It’s farewell to our long-term Subaru BRZ tS. It’s been a tough gig. Not only has it had to work extremely hard, it hasn’t even been the star of the show, as this was a long-term test with a difference.
For once we weren’t focusing on the car but what you could do with it. As cars get faster but opportunities for enthusiastic driving become ever more limited, the only place to enjoy any performance car is in a closed environment.
As such, we wanted to discover whether you could take a dead-stock production car and compete in a number of different club motorsport disciplines. The BRZ tS was chosen for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s affordable – a 911 GT3 will lap all day long but few have access to the $300,000-plus entry ticket. Secondly, it comes standard with a number of upgrades, including extra bracing, revised suspension, bigger brakes and stickier tyres, that made it all the more suitable for our intended use.
Our journey started with dirt motorkhana; motorsport at its most basic. No safety gear is required, just $25 for entry and a willingness to get dirty. To most folk, the idea of driving around a paddock in circles might be madness, but it’s a lot of fun.
Bang For Your Bucks 2018: BRZ tS on Winton
There are no consequences for making a mistake other than a time penalty, and the slippery surface and low-speed nature make it the perfect place to learn the basics of car control. If you want to take it seriously and shave tenths from each (often fiendishly tricky) course layout you can, or just enjoy throwing the car around without fear of breaking anything.
The next logical step from a dirt motorkhana is autocross. For this, some basic safety kit is needed, namely a helmet and a mounted fire extinguisher, and some of the rougher circuits may not be suitable for standard road cars.
But many will be and, while there are now consequences in the form of tyre walls and dirt banks, speeds are still quite low and if you really want to unleash your inner Ari Vatanen, simply pick a corner with plenty of run-off!
The best part about autocross is that it feels more like ‘real motorsport’ (which isn’t to denigrate motorkhana, but it’s a different art) yet component wear is virtually nil. Dirt doesn’t wear out tyres, you barely touch the brakes, and there’s very little stress on the driveline.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for our next test, the track day.
Phillip Island was the chosen venue; while we know the BRZ/86 are fantastic fun at slower tracks like Winton, would a fast circuit like PI expose its lack of grunt? Not at all, as it turns out. No, it wasn’t that quick, but demanded excellence from the driver to give its best and was happy to slide around even in third and fourth gears.
Unfortunately, during its post-track checkover, Subaru advised that the BRZ needed new brakes, a disappointing result given PI is not that hard on brakes, the car isn’t particularly quick or heavy, and the tS version comes with larger Brembos.
Subaru’s line is that customers wanting to drive on track should replace the brakes with aftermarket items; so what’s the point of the tS’s Brembos, then? We suspect there’s a degree of extreme caution in Subaru replacing the stoppers – and fair enough, it needs to present its car in the best possible condition to media – as there were no signs of distress felt through the brake pedal.
Nevertheless, it’s a lesson: if you’re going to hit the track regularly, it might be worth buying the base model and upgrading the brakes and tyres to suit your needs.
Our final chapter examined the motorsport arguably closest to the BRZ’s heart: drifting. For this, our long-suffering long-termer scored a brief respite, as we attended Drift Cadet’s Level 1 course on the Winton Raceway skidpan – though we snuck in a couple of cheeky laps for comparison’s sake.
The comparison was necessary, as Drift Cadet modifies its cars slightly. Not in terms of power like some might assume, but with steering rack spacers for extra lock, coilovers and, most importantly, mechanical two-way limited-slip diffs. The latter provided much more control when sliding than the standard car’s Torsen unit, though putting up with the chatter of a two-way every day would require patience.
To answer our original question: yes, you can take a standard performance car and compete in all manner of motorsport. You could do a combination of motorkhana, autocross and, say, hillclimb regularly without great drama or expense. Taking the next step into track days or drifting may require some small modifications, but whichever way you go, just get out there and do it.
A statement of a commitment with MOTOR long-term car reviews
2019 Subaru BRZ tS Pros & Cons
1 - Incredible fun.
2 - Improved skills.
3 - Can be affordable.
1 - Maintenance.
2 - Highly addictive.
3 - Post-event blues.