Subaru has given its BRZ sports coupe a mid-cycle refresh, with a smattering of cosmetic and mechanical updates to help keep its sole rear-drive offering feeling sharp. Engine power and torque are slightly up for manual-equipped models (automatics miss out), and there’s a looser stability control program to appeal to drifters and in-cabin updates.
That said, these are fairly minute changes that we are talking about. Dramatic alterations are nowhere to be found, so does the 2017 Subaru BRZ keep pace with its competitors, or does it fall behind?
- One thing we’re glad Subaru hasn’t messed with is the BRZ’s excellent chassis dynamics. Simply put, the BRZ is a joyful machine that ably demonstrates you don’t need a lot of under-bonnet muscle to have fun behind the wheel. With a neutral front-rear weight distribution, the BRZ rotates easily with excellent resistance to fun-sapping understeer
- Its delectable handling characteristics are enhanced by a new “Track” mode for its electronic stability program. Less sensitive than the default setting – which quickly cuts power the instant wheel slip is detected – the Track setting is more permissive of aggressive driving and allows the BRZ’s balance and poise to be properly enjoyed without removing the electronic safety net entirely.
- The cosmetic changes may be limited to new bumper plastics, wheels and lamps, but they help keep the now four-year-old BRZ looking modern. LED headlamps are new, tail lamps lensing is different, and new 17-inch alloy wheel designs are more flattering to the BRZ’s form than the outgoing model’s body bits.
- The 2017 BRZ’s suspension tune feels refined and grown-up. It’s on the firm end of the suspension spectrum, but it doesn’t crash into potholes or ride harshly. It delivers on the handling front, without compromising comfort to an unreasonable level.
- Extra power and torque is always good, and while we’re not sure we can really feel the full effect of the 2017 model’s extra 5kW and 7Nm (for a total of 152kW and 212Nm), the engine certainly retains its rev-happy and peppy nature. Wind it all the way to its 7200rpm redline and its top-end performance really sings.
- It sings quite literally too. A new inlet tract gives a rortier engine note than before, with a deep induction note at low RPM and a pleasing high-rpm buzz. For a naturally-aspirated flat four, it sounds pretty good.
- BRZ’s sharp steering promotes a strong bond between driver and car, communicating precisely what’s going on beneath the front wheels – and telling you just how much grip you’ve got left. It’s electrically-assisted – and that typically means a steering wheel devoid of feel – but Subaru has the BRZ’s tiller properly dialled in.
- Its 1200-odd kilo kerb weight means that though it doesn’t wear fancy sports tyres, the BRZ’s Michelin Primacy rubber (which is typically fitted to luxury sedans) isn’t heavily taxed and delivers good grip without feeling harsh or generating lots of road nose.
- The BRZ’s driving position is textbook sports car. The steering wheel points straight at your chest, the glasshouse wraps tightly around the front seats, every control is right at your finger tips and the low-slung, feet-out posture makes you feel at one with the car.
- Start it up from cold, and you’re greeted with a stiff gearshift that’s very reluctant to slot into second gear. It eases up once the engine is warm, though.
- There’s no standard-issue sat-nav for the BRZ, which, considering its $30k+ price point, stings a bit.
- Would you really notice the extra 5kW of power and 7Nm of torque? They’re very incremental increases for the BRZ’s 2.0-litre flat-four, and unless you drove them back-to-back we’d wager you’d hardly notice them. We’d happily forgo the extra kilowatts and newton metres in exchange for a smoother torque curve though…
- …as the BRZ’s engine suffers from a sizable drop-off puff in the middle of its rev range. It interrupts forward progress when gunning it from lower rpm, and spoils what is otherwise a very likeable powertrain.
- Interior changes are fairly minor, with the most noticeable one being a new instrument panel with full-colour multi-function display plus a new steering wheel. The rest of the furniture is carry-over, and the fake carbon-fibre trim is starting to look particularly dated.
- Rear seat accommodation is very tight. Don’t expect your backseaters to tolerate being cooped up back there for terribly long.
- The boot floor is ruined by the presence of a full-size spare, which protrudes through the floor right in the centre. It’ll irritate those who want to carry anything flattish and large – like luggage.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER
The Subaru BRZ’s brother-from-another-mother is the Toyota 86, and offers the same mechanical package but at differing specification levels and prices. If the BRZ doesn’t have the right balance of equipment and price for your needs, you can always hop over to a Toyota dealership.
Beyond that, the Mazda MX-5 offers rear-drive thrills for the budget-conscious – with the added bonus of a soft-top convertible bodystyle which sunseekers should find appealing. Budget $34,490 for the comparable 2.0-litre MX-5 manual.