2022 Subaru BRZ First Drive Review | Save the sports cars!
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SHARON, Connecticut - The Lime Rock Park racetrack in the hilly country of far northwest Connecticut dates back to 1956 and was a cradle of sports car craze in America. Sports car craze seems to be falling to the grave in America these days, as Americans are instead adopting trucks and SUVs of all stripes (or simply cannot afford an extra car, as is common with sports cars). But the new Subaru BRZ 2022 - along with its Toyota GR 86 sibling - is bucking the trend. And after we drove it on this historic route and in the surrounding area, we are pleased that it is now an even better reminder of why sports cars are worth rescuing.
There's irony in Subaru, the well-sculpted all-wheel drive and crossover brand that is one of the driving forces that keep sports cars alive. Yet that is exactly what happened with the arrival of the second generation of BRZ. It is amazing that there is even a new GT. The Subaru-Toyota collaboration that spawned the original BRZ and the Toyota 86 (nee Scion FR-S) barely went smoothly and didn't get beyond this single-car tie. Neither model is of central importance for the marketability of the brand. Subaru claims that the 42,144 GTs it has sold in the United States since 2013 are a better than expected result, but it still barely represents three months of outback sales.
Once again, Subaru took the lead in engineering while we can thank Toyota for the design. And these designers deserve praise. The new look is a clear further development of the predecessor, but there are significant changes. The greenhouse is narrower, which gives the rear fenders a hip look. Both the nose and tail are more rounded and the overall surface treatment is more curvy. There are new, fully functional front fender vents, the trunk lid on vehicles with upper equipment is rounded off with a duckbill spoiler and the "double bubble" roofline is returning. The net effect is more sports cars and less sporty coupe.
In these days when each new generation of models adds inches and pounds, the new BRZ is 1.2 inches longer, not wider, and its rooftops 0.4 inches lower. Good. The wheelbase is just 0.2 inches longer, the front track is unchanged, and the rear is just 0.4 inches wider. As we noted in our '86 first drive, this intergenerational similarity is the result of modifying the previous platform rather than starting with a clean slate.
Controlling size is key to controlling weight. An aluminum roof and front fenders complement the previous aluminum hood to support these efforts. The curb weight is stated to be 2,815-2,881 pounds, an increase of less than 50 pounds. With the change from a steel roof and a slightly lower overall height, the center of gravity should be almost 18 inches lower than that of a Porsche 718 Boxster / Cayman or a Mazda Miata.
Another Subaru engine sits under the hood. No, it's not a turbo. The plea for a turbo engine went unheard, especially to keep the GT affordable, they say. However, the new engine is more powerful. It's a 2.4-liter (essentially a naturally aspirated version of the Ascent engine), but physically no bigger or heavier than the old 2.0-liter. The additional displacement increases the power to 228 hp compared to the previous 206/200 hp (manual / automatic). The more significant increase is in torque, which goes from 156 pound-feet to 184 pounds and is far more accessible, peaking at 3,700 rpm compared to 6,400 rpm in the old engine. And the torque drop that occurred in the previous engine at 4,000 rpm is largely gone.
As before, you can choose between a Toyota-supplied six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, both of which drive the rear wheels via a Torsen limited-slip differential. The automatic now has a sport mode with speed-adjusted downshifts, but the manual is still the way to go in a purist machine like this - and three-quarters of BRZ buyers agree. That it offers short throws and a friendly, short stroke clutch is a nice bonus.
In addition, the shorter translation of the manual makes for a much more lively acceleration, even though both setups are faster than before. According to Subaru's measurement, the automatic chops 1.5 seconds from the previous 0-60 time, now 6.5 seconds, while the manual is 1.0 seconds faster at 6.0. However, the difference in driveability between the two felt bigger than it did on the road, although neither version was breathless or flawed. And on the track, the manual carried significantly more speed, both at the end of the main straight and the back straight.
