The guys at Car & Driver got the chance to drive the Subaru BRZ!! Here's their views on it with some pictures. They sure are lucky, wish I got to do this.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2-passenger, 2-door coupe
BASE PRICE (EST): $28,000
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve flat-4, aluminum block and heads, port and direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1995 cc
Power (EST): 210 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque (EST): 170 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
DIMENSIONS (C/D EST):
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Length: 168.0 in
Width: 71.0 in Height: 48.0 in
Curb weight: 2800–2900 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 6.0–6.2 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 15.5–15.7 sec
¼-mile: 14.7–14.9 sec
Top speed: 140 mph
PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 19/27 mpg
Yoshio Hirakawa, Subaru’s senior manager for engineering, looks at me expectantly. My upper lip wears beads of sweat after a mountain-road flog in a prototype of the new front-engine, rear-drive Subaru BRZ sports coupe, a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota with production slated to start next spring. I tell Hirakawa that I’m convinced. I tell him that this car could not have been engineered by Toyota. Nope. No way. He bows deeply.
Subaru called the secret meeting at a golf club in the hills behind Malibu. The internet is afire with rumors that Subaru is “getting a version” of Toyota’s new pseudo-Celica. Subaru sees the situation differently. The company maintains that it did the lion’s share of the engineering and development work on the car, and wounded corporate pride no doubt played a role in our invitation to drive it well in advance of its production.
We started the day in a windowless room papered with blueprints of a car code-named “AS1,” which will be sold in the U.S. as both the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S, to which we say, “WTF happened to real car names?” Subaru project leader Hirakawa and Toshio Masuda, senior project general manager for product planning, laid out their case: The road map agreed to in April 2008 was for Toyota—which owns 16.2 percent of Subaru’s parent, Fuji Heavy Industries—to do the project planning and styling for the new car, while Subaru would handle engineering, testing, and production. The post-earthquake schedule, pushed back a couple of weeks by the disaster, has the assembly line rolling in May 2012 at Subaru’s build center in Gunma Prefecture, Japan.
To reduce cost, Subaru and Toyota will share nearly identical versions. The common parts bin includes one circa-200-hp, port- and direct-injected flat-four engine; two Aisin six-speed transmissions, including a manual and a conventional automatic; one basic interior; and one set of body stampings and glass. Badges, wheels, and some small trim items will be different. Last year, Toyota decided to sell U.S.-bound cars as Scions, so technically there will be three iterations of the AS1, including those sold as Toyotas in foreign markets where Scion doesn’t exist.
But whose car is it really? Senior project general manager Masuda says that only Subaru personnel were in the engineering bullpens and at the test track during the car’s three-year gestation. How often did Toyota check in? “Meetings with Toyota were always necessity based” and not regular, Masuda says, meaning that Toyota did not drive the project from the back seat.
Masuda goes even further to assert that the engineering of the AS1 dictated its styling, rather than vice versa as with most sports cars. Toyota’s designers shaped the body but only after the hard points of the chassis, powertrain, and passenger compartment were fixed by Subaru
“We delivered the best chassis we could,” he says, “and then the styling of the car was basically [Toyota’s] role.”
We couldn’t see all the exterior details, thanks to heavy masking, but the shape seems fairly pragmatic. The hoodline isn’t terribly low considering there’s a flat-four underneath, and the roof arc and glass area seem generously shaped for passenger headroom and visibility rather than crumpet catching. If the AS1 proves to be less than voluptuous, at least it will be practical.
The cabin décor also lacks flamboyance, but it is nicely detailed with an emphasis on function. The pedals, wheel, and shifter are located in harmonic relationships to each other, with a large dead pedal accepting your idle left foot. Three large circles place a tach accented by silver sweeps in the center of the cluster, with a speedo to the left and fuel/water-temp gauges to the right, all backstopped by an intriguing blue fish-scale pattern. A big “start” button on the console lights the engine, while simple rotary knobs control the climate settings. It’s hardly installation art, but it isn’t overtly cheapskate, either.
To hold down cost, the AS1 will be welded from plebeian materials: steel, mainly, except for the aluminum hood. The Impreza-derived suspension consists of coil-over struts in front and a three-link rear suspension, also in steel and with cast-iron knuckles. The Subaru FB20 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer uses Toyota’s D4S dual port- and direct-injection technology.
Compared with an Impreza, the AS1’s motor sits 4.7 inches lower and 9.4 inches closer to the center of the car. This down-and-back location essentially precludes all-wheel drive from ever being offered—at least, not with Subaru’s existing transaxles. The two-piece prop shaft runs through a carrier bearing on its way to the differential, which wears a Toyota part number.
There are four seats and power windows but no sunroof. It’s a notchback, not a hatchback, with a trunk that opens to modest cargo space—we’d guess about 8 to 10 cubic feet—with a space-saver spare underneath.
On paper, the AS1 is a relatively straightforward engineering set piece that belies the tough bogeys Subaru set for itself. The target curb weight was 2800 pounds, distributed with a slight bias toward the front axle. Even so, the handling benchmark was the mid-engine Porsche Cayman (which has a 45/55 weight split), and Masuda says the AS1’s center of gravity is 17.7 inches high, one inch lower than a Cayman’s.
The price target was the toughest of them all, says Masuda. The base sticker is expected to land at about $28,000. At that price, the engineering team had to resist the allure of weight-saving materials and turbos. “The goal was to keep it basic and make it a real handling car,” says Masuda. “Horsepower was not our focus. If you want horsepower, we have the STI.”
Masuda acknowledges that the platform will accept more power, but based on our sampling, it doesn’t need it. The BRZ prototype we drove embodies what Masuda and Hirakawa say they were aiming for: a rigid, shake-free platform that translates your driving impulses into instant kinetic action. The prototype felt spry and light-footed, beelining into bends with fingertip control through direct and reactive steering. That is, after deep-biting and progressive brakes have scrubbed excess speed. Both ends of the AS1 stayed stuck in high corner speeds, and when grip eventually overheated into slip, the car oozed gently between states.
The BRZ feels more like a joint venture between Subaru and Lotus than a collaboration with Camrys-By-The-Billions, Ltd.
The FB20 flat-four is said to make “200-plus” horsepower, so figure about 210 to 220 with a power peak that feels like it’s at 6500 rpm. The acceleration rush deflates during the extra thousand revs to the indicated 7500-rpm redline. No doubt because of the direct injection, the flat-four revs far more lustily than any non-turbo Subaru, but the sound—basically that of an Evinrude outboard chasing smallmouth bass—is typical for a Subaru flattie.
The six-speed automatic will have three modes: auto, manual, and “temporary manual,” which accepts driver downshifts through the paddles, then returns to auto. Subaru says it’s still fine-tuning the calibrations, but in the prototype we drove, an automatic, there was nothing to complain about in its seamless and well-timed gearchanges.
At this point, the BRZ appears to be the car we’ve been waiting for—the inexpensive, rear-drive sprite the industry has somehow managed to avoid making for generations. It’s the spiritual descendent of the old-school Z, BMW’s 2002, the rear-drive *Celica, and all the other lesser saints of bygone days. How was it that this car hid in Subaru, waiting to be chiseled from inert marble like Michelangelo’s David? Toyota certainly deserves some credit, and probably for more than just being the wealthy patron whose deep pockets helped make it happen.
If Toyota has its own side to this story, let it be heard. It’s got our attention now