast stitching adding a nice touch.
They hug you tightly on windy roads with the clever lumbar design making long drives a pleasure.
Because you are seated so close to the ground, head and legroom are fairly generous while the driver benefits from well-placed pedals and no console to knock knees against.
Occupants in the back need to be really small or quite brave. Our test car handled two car seats well but the kids had to be bribed quite shamelessly to get through a five-hour journey.
Adults have no chance - not even the promise of Tiny Teddies will compensate for the lack of space to put your feet.
The layout of the interior cannot be faulted with obvious thought given to the placement of controls.
A silver-backed rev counter with a digital speedo nestled within takes pride of place on an instrument panel that gives an overall sporty feel.
The same, however, can't be said for the materials used with hard plastics and feeble fittings an indication the budget was concentrated elsewhere.
Storage is limited with a few options in an uncovered centre console.
The boot copes better with small weekend holdalls rather than chunky articles although the back seat does fold flat to offer more room.
The full-sized spare tyre in our car was uncovered which was quite handy for those extra bags of shopping.
On the road
The BRZ feels a comfortable sit from the moment you get behind the wheel.
The low bucket seats and smaller steering gives you that racing car feeling and the adrenaline starts to surge.
Subaru provided the 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that powers the BRZ and 86 with Toyota adding the direct injection for better efficiency and oomph.
Subaru has tinkered with the suspension opting for a setting that is firmer in the front with stiffer springs and damper valving.
Much like the entry-level Porsche Cayman which served as inspiration, the BRZ is more about handling than sheer pace though 0-100km in 7.6 seconds is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Don't be fooled by modest power and torque outputs with 147kW delivered at 7000rpm and 205 Nm at 6600rpm. The BRZ can really get up when you want it to.
It is beautifully balanced allowing you to sail in and out of corners and easily proving its ability both in city traffic and on the open road although you do need to push it a bit at speed for additional revs.
This is a driver's car with excellent steering feel and an almost instant response to the slightest change from the control seat.
The gearbox shifts smoothly, the brakes are sharp and the linear power delivery enhances the pleasure.
Road noise as you would expect is harsh but can be drowned out by the sweet sounding engine.
What do you get?
Unlike the Toyota 86 which offers two choices, the BRZ comes in one spec level - but one that will not disappoint.
Standard inclusions account for sports seats, 17-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, dusk-sensing xenon headlamps, smart key entry and ignition, dual-zone air conditioning, Bluetooth phone integration, USB input, cruise control and a six-speaker audio system.
Leather seats and sat-nav are extras.
Subaru smashed two of a very limited number of BRZs to get their five-star crash rating which comes courtesy of seven airbags, switchable traction and stability control, ABS, EBD and brake assist.
The Toyota 86 GTS ($35,490) is the most obvious competition but there will also be a strong fight from the Mazda MX5 (from $44,265), Hyundai Veloster (33,990), the VW Golf GTi (from $38,990) and the Renault Megane Sport (from $41,990).
Without a doubt, the Subaru BRZ is all about the drive, about having the taste of a sports car at a price that is still within the realms of possibility.
You can carry the family at a push, the weekly shop if you must but this is a car for the driver.
There is no rear wiper or control buttons on the steering wheel but frankly who cares?
The BRZ has a small tank with premium 98 RON fuel the drink of choice which are two disadvantages.
Free servicing for three years or 60,000km probably goes a long way to making up for it though.
We came relatively close to Subaru's official figures of 7.8l/100km (manual) but admittedly that could be as a result of a fair few long-distance highway drives.
The Subaru BRZ is certainly eye-catching with heads turning for a second look.
With its sculpted looks, low haunches and commanding rear the BRZ's looks far exceed its price tag.
It is no surprise really that the BRZ sold out within three hours of being available in Australia.
This is a sporty car that offers an exciting, affordable drive. Definitely worth a go if you can track one down.
Model: Subaru BRZ
Details: Two-door rear-wheel drive coupe
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Engine: 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 147kW at 7000rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 6600rpm
Consumption: 7.1 litres/100km combined average
Bottom line: from $37,150