By: Mark Vaughn
What is it?
The Subaru BRZ represents nothing less than the return of inexpensive, fun, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports cars. Sure, there have always been fun, front-engined, rear-drive sports cars, but they weren't cheap. Now, for an anticipated sticker price of less than $25,000, you can get a 200-hp flat four stuffed low and back on the front end of a smooth coupe body. You can have a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, too, the latter with paddle-shifted manual mode. And you get a Torsen limited-slip rear differential that keeps both back tires spinning as long as you want them to spin.
Subaru engineers got those 200 horses out of two naturally aspirated liters using a variety of methods, but the coolest is the presence of two separate fuel-injection systems. There's a more or less conventional port fuel injection that spritzes fuel into the intake, and then there's a high-pressure direct-injection system that atomizes premium gasoline directly into the combustion chamber. The result is a nice, progressive power curve up to the 200-hp peak at 7,000 rpm (fuel cutoff is at 7,400 rpm) and a mesa-like torque plateau that hits 150 lb-ft at about 3,000 rpm and then again from 5,000 rpm to 7,000 rpm.
The Subaru BRZ is a defensible purchase, too, since it seats four and even has a trunk ("See, Baby, it's practical! Ahm only thinkin' of you!"). The rear seats technically hold an adult but would be better for kids--a rear-facing child seat fits back there, too. It's not as practical as a sedan but it's still functional for four. Rather than say the trunk can hold two golf bags, which it can, Subaru prefers to point out that you can carry a complete set of wheels and tires for track days.
What is it like to drive?
If driven wimpily, you will say the 2013 BRZ understeers, which is true. But if tossed gleefully into corners like you really mean it, you will find that the BRZ first understeers and then oversteers, depending on how sensitive you are to the car's balance. Our first laps around Subaru's Tochigi handling course and giant skidpad were done a little too gingerly, since it was still a little damp and there is just about no runoff on the road course. There's where we felt the understeer. Subsequent laps, driven with greater throttle input, demonstrated a delightful balance that allowed us to hang the tail out by lifting off to bring the back end over then getting back on it to keep it hanging out there. The transition was as easy and progressive as we wanted to make it.
This is a car waiting to be drifted. After only a short time behind the wheel, we were able to drift easily around corners, and on the very safe runoff-galore skidpad we hung it way out all the way around the 300-foot blacktop circle. Slide the BRZ too far and it will spin, which we did, but just push the clutch in and spin back on track and drive some more. Unless you're in the automatic, in which case a spin is embarrassing as you try and find the start-engine button on the dash before the flag-waving track worker wakes up.
Weight distribution is 53 percent front/47 percent rear, more or less, which might explain the initial understeer. Ultimately we might prefer not to have that initial understeer. But you won't be able to blame your clunky driving on this car. The Subaru BRZ will be a track-day favorite for club racers across the country, an easily justifiable expense since you can drive it to work the rest of the week.
Do I want it?
Yes, you want it--how could you even ask a question like that? This thing is only going to cost $25,000 and it's really fun. Plus the Subaru BRZ is a practical daily driver that won't beat you up but neither will it let you down if you find a nice twisty road to drive on. What else is out there for this price that's fun, besides the nearly identical Scion version of the same car, called the FR-S? Other competitors that might fit onto some semilogical list include the Mini Cooper, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Honda Civic Si and the Hyundai Genesis coupe. The base Genesis coupe starts at about the same price and sort of matches the drivetrain configuration, but the others are either front-wheel drive or less practical. And there are muscle cars out there, too. So many choices. Suffice to say it is a great time for fun cars.
2013 Subaru BRZ
On Sale: May
Base Price: Less than $25,000
Powertrain: 200-hp, 150-lb-ft flat four; RWD, six-speed manual
Curb Weight: 2,770 lb (U.S.-spec est)
0-60 MPH: Less than 7 sec (mfr est)
Fuel Economy: 30 mpg hwy (mfr est)