2019 Subaru BRZ Range Review

The BRZ is an affordable rear-wheel-drive sports coupe from Subaru, with stylish looks and superb steering and handling. It was developed with Toyota, which sells it as the 86.

Subaru BRZ 2017 Drive MAIN 1 Jpg
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Superb steering
  •   Terrific value
Not so much
  •   Engine doesn’t feel sporty, token rear seating

What stands out?

The Subaru BRZ is an affordable rear-wheel-drive sports coupe, with stylish looks and superb steering and handling. Subaru developed the BRZ with Toyota, which sells a very similar car as the 86.

What might bug me?

How bumpy roads have got since you bought your BRZ. Its ride is sports-car firm, and if you are used to a more utilitarian hatchback or sedan you will notice that.

That the floor of the small boot is not flat – a shallow spare wheel compartment means the standard full-sized spare wheel protrudes uncovered into the boot space.

(That said, having a full-sized spare will be very handy if you get a flat tyre on a country trip. Many other sporty cars carry only a space-saver spare, which typically are speed and distance restricted, or in some cases merely a tyre repair kit.)

Paying more for fuel: The BRZ requires expensive premium 98 petrol.

What body styles are there?

Two-door coupe. (It’s a two-plus-two, which means there are two very cramped rear seats.)

The Subaru BRZ drives its rear wheels, and it is classed as a sports car, lower priced.

What features does every Subaru BRZ have?

Cruise control, and keyless entry and start (which allows you to unlock and start the car with your key kept safely in a pocket or bag). Dual-zone climate control, which lets you set different temperatures for each side of the cabin, and cloth seat trim.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone pairing, AM/FM radio and CD sound system with USB and auxiliary inputs, Bluetooth audio streaming and phone calls with voice control, and six speakers, controllable from a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen.

Satellite navigation and a reversing camera.

An information display that presents data such as average fuel consumption, and two trip meters.

Height and reach adjustment for the leather-clad steering wheel, which carries buttons for operating the sound system, the information display and your phone (via Bluetooth). Height adjustment for the driver’s seat.

Bright and extremely long-lived LED headlights which are self-levelling and switch on automatically when it’s dark, and LED daytime running lights (which make the car more visible).

Seventeen-inch wheels made from an alloy of aluminium, and a full-sized spare wheel and tyre.

A limited-slip differential, which inhibits wheelspin, improving handling and acceleration on low-grip road surfaces (and enhancing control when you’re drifting the car – on a racetrack, for example).

Hill-start assist. This helps you take off on uphill slopes, by controlling the brakes automatically.

Electronic stability control, which can help you avoid or control a slide. From November 2016, the BRZ’s stability control has offered an effective and subtle Track mode, which lets very good drivers enjoy some oversteer while retaining a safety net.

Seven airbags. (For the placement of airbags, and more on BRZ safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)

Seven exterior colours are available, and they all come without extra cost.

Every Subaru BRZ carries a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The BRZ is powered by 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed petrol four-cylinder engine, with a choice of six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions.

On the official test, auto BRZs use a lot less fuel than the manuals, consuming 7.1 litres/100km (city and country combined).

The main reason you would not choose a BRZ auto is that you want to control this very engaging car as precisely as possible, taking absolute command of gear selection with a manual shift.

Manual BRZs use 8.4 litres/100km on the official test. In practice they don’t use much more, however.

A BRZ manual averaged 9.0 litres/100km in a real-world comparison conducted for the May 2017 issue of Wheels magazine. (An accompanying Mazda MX-5 RF used 7.9 litres/100km.)

One reason the manual BRZ uses more fuel than the auto is that it has more closely spaced gear ratios and shorter overall gearing – giving you easier access to the engine’s best power, but spinning it a bit harder.

The BRZ’s engine differs from most four-cylinder engines in that it lies flat across the engine bay rather than standing up vertically. This places the weight of the engine lower in the car, which is one reason why it steers so responsively. The design also helps the engine run very smoothly. (Porsche four-cylinders use a similar layout.)

