This is the brand new 2013 Subaru BRZ Coupe. A Japanese sports car developed in conjunction with Toyota and Scion and sold on the market under the name GT86, FR-S and BRZ with the three cars being differentiated by barely more than badging, wheels and the shape of their radiator grilles. The purist sports car is the latest from Asia and available to us for a drive test at Litchfield Motors, one of the first tuners selling upgrades.
The Subaru BRZ is a sports car built the way sports cars used to be built: lightweight, visually appealing, near surgical steering precision and rear-wheel drive. It’s clearly not the fastest, the most powerful, nor even the sexiest two-door coupe in the business, but somehow it has the ability to share its sheer driving pleasure in a way not many cars are able to. Everything is focused on the joy of driving, and we had the chance to find it out.
The name BRZ is the acronym for Boxer Rear-wheel-drive Zenith. The main mechanical difference with its brothers – the GT86 and FR-S – is the slighter stiffer suspension for the BRZ. Other than that the technical setup of the cars is similar. This means that our tester was fitted with a 2.0 liter direct injection petrol engine in the nose producing a stock performance of 197bhp and 205Nm. The available transmissions are either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox. Our blue BRZ had the latter option!
The BRZ awaiting our arrival at the farm located between Cheltenham and Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire was not a stock version available via the local Subaru importer, but a right-hand drive model used by Litchfield Motors in the UK as their benchmark for new parts and improvements.
The technical upgrades already fitted to the car featured the Litchfield Stage 1 ECU remap (+14bhp) and a more prominent sounding Milltek performance exhaust system (+11bhp). The British specialist found roughly 25bhp over the standard car. Future performance stages are being development as we speak with a range topping kit featuring a supercharger and a horsepower level close to 300bhp.
Other parts added to the stock setup were a performance air filter, an Eibach Spring kit lowering the car by 30mm, a fast road geometry setup and performance friction fast road brake pads. The stock wheels were inner changed with Litchfield Nurburg 18 inch lightweight alloy wheels shod in wider Michelin Supersport tires sizing 225/40/18 all around. The standard size is 215/45/18.
An additional range of chassis and brake upgrades was already available, but not yet installed at the time of our road test. New anti roll bars by Eibach are on their way allowing a smoother transition into and out of oversteer without upsetting the ride quality. Litchfield is also working on new chassis bushes, which will allow them to increase both caster and camber which are currently fixed at low level with barely any front camber and about five degrees of caster. These bushes will also remove some of the slack in the rear subframe giving it a more direct response. A new transmission bush will provide a more positive feel during gear changes.
All these enhancements are part of a package creating an even better setup than the stock BRZ, which doesn’t offer any groundbreaking technology making it for tuners like Litchfield a highly tunable sports car and a popular choice for weekend track excursions, because there’s not only a DSC Sport mode for the stability control but also a full-off mode and a Torsen limited-slip differential.
Our too-brief drive on Britain’s A-, B-roads and the M5 highway was too short to deliver a complete verdict. We definitely need more time behind the wheel, but we were able to touch some of its abilities. While flowing down the country roads we felt it changes direction smoothly and accurately, thanks to its low center of gravity and slick pinpoint steering. The rack is actually surprisingly heavy, but utterly precise, communicative and in combination with the right suspension settings a sheer joy to drive. Our tuned setup had wider tires and a lowered suspension sharing an excellent ride, firm but not harsh. The comfort levels were more than appropriate!
One of the weakest points of the car is the absent of any surge through the powerband. Where its suspension shines in brilliance, the engine is only a 2.0 liter four-cylinder boxer engine which you have to keep revving high. The precise, short-throw six-speed manual is a great box, but you find yourself working it for all its worth before grabbing another gear. You simply have to stay in the higher rev ranges and pay attention to your choice of gear. The BRZ is a momentum car with a key focus on handling over raw power and if driven as such it is surprisingly swift. Still a little more top-end bite would be welcome.
The biggest downfall is the interior. Even though it is simple and functional, the cheap use of plastic materials and lack of any type of sophistication makes it a waste of money at first sight. Still the driving position is absolutely spot on and the seats offer all the required adjustments and grip. The back seats of the 2+2 are next to useless, and only applicable as additional luggage space. The rear boot isn’t reasonable either with just enough space for a set of golf clubs.
None of these minors seem to influence the wonderful driver-orientated package developed by Subaru. The BRZ is a true drivers car with an almost maniacal approach to weight and its management, keeping it low and evenly distributed between the car’s axles. The highly rewarding satisfaction comes from that brilliant handling. The compliant suspension and pure steering are the main highlights in this car and account for the excellence of its setup. The progressive brakes – even though they were tweaked – are a great combination with both.
The linear nature of the naturally aspirated engine and the corresponding throttle response may be highly likeable for some, but only suitable for drivers knowing the way to handle a momentum car like the BRZ. Any other driver will desperately ask for more power in the top-end and torque in the lower rev band. They would also discuss the lack of true refinement in the interior and complain about the cheap ass remote (un)locking the doors.
Those people are not the main point of focus for the trio Subaru, Toyota and Scion. Those asking for more refinement fit better to brands like Porsche with their Cayman (S) or BMW’s 1-Series M Coupe. True cornering hero’s with a smaller budget are prepared to make the compromises on cabin quality and understand what the BRZ has to offer. For those the low-volume niche car is the ultimate choice, their instant classic! And for those Litchfield Motors offers a wide variety of parts taking the wonderful sports car into a higher league where it belongs technically and performance wise.