2016 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 Senior Editor
June 29, 2016

The Subaru BRZ is just as much fun as high-priced sports cars in many cases, at a small fraction of the price; and it's reasonably practical.

The 2016 Subaru BRZ is a true sports car—engineered for its layout and its driving experience more than comfort and utility, and aiming to be charming to the driver interested in the fundamentals, like a near-perfect weight distribution, nimble handling, and a high-revving engine. Next to the Mazda MX-5 Miata and this model's near clone, the Scion FR-S, there's nothing quite like it for the money.

The BRZ is simply a hoot to drive, as its steering, handling, and low-slung, seat-of-the-pants driving feel are all perfectly coordinated. 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 of driving, not for those who treat it like a chore.

The quick-ratio steering is communicative, and with a taut-yet-compliant suspension tune, you can read the road surface and get a sense with your hands and the seat of your pants where the BRZ's center of mass is headed while there's still plenty of time to adjust.

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Because of that, 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 it'll completely shut off. 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.

Subaru's 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4-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 6-speed manual is what we recommend, but those who want an automatic won't be let down by the 6-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.

Unfortunately, the BRZ isn't all that comfortable or versatile beyond that. While the ride feels fine on the back roads 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 mostly "Good" ratings from the IIHS, and the federal government has given it a five-star overall score.

The feature set is quite generous, and base versions only cost around $27,000. We tend to think of this small Subaru as one of the performance bargains of the decade—and, perhaps, an instant classic.

Two things stand out as different for the BRZ lineup for 2016. The touchscreen audio and infotainment systems in the BRZ used to be among the worst on the market, but they've been dramatically upgraded for 2016, with a 6.2-inch touchscreen incorporating HD Radio, satellite radio, a CD player, Bluetooth audio streaming, iTunes tagging, a USB port, and an aux-in port. It's also compatible with smartphone apps for Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher, among others. And a rearview camera system has been made standard with the system.

This year there's also a BRZ Series.HyperBlue special edition—in a lot of just 500 cars—that features Alcantara and leather trim in the cabin, along with blue stitching as well as blue accents on the dash. The car also comes with 17-inch BBS alloys and faux carbon fiber dash accents.

Subaru BRZ models with the automatic transmission earn better EPA ratings—25 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 combined—than those with the 6-speed manual, at 22/30/25 mpg—in part perhaps because the manual is geared somewhat lower.

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2016 Subaru BRZ

Styling

The 2016 Subaru BRZ keeps to a simple, classic sports-car profile, complemented by a spare, space-efficient interior.

The Subaru BRZ is now in its fourth year, and it fits no more readily in with Subaru's current lineup, from a design standpoint, than it did when it was first launched. It's a bit of an outsider from what's otherwise a lineup built on wagons and crossovers—so the minimalist aesthetic and 2+2 sports-car configuration definitely break out.

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.

Headlights may well be the only thing the BRZ has in common with other Subaru models. Some of those design cues are replicated with the taillights, but the blacked-out rear valance, dual exhaust, and carved-out sheet metal are unique to the BRZ. The side fender vents just ahead of the doors are a little hard to warm up to, though; they look like a Pep Boys add-on, and badging (like what the nearly identical Scion FR-S gets) could have avoided that eyesore.

Within the cabin, sporty bucket seats and a mostly-spartan dash keep the driver focused on the business of driving above all else. We like the basic, down-to-business cockpit look, and how a few of the controls follow industrial inspiration—with the nuts-and-bolts design of the climate-control knobs, for instance, or the textured material that looks like corrugated metal surrounding them.

Some of the materials and trims used inside could be a little more exciting. For instance, in front of the passenger seat is a large, continuous slab of light-silvery-colored plastic. The existing trims up at the dash don't entirely match the metallic material at the center stack, and we think more soft-grained material would have been better; this remains a model that has plenty of hard, plasticky touch points.

This year there's also a BRZ Series.HyperBlue special edition—in a lot of just 500 cars—that features Alcantara and leather trim in the cabin, along with blue stitching as well as blue accents on the dash. The car also comes with 17-inch BBS alloys and faux carbon fiber dash accents.

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2016 Subaru BRZ

Performance

Don't let the modest horsepower keep this one out of the running; the Subaru BRZ is one of the best-handling sports cars on the market.

The 2016 Subaru BRZ is a true sports car, with both the driving dynamics to delight serious enthusiasts and a light, communicative interface that nearly everyone will find intuitive.

With the focus on fun behind the wheel, the kind of fun you have in the BRZ is on two-lane twisty back roads. Its exceptionally low center of mass (one of the lowest of any mass production car) and 2,800-pound curb weight both 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 it's a very deliberate thing—you have to go for it with revs, a heavy right foot, and the right knack to turn in sharply. Yet the quick-ratio steering gear manages to transmit a lot of road feel through to the steering wheel.