Auto and manual BRZs each have six ratios.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The BRZ is offered in three trim levels, with either a manual gearbox or (at extra cost) an auto. You can enhance either with options.

The standard BRZ Coupe comes with the features that all BRZs have. For around $1600 you can upgrade to the BRZ Premium which swaps the cloth seat trim for part-leather and part Alcantara and adds seat heaters.
In December 2017, Subaru added a tS model featuring a host of extras that were previously only available as optional extras.

These include enhanced suspension and high-performance Brembo brakes with red painted calipers.

Black finish 18-inch alloy wheels, revised front bumper and black rear spoiler, side mirrors and shark fin antenna.

The tS also features interior enhancements include red highlights and tS logo added to the Alcantara seat trim, black steering wheel with red accents and red seat belts.

Optional equipment for all models includes front and rear parking sensors – which indicate your distance from near objects – are available as accessories.

You can also make the standard and Premium BRZ look and feel more like a race car, by adding Accessory packs. A Styling Pack adds skirts to the base of the body and a spoiler to the boot lid; a Driver’s Pack lowers and stiffens the car for more stability in track use; and an S Pack gets you black Enkei branded wheels and a red engine-start button.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

Fitting anything that lowers the car will mean you need to take more care on steep driveways and the like, to avoid scratching base of the body.

Paying more for an auto BRZ gets you a bit less peak power, and more sedate acceleration from the taller gearing.

How comfortable is the BRZ?

In keeping with its positioning as a sporty car, the Subaru BRZ has quite firm suspension – notably, it rides much more firmly than the small rear-drive sports car from Mazda, the MX-5.

Inside the car you may feel shaken around a bit over lumpy surfaces, but overall comfort is good – bumps are cushioned in part by great seats.

Getting into the BRZ is not quite as easy as it would be for a similar sized non-sporty car, because the seating position is a bit lower.

The front seats offer excellent side-support for cornering, and the major and minor controls are well sited. The steering column adjusts for tilt and reach, and the driver’s seat for height, which lets you get the driving position just right.

“Like the Porsche, the BRZ’s work station is textbook brilliance, with perfectly aligned pedals, and the best steering wheel and driver’s seat here,” senior reviewer Nathan Ponchard told readers of Wheels, reporting on a BRZ road trip with a Porsche Cayman S and Mazda MX-5.

The BRZ’s interior is well built, if not especially luxurious. Some of the plastics are hard, but the quality of the seat trim is good and the steering wheel and gear lever are nicely designed and finished. The instruments and centre touchscreen are attractively presented. Mobile device connectivity was enhanced with the upgrade of November 2016. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were added a year later.

The Subaru BRZ is reasonably quiet inside, with low levels of noise and vibration from the suspension and engine. It shares its 17-inch wheel size with the Toyota 86 GTS, which makes it slightly less comfortable than the smaller-wheeled 86 GT – but there’s not much in it.

Because of the low seating position, forward vision isn’t as commanding as it is in a small car. As well, vision over the driver’s shoulders and to the rear is restricted due to the small side-rear and rear windows. That makes it more difficult to park than many cars of a similar size. The reversing camera helps here.

What about safety in a Subaru BRZ?

The Subaru BRZ has anti-lock brakes, a sophisticated stability control system, seven airbags, auto-on LED headlamps, daytime running lamps, and a reversing camera. Its safety package emphasises your control of the car, your visibility to other drivers, and your protection in a crash.

Two airbags are placed directly in front of the driver and front passenger; airbags alongside each front occupant protect at pelvis and chest level from side impacts; curtain airbags on each side protect front and rear occupants at head level from side impacts; and a seventh airbag protects the driver’s knees.

You don’t see as far ahead in the BRZ as you would in a normal passenger car, and vision to the rear is restricted, both of which present a small impediment to both occupant and pedestrian safety.

The reversing camera made standard in November 2016 improves safety for bystanders, however, while also making it easier to park the car.

The BRZ does not offer autonomous emergency braking, or other sensory active safety aids.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Subaru BRZ its maximum five stars for safety, in July 2012.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

Whether you’re a serious car enthusiast, or are simply attracted to the stylish look and appealing price of the Subaru BRZ, you will enjoy driving it very much.

