2014 Subaru BRZ Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 18, 2014

The 2014 Subaru BRZ can be every bit as thrilling as more powerful, more expensive sports cars. Its light weight, direct steering and excellent suspension make it a blast to drive.

The Subaru BRZ is a two-door coupe designed for real car enthusiasts. In its second model year, and essentially unchanged from when it was launched, the BRZ is lean, light, and as balanced as a sports car should be--it's so good at gripping corners, it bears comparisons with cars costing twice as much. The focus on driving dynamics all comes with a pricetag that's in the mid-$20,000 range, which makes the Subaru sports car as affordable as a Miata, or as the nearly identical Scion FR-S.

A 180-degree turn away from the detached driving experience of a luxury coupe, the BRZ two-door is for drivers who want to be delighted by the act, not for those who treat it like a chore. It has more in common, in some ways, with the back-to-basics sports cars of the past--yet it's a modern machine with all of the safety and technology features you'd expect in a new car today. That includes the integration of Aha Radio in the standard navigation system for 2014.

Subaru's 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter horizontally opposed ('boxer' or 'flat') four-cylinder engine can squirt you eagerly from corner to corner provided you keep it revving high, though it'll never be confused for the big-displacement V-6 and V-8 engines you'll find in some other two-doors. The precise, short-throw six-speed manual is what we recommend, but those who want an automatic won't be let down by the six-speed auto, with its steering-wheel paddle shifters, sport mode, and downshift rev matching. But the reward of the light construction and small engine is great fuel economy—up to 34 mpg highway.

The BRZ is a popular choice for weekend track excursions, and for that there's not only a DSC Sport mode for the stability control but also a full-off mode. A Torsen limited-slip differential also helps give the rear wheels surer footing out of corners either on the track or on tight, curvy roads. Taller drivers will even be able to fit a race helmet on, and the rear seatback folds forward to fit extra wheels or gear.

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It's quite simply a hoot to drive, with its steering, handling, and low-slung, seat-of-the-pants driving feel a big part of it. Communicative, quick-ratio steering, combined with suspension settings that are taut but just compliant enough allow you to enjoy the tight corners, read the road surface with your hands, and get a sense of where the BRZ's dynamics are headed before the tires lose adhesion.

Unfortunately, the BRZ isn't all that comfortable or versatile beyond that. While the ride feels fine on the backroads or around town—and we like the rather upright driving position—it tends to get a bit busy and noisy on pockmarked freeways, and the front seats are a bit too firm and could use more adjustability. Trunk space is good enough for a carefully packed weekend trip, but the load opening is quite narrow. And those back seats you see? They're just a tease, and only good for a child seat...maybe.

The BRZ is already proving the worth of Subaru's lightweight ring body structure, which takes advantage of high-tensile-strength steel; it's earned a set of 'good' ratings from the IIHS, and the federal government has given it a five-star overall score.

Considering the engineering and focused performance capability you get with the BRZ, it's pretty impressive that this sports car starts at $26,265. But a look at the BRZ's feature set makes it all the more impressive. Most notably, a touch-screen navigation system comes standard, but we wish its fussy audio controls were a bit easier to access. Again considering the price, it's all quite forgivable, and we tend to think of this small Subaru as one of the performance bargains of the decade—and, perhaps, an instant classic.

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2014 Subaru BRZ

Styling

The BRZ's classic sports-car outline has a few, fine details; the cockpit's efficient.

The Subaru BRZ was an all-new model for last year, and a different approach for Subaru's otherwise wagon-heavy lineup. It's a 2+2 sports car with a few very modern design cues, but underneath those, it's a driver's car with minimalistic design. That's especially true inside, where its instrument panel follows a simplified cockpit with relatively basic materials, but special textures and details keep it interesting.

Inside, we like the 2014 BRZ's basic, down-to-business cockpit look, and how a few of the controls follow industrial inspiration—with the nut-and-bolt design of the climate-control knobs, for instance, or the textured material that looks like corrugated metal surrounding them. Some of the materials used could have been more exciting, though; in front of the passenger seat is a large, continuous slab of light-silvery-colored plastic (more of the soft grained material would have been better), which doesn't quite match the more metallic trim alongside the center stack.