Furthermore, 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.

What's under the hood of the BRZ is by no means groundbreaking. It's powered by a Subaru "boxer" engine–a horizontally-opposed 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 200 horsepower; it's fitted with direct-injection technology, just like the latest WRX engine, although it lacks that model's turbocharger.

It's a high-revving, relatively low-torque way to get around that doesn't necessarily inspire trips to the drag strip, but if you keep the engine in its upper ranges you'll be shimmying briskly through the corners. Power builds quickly between 4,500 to 6,500 rpm, and the exhaust has a tendency to bark delightfully in a way that seems more familiar to a tuned WRX.

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 6-speed manual that we recommend. Those who want an automatic won't be let down by the 6-speed auto here, 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 quite the tool for weekend track excursions; there's not only a DSC Sport mode for the stability control but also a full-off mode.

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2016 Subaru BRZ

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 BRZ has reasonably supportive front seats, but those back seats are pretty much pretend.

There’s really no such thing as feeling detached from the driving experience in the 2016 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.

Those are a few of the various compromises in comfort to achieve the BRZ's sublime driving dynamics. On the plus side, the seats have enough side support for winding 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.

The driving position of the BRZ 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. Taller drivers will find their legs splayed out, against the center stack, with the lower cushions feeling all too firm after a few hours. But perhaps in a nod to one common issue for taller drivers who weekend race, there's an abundance of head room—enough for getting the helmet on, and being comfortable with it.

Specifically, though, the seats are also missing the kind of middle-back support that's quite common even in inexpensive cars now, and the short lower cushions could be more workable if they were more widely adjustable.

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.

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 touchscreen system for audio and navigation. For some audio functions it leaves you reaching for small "buttons" on the touchscreen that can be much harder to find quickly than the real thing.

Although you might have been led by the rakish profile and long, sloping glass to believe that the BRZ is a hatchback, it's not. 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 seat backs folded forward (and using the pass-through), you can load four race tires plus tools.

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2016 Subaru BRZ

Safety

The BRZ manages to keep up with Subaru's top-notch reputation for occupant protection today.

The 2016 Subaru BRZ earns some very good crash-test ratings, and it manages to fit right in with the high occupant-safety standards upheld for the rest of the Subaru lineup. Although it lacks some of the active-safety items that are fast becoming widely available on the rest of the automaker's lineup.

That includes a five-star rating overall from the NHTSA, plus top marks of "Good" from the IIHS as well as "Acceptable" in the new small-overlap frontal-impact test. 

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.

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

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2016 Subaru BRZ

Features

We're calling the 2016 Subaru BRZ much better-equipped this year, now that its infotainment systems have been rehabbed.

The 2016 Subaru BRZ is a marvel of lean performance and track-tuned 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, and the car adds up to quite the bang for the buck. 

The touchscreen audio and infotainment systems in the BRZ used to be among the worst on the market; but they've been dramatically upgraded for 2016, with a 6.2-inch touchscreen incorporating HD Radio, satellite radio, a CD player, Bluetooth audio streaming, iTunes tagging, a USB port, and an aux-in port. It's also compatible with smartphone apps for Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher, among others. And a rearview camera has been made standard with the system.

There are essentially still two trims offered on the 2016 Subaru BRZ, as well as the choice of either a manual or automatic transmission. Every BRZ comes with 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 ignition—and altogether sticker at just under $30,000, even with automatic. Options are limited to a few port- and dealer-installed accessories.

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2016 Subaru BRZ

Fuel Economy

The BRZ gets reasonably good mileage—better than the all-wheel-drive WRX from what we've seen.

Subaru BRZ models with the automatic transmission earn better EPA ratings—25 mpg city, 34 highway, 28 combined—than those with the 6-speed manual, at 22/30/25 mpg—in part perhaps because the manual is geared somewhat lower.

That makes it one of the most fuel-efficient sports-car models for sale today—and although it ranks very well in real-world fuel efficiency, shoppers should keep in mind that it does require premium fuel, even when you're just out on the commute rather than at track time.

The good ratings are due in part to several factors: its direct-injection fuel system, its tall high-gear overdrive, and its very light curb weight—coming in at only 2,800 pounds.

We've done very well in real-world driving—better than we have in the turbocharged WRX sedan, for sure.

For instance, in an automatic BRZ, including about 280 miles of varied conditions—none of it steady or sedate—we saw an average of 30 miles per gallon.

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April 28, 2016
2016 Subaru BRZ 2-Door Coupe Manual Limited

Purchased 2016 BRZ earlier today

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I've had this BRZ for only a few hours. It drives as described in many reviews. A very tight ride, low to the ground, with sufficient but not overwhelming power. If this is what you want then I'm confident you... + More »
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Styling 8
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