By David Undercoffler
5:00 AM PDT, May 17, 2012
You look fat in that. Of course I'll be late. Your baby reminds me of Gollum's uncle.
This is what the 2013 Subaru BRZ might say if it could talk. The all-new, rear-wheel-drive sports car starts at $26,265, and boy is it honest— perhaps more so than any other car on the market today, save for its mechanical twin, the Scion FR-S. The two were jointly developed by Subaru and Scion's parent company, Toyota, with both assembled by Subaru in Japan.
The question about the BRZ is, can you handle the honesty? The answer may surprise you.
For starters, only an honest car would dare to tell you that you don't need 8,756 horsepower to have a good time. This Subaru has a modest 200. Torque? A tidy 151 pound-feet. This, from a naturally aspirated (no turbos or superchargers) 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine featuring direct injection. Zero to 60 mph happens in 6.4 seconds, according to Motor Trend.
Such figures may seem quaint when minivans are creeping toward 300 horsepower and the latest Shelby version of Ford's Mustang will have more than double that. (RIP, Carroll.) But remember that the best sports cars of yesterday raised your pulse not with acceleration that compressed expletives out of your lungs but with balance and handling borne out of the car being lightweight and thoughtfully engineered.
This Subaru continues that trend, a difficult feat in an era of ever-expanding safety equipment and crash regulations that have consistently raised curb weights over the years.
A BRZ with the standard six-speed manual transmission weighs about the same as a Toyota Corolla — a bit under 2,800 pounds. Add 50 more pounds for the optional six-speed automatic. The extensive use of high-strength steel and an aluminum hood helped keep the weight down.
Also keeping things light is the fact that this is not a particularly big car. It has the wheelbase of the small Hyundai Accent hatchback, and it's a mere 4 inches longer. On the road, the BRZ looks larger than it really is.
Subaru and Scion wisely avoided the temptation to turn this car into an over-styled nightmare begging for attention. Instead, the cars have a clean, sporty look throughout. Short overhangs at the front and rear are paired well with softly sculpted fenders. The rear of the BRZ is its most aggressive angle, with a low-slung dark plastic diffuser surrounding the dual exhaust tips and center-mounted backup light.
It's inside this Subaru that its diminution is most noticeable. Although it has a pair of rear seats, consider them extensions of the trunk and not fit for anything bipedal. The front passengers sit in the driving equivalent of the attack position; hips low, legs stretched out, seat reclined.
Keeping the weight of occupants as close to the ground as possible and designing the engine to be compact and low gives the BRZ a center of gravity equal to that of your average coffee table. Subaru brags that at 18 inches, it's one of the lowest centers of gravity of any production car in the world.
Thus, when you throw the BRZ onto curving, sweeping roads, don't expect the thumb-sucking pushover predicted by the naysayers who derisively scoff at its horsepower or torque output.
Instead, get ready for some good, clean thrills from a vehicle not unlike a bigger, more refined go-cart. You only need moments behind the wheel to know this is a purpose-built sports car; everything happens quickly and with reason.
The engine loves to rev high and loud, which is good because you need it to wring out all its power. Your full bowl of torque comes at 6,400 rpm and horsepower at 7,000 rpm. But the BRZ isn't underpowered if you know how and when to use the power you've got.
The steering is excellent; the compact wheel moves in your hands with a confidence-inspiring resistance and turn-in is immediate. A touch more granularity to maximize control would be nice, but this steering would be at home on a sports car costing three times the BRZ's asking price. Why yes, Porsche 911, I am talking about you.
The BRZ's standard six-speed manual transmission's performance is on par with the rest of the car. The shifter itself has short throws through a gearbox that's precise yet has a dash of that smooth, rubbery feel that makes you want to row all day. This transmission is rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway.
If you're one of the few misguided souls who buys this car with the $1,100 six-speed automatic transmission, you too have a good gearbox to enjoy. It happily takes the car near its redline before executing a surprisingly quick shift. This transmission also has Sport and Snow settings. Plus, throttle-blipping downshifts are included, and the automatic transmission's fuel economy bests that of the manual, at 25 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway.
All BRZs come with stability control and traction control and each can be turned off completely. You're going to want to do so for truly enthused driving; the systems have Normal and Sport modes that intervene with the subtlety of Metta World Peace's elbow. But with those systems off, beware that this Subaru is engineered to perform and if you're careless, it's just as possible to put it into the bushes as something more powerful.
Hence a significant source of this car's honesty; it isn't one you can pound on with the grace of a drugged elephant and expect it to iron out your mistakes. Instead, the BRZ compounds talent and skillful inputs with one of the highest dollar-per-fun ratios in the automotive landscape.
This honesty is also important to remember in daily driving. While the suspension setup is remarkably balanced and devoid of body roll during any kind of cornering, it's a very firm ride around town. It's also noisy. Your Aunt Gert's 1989 Cadillac Brougham this isn't.
Subaru has wisely kept options for the loud cabin to a minimum. A base BRZ starts at $26,265 and comes with items such as the manual transmission, a limited-slip differential and six air bags. It also has a slow, 6-inch touch-screen navigation system with iPod control, 196-watt amplifier, Bluetooth and XM satellite radio and traffic alerts.
The BRZ I tested added the Limited package (the only one available). For the additional $2,000 you get wonderfully bolstered Alcantara and leather seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, fog lights and an ugly rear spoiler.
Whether that's a good value depends on how you prioritize the fun you expect to wring out of your purchase. This car is undeniably down on power to other performance cars of its ilk. But to dwell on this deficit misses the point of the BRZ. It has a balance of old-school thrills and connectivity to the road that additional power would probably upset.
Fortunately, it's honest about its purpose. And your waistline.
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