It has classic sports-car proportions from its silhouette, and its flashy five-spoke wheels, flared fender lines, sculpted flanks, arched roof and long hood help complete the look. That hood looks especially low from the front–hinting at its low engine mounts and center of gravity–with its low grille only below the bumper and headlights, which are spread wide into the fenders. Those headlights may well be the only thing the BRZ has in common with other Subarus in the lineup. Some of those design cues are replicated with the taillamps, but the blacked out rear valance, dual exhaust and carved-out sheetmetal are unique to the BRZ. The only things that are a little harder to warm up to are the side fender vents just ahead of the doors; even from ten feet away, they look like a Pep Boys add-on, and badging (like what the nearly identical Scion FR-S gets) could have avoided that eyesore.

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2014 Subaru BRZ

Performance

One of the most engaging rides, the Subaru BRZ passes the horsepower buffet and doubles up on good-for-you handling.

The BRZ is a very light, straightforward sports car above all else, and it's a blast to drive, especially on curvier roads.

It's powered by a Subaru 'boxer' engine–a horizontally-opposed 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower–but it's fitted with direct-injection technology, rather than a turbocharger. It's a high-revving, relatively low-torque way to get around that doesn't necessarily inspire trips to the drag strip, but keeps the engine spinning fast enough to keep you shimmying briskly through the corners. Power builds quickly between 4,500-rpm to 6,500-rpm, and the exhaust has a tendency to delightfully bark in a way that seems more familiar to a tuned WRX.

“Pure handling delight” was the mantra during the BRZ's development, and its exceptionally low center of mass (one of the lowest of any mass production car) and 2,800-pound curb weight speak to that. Handling and body control are confidence-inspiring and extremely predictable. With low-mounted struts and coil springs in front, plus a front brace, and a double-wishbone (multi-link) setup essentially adapted from the STI, the BRZ is tuned to scrub speed off at the front wheels first and transfer its weight cautiously back to the tail when the driver pushes it. You can edge the tail out under power, but you have to make an effort to do that with revs and a heavy right foot. And quick-ratio steering gear manages to carry a lot of road feel through to the steering wheel.

Both of the transmissions in the BRZ do a good job in keeping it fun and keeping the revs up when needed, but it's the precise, short-throw six-speed manual that we recommend. Those who want an automatic won't be let down by the six-speed auto here either, as it includes a sport mode that sharpens shifts, delays them, offers steering-wheel paddle-shifters, and even gives you a rev-matched throttle blip when you manually downshift. Also, with the automatic and sport mode, manually select a gear and it holds it, even at full throttle—a detail that enthusiasts will appreciate.

The BRZ is going to be a popular choice for weekend track excursions, and for that there's not only a DSC Sport mode for the stability control but also a full-off mode. A Torsen limited-slip differential also helps give the rear wheels surer footing out of corners either on the track or on tight, curvy roads.

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2014 Subaru BRZ

Comfort & Quality

The rear seats are there for looks only: the BRZ doesn't have an excess of interior space.

Following suit with so many other focused sports cars on the market, the BRZ sacrifices some comfort in its quest for thrills. It's spacious enough for two passengers and their weekend bags, and comfortable enough to zip through the mountains or commute to work, though we can think of several ways to spend those commutes more comfortably.

The driving position is a little more upright than most other sports cars, but it's reasonably good, with firm, bolstered seats. Limited models get Alcantara seats with even more bolstering. While there is a back seat, it would take a contortionist to fit an adult back there, and it's not unreasonable to expect that many children may be uncomfortable in the rear as well.

Overall, if you're about average height or shorter, you might find the BRZ's seats to offer decent enough support for a longer trip. But taller drivers will find their legs splayed out, against the center stack, with the lower cushions feeling all too firm after a few hours. The seats are also missing the kind of middle-back support that's quite common even in inexpensive cars now, the short lower cushions could be more workable if they were more adjustable.