The sense of precision and agility the steering imparts, and the level of feedback it gives the driver, is the greatest strength in the BRZ. Anyone can enjoy this, whether they’re driving to the shops or on a twisting country road.

The BRZ feels about as good to steer as sports coupes that are far more expensive (even the Porsche Cayman).

The rear-wheel drive BRZ handles corners brilliantly. It turns in enthusiastically and responds to small changes in accelerator and brake pedal inputs, which makes for an involving driving experience. This kind of responsiveness is rare in a modern car.

Skilled drivers will love how controllably you can slide the rear tyres of the BRZ, which is great fun (on a racing circuit, of course).

The high level of handling ability in the BRZ may make it feel a bit underpowered for particularly keen drivers, even though the 2.0-litre engine, which produces about 150kW, is quite powerful for the weight of the car. The mildly revised flat-four in BRZ manuals feels much the same as the previous engine, which endures in BRZ autos. It is at its most responsive at high engine speeds, where it also sounds much sportier. The noise it makes at low speeds isn’t inspiring.

Many enthusiasts will prefer the manual transmission in this car. But for buyers inclined to choose an automatic, the auto in the BRZ is a good one. And you can control it from paddles on the steering wheel.

How is life in the rear seats?

Head and leg room are very limited for rear passengers in a BRZ. The back seat is intended only for short trips, or small children.

Nonetheless, many other sports cars – for example, the Mazda MX-5 and Nissan 370Z – do not have a back seat at all.

Child-seat anchor points are fitted to the BRZ, and Subaru offers a compatible child seat as an accessory.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Subaru BRZ has a small boot with quite a small opening. Subaru quotes luggage capacity as 218 litres. That is nearly as much as a light hatchback, but without its ease of loading or ability to expand the cargo area into a van-like space by folding the rear seat flat.

The BRZ’s rear seatback folds in one piece, rather than the split/fold arrangement of most cars. With the seatback folded, you can fit four spare wheels with tyres in the back. That could be handy for the kind of BRZ buyer who might take their car to the racing circuit on the weekend.

Where does Subaru make the BRZ?

The Subaru BRZ is manufactured in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Perhaps a folding roof, so that you can enjoy top-down motoring in your sports car. The Mazda MX-5 offers this, for example – in both soft-top and hard-top versions. The MX-5 shares the BRZ’s rear-wheel-drive layout, and offers a similar level of driver involvement.

Perhaps some extra mid-range grunt from a turbocharged engine, which is available in the Fiat Abarth 124 Spider. The Spider, a soft-top convertible, is based on the MX-5. It is built at the same factory by Mazda, but uses a Fiat-supplied 1.4 turbo four-cylinder.

Rear-facing sensory safety aids, which help you keep track of other vehicles behind. A blind-spot monitor and a rear cross-traffic alert are available on the Mazda MX-5 and the 124 Spider.

You might also consider a sporty front-drive coupe, such as the Hyundai Veloster.

Are there plans to update the BRZ soon?

The Subaru BRZ went on sale in 2012 and was updated in 2014. A more significant mid-life restyle arrived in November 2016, which brought a little more power to manual versions, revised suspension tuning, LED headlights, and a better touchscreen and device connectivity.

In December 2017 Subaru introduced a new tS model to the top of the range, with a host of extras including enhanced suspension and brakes and sportier exterior and interior trim.
It also increased the size of the infotainment screen in all three models to 7.0-inches and added satellite navigation as standard along with Apple CarPlay and Androind Auto connectivity.

A second-generation BRZ is believed to be under development, and might arrive about 2020.

I like this car, but I can’t choose which version. Can you help?

The standard BRZ provides all the driving pleasure and equipment you need. For a car enthusiast, a manual gearbox version is the pick over the automatic.
Score breakdown
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Things we like
  •   Superb steering
  •   Terrific value
Not so much
  •   Engine doesn’t feel sporty, token rear seating


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