2015 Subaru BRZ Review

Consumer Reviews
2 Reviews
2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 28, 2015

The 2015 Subaru BRZ has the same excellent steering and handling that you can find in significantly more expensive sports cars, making it just as much fun in many cases.

The 2015 Subaru BRZ is a sporty, fun-to-drive coupe that relies on the raw fundamentals of the enthusiast diet: light weight, nimble handling, and four-cylinder charm. Though largely unchanged during its three years on the road, the BRZ’s affordable price tag and Miata-rivaling handling keep it young and attractive.

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.

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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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.

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.

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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2015 Subaru BRZ

Styling

The Subaru BRZ is good looking: its efficient cockpit is wrapped in a spare, essential outline.

Now in its third year of production, the 2015 Subaru BRZ stands out as the misfit–or pretty one–in the brand's otherwise crossover and wagon-heavy lineup. It's a minimalist's car with modern design cues and a 2+2 sports car seating configuration. That's especially noticeable inside, where bucket seats and a mostly-spartan dash keep the driver focused on the business of driving above all else.

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.

Inside, we like the 2015 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, since the existing trim doesn't quite match the more metallic material alongside the center stack.

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2015 Subaru BRZ

Performance

A double helping of handling helps the Subaru BRZ make the most of its lean horsepower offering.

Thanks to its lightweight design and exceptional handling, the BRZ is a straightforward sports car with a focus on fun behind the 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.

“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.

The BRZ is 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 bark delightfully in a way that seems more familiar to a tuned WRX.

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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2015 Subaru BRZ

Comfort & Quality

The front seats are fine, but the Subaru BRZ's back seat is there strictly for appearances.

The Subaru BRZ makes a few compromises in comfort in its hunt for sublime driving dynamics. It's plenty supportive if you're looking to wind through the mountains, and two people fit comfortably for weekend getaways, too, but we can think of more than just a few cars that might be more comfortable for long commutes.

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.

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.

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2015 Subaru BRZ

Safety

The Subaru BRZ does well in crash tests, even the IIHS' toughest new test.

The 2015 Subaru BRZ scores good marks of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as top marks of "good" from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) as well as "acceptable" in the new small-overlap frontal-impact test. 

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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2015 Subaru BRZ

Features

Essentially fully equipped in base form, there's nowhere to go on the Subaru BRZ's options list, in terms of luxury.

Considering the amount of performance and engineering that has gone into the BRZ, you might be surprised that it's as affordable as it is. There's a long list of a standard features, too, giving the car a little bang for its buck.

There are two trims available on the 2015 Subaru BRZ, as well as the choice of either a manual or automatic transmission. Every BRZ comes with iPod controls, touch-screen navigation, xenon headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system. They also include power windows, mirrors and locks, a trip computer, rear defroster, and leather-trimmed parking brake and shift knob.

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.

We found the touch-screen system to be only marginally better than most aftermarket systems. it's 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. It does allow a split-screen view to see audio and the map/navigation view simultaneously.

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2015 Subaru BRZ

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage in the Subaru BRZ is okay, so long as you don't factor in its potential occupant load.

The Subaru BRZ ranks well amongst sports cars in terms of fuel efficiency, but shoppers should pay attention to the fact that the car requires premium fuel.

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 mpg)—in part perhaps because the manual is geared a bit lower.

Those ratings are fairly good, 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.

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May 21, 2015
For 2015 Subaru BRZ

At last, A lightweight,balanced sports car

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A great basic sports car but including many of the modern amenities. (A/C,cruise control, power windows and satellite radio) A great handling sports car because of its even F/R balance, Its low C.G., high... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2015 Subaru BRZ

A fun, very special car that is a joy to drive with superb handling that makes you want to never get out of it.

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I've heard so many good things about Subaru cars over the years that I've longed to own one. Since I've always been a sports car lover, when I heard that Subaru finally had a sports car, that made up my mind... + More »
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Styling 8
Performance 10
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 9
Features 7
Fuel Economy 7
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