On the Lime Rock course, the nicely weighted steering provides real feedback and the BRZ felt stable and balanced. It takes a determined effort to overturn this chassis - and we had a lot of fun doing it on the special autocross track. As with the GR 86, the base car runs on 17-inch wheels with Michelin Primacy tires, while the luxury version has 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber. The latter have more grip, but both slid around the autocross as soon as the stability control was switched to track mode or switched off completely. While Normal or Sport mode keeps the BRZ in the understeer range, Track allows for easy throttle adjustment of your cornering angle and offers a fairly wide arc before it catches up with you. Turn everything off and it is even possible to drift a little.
There are some differences in chassis setup between the Subaru and the Toyota. The Subaru suspension has stiffer front springs and softer rear springs. It also has aluminum knuckles instead of cast iron, a hollow front stabilizer instead of solid, and a rear stabilizer that mounts directly to the body rather than the subframe. Subaru claims they tuned their version more for precision, while Toyota gave priority to responsiveness. Unfortunately, neither of our editors drove both of them, but you can read our Toyota GR 86 first driving report where we had at least access to first and second generation cars.
The BRZ is a playful companion on the route, but doesn't get tiring off the beaten track either. The streets in this idyllic corner of Connecticut and just across the border in New York have their share of patched and broken sidewalks that the BRZ handled without the harshness often found in more extreme performance cars. The BRZ is now emitting synthetic engine noise that is played through a dedicated speaker, and while it doesn't sound bad, we might want to turn the volume down once it hits 5,000rpm. Road noise is predominant at lower engine speeds, but this is not too surprising for a lightweight sports car with performance tires.
Subaru has added a bundle of EyeSight driver assistance systems to the new BRZ: forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, these items are only for cars with automatic transmissions. The upper class Limited (with both transmissions) now receives a monitoring of the blind spot and a rear cross traffic alarm. The view to the outside is not that great to the rear, but the narrow front pillars were very helpful when looking at the next corner at Lime Rock.
The cabin is treated with some welcome improvements. The dashboard is less plate-like, and there is just enough padded / padded surfaces to keep the interior from looking as cheap as the old one. The base car has scratchy black fabric upholstery with red contrast stitching, but the Limited upgrades to ultrasuede and leather with a red racing stripe in the center of the seats. These seats have been redesigned and are really comfortable. You have more lateral support than before, and even after a few intense laps you can tell that you don't have to strain to maintain your driving position; The seat keeps you in good position.
The instrument cluster is another route-friendly element. It's now screen-based, displaying either a round tachometer or a neat ribbon-shaped tachometer in track mode, both in the center of the display. There's also a flashing red upshift light as you approach the redline and a multifunction screen on the left that can be set to show lap times, g-forces or horsepower and torque, among other things.
The back seats are still just a place to stash your briefcase, backpack, or maybe your helmet, but that's fine. They can still be folded up, and a hatch to the trunk allows the BRZ to carry a second set of tires and wheels, a bicycle with the front wheel removed, or two sets of golf clubs.
The infotainment touchscreen no longer looks like an aftermarket piece. The screen is enlarged from 6.5 / 7 inches (depending on the equipment) to 8 inches and is easy to operate with several hard buttons and rotary controls for volume and voting. It's basically what you get in the other Subaru cars, which is fine. You'll need to use your phone for navigation, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both included. Speaking of smartphones: In the stick-shift car there is actually nowhere else than in the compartment of the center armrest where the two cup holders and the USB ports are located. The automatic version has an open cup holder directly in front of it.
Prices range from $ 28,955 to $ 33,255 (including the $ 960 target fee). In addition to the upgraded wheels / tires, upholstery, and driver assistance features, paying $ 2,500 for the Limited gives you steering responsive headlights, heated seats, and Starlink telematics.
Subaru has resorted to the same formula with the new BRZ, and while the naysayers will focus on what it isn't - turbocharged, all-wheel drive, a true four-seater - there's no shortage of bigger, more powerful, and more expensive performance cars. What is few and far between around 70 years after their first appearance are small, light, lively sports cars. With the BRZ, Subaru has fixed its biggest shortcomings, which makes this example of a disappearing race all the more desirable. Grab one while you still can.
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