From the side or even the back, the BRZ looks like it could be a hatchback, with its long, sloping rear glass, but there's actually a small trunklid; it helps keep the body structure stiff, but results in a narrow load opening. That said, there's quite a bit of space back there—enough for a couple of laptop bags and a small suitcase. Subaru also says that with the rear seatbacks folded forward (and using the pass-through), you can load four race tires plus tools.

And in a nod to one common issue for taller drivers who weekend race, there's an abundance of headroom—enough for getting the helmet on, and being comfortable with it.

There’s really no such thing as feeling detached from the driving experience in the Subaru BRZ, and while that’s mostly a good thing, it turns into a burden at those times when you would rather shut off your inner racer for a few hours and set the cruise control. Unless you’re on a nearly perfect highway surface, the BRZ tends to bound up and down with highway patchwork, and although it tracks straight and you’re seldom pushed off course, the experience can be fatiguing.

Otherwise, 'simple is good' holds for most of the BRZ's interior and its controls and displays. We also found the orange-red displays and instrument needles to be very easy to read with polarized sunglasses. About the only ergonomic issue we had was with the mandatory touch-screen system for audio and navigation. For some audio functions it leaves you reaching for small 'buttons' on the touch-screen that can be much harder to find quickly than the real thing.

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2014 Subaru BRZ

Safety

A recent IIHS Top Safety Pick, the Subaru BRZ hasn't yet been rated by the NHTSA.

The 2014 Subaru BRZ hasn't yet been rated by either of the agencies that crash-test cars, so we can't qualify any remarks there.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the BRZ all 'good' ratings, although it hasn't yet been rated in the new small overlap frontal test. Separately, it's earned a five-star overall rating from the federal government, with four stars for frontal impact and five stars in side impact.

For a sports car, outward visibility is reasonably good in the BRZ—thanks to a reasonably low beltline and plenty of window space.

In addition to a multi-mode stability control system, four-channel ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, Brake Assist, and Brake Override are all included, and although the BRZ doesn't have all-wheel drive like the rest of the Subaru lineup, we'll wager that its responsible and predictable handling is bound to be an asset in accident avoidance.

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2014 Subaru BRZ

Features

Options are limited in the Subaru BRZ, but even the base car comes with a fair helping of infotainment.

There's a lot of engineering and performance ability baked into the BRZ, so it may come as a surprise that it starts at only $26,265. Looking at its list of features might impress you even more.

The 2014 BRZ can be had in either Premium or Limited trims, with either manual or automatic transmissions. All BRZs include an eight-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, a touch-screen navigation system, iPod controls and xenon headlights. There's also a rear defroster, trip computer, leather shifter and parking brake trim, power locks, mirrors and windows, and variable intermittent wipers.

We found the touch-screen system—which is only marginally better than most aftermarket systems—to be a bit frustrating at times as there are no steering-wheel buttons, and there's no way to select audio other than with tiny 'buttons' on the touch screen; but it does allow a split-screen view to see audio and the map/navigation view simultaneously.

The Limited models gain upgraded seat bolsters, heated seats and mirrors, a rear spoiler, dual-zone climate control, fog lamps, and a keyless start system—and altogether sticker at just under $30k, even with automatic. Options are limited to a few port- and dealer-installed accessories.

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2014 Subaru BRZ

Fuel Economy

The BRZ earns solid gas-mileage numbers, especially for the sportscar niche.

The Subaru BRZ is rated at up to 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, despite its high-strung sports car personality. That's due in part to its direct-injection fuel system, its tall high-gear overdrive, and its very light curb weight–coming in at only 2,800 pounds.

But even more impressive is that in a first drive of an automatic BRZ, including about 280 miles of varied conditions—none of it steady or sedate—we saw an average 30 mpg.

BRZ models with the automatic transmission are rated a bit higher (25 mpg city, 34 highway) than those with the six-speed manual (22/30)—in part perhaps because the manual is geared a bit lower.

One note for those interested in pinching pennies: The BRZ requires premium fuel.

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Styling 8
Performance 10
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 7
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