- Classic sports-car look
- Lean, balanced driving feel
- Standard nav system and rear camera
- Excellent fuel economy
- Charismatic, rev-happy engine
- Hard seats
- Busy, noisy ride
- Narrow cargo opening and small trunk
The 2017 Subaru BRZ is a great-handling sports car with big value for the dollar; it's just not very fast.
The Subaru BRZ is a true sports car. New for the 2013 model year, and paired with an identical model sold initially as the Scion FR-S (and now as the Toyota 86), the BRZ is engineered for its layout and its driving experience more than comfort and utility.
The goal is to charm drivers looking for track-day fundamentals like near-perfect weight distribution, nimble handling, and a high-revving engine. Next to the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the 86, there's nothing quite like it for the money.
It notches a 6.5 on our overall scale thanks to its fun-to-drive attitude and compelling shape. It's not hugely practical nor is it very fuel efficient—is a sports car ever either?—but it has ground to make up in safety. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
A classic 2-door shape and a wraparound cockpit give the Subaru BRZ its crisp sports-car looks. The BRZ bristles with references to great sports cars of the past, though it comes off as completely contemporary and modern. Within the cabin, sporty bucket seats and a mostly spartan dash keep the driver focused on the business of driving above all else.
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.
Subaru's 205-horsepower, 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine (200 hp in automatic-equipped cars) 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.
The reward of the light construction and small engine is great fuel economy—up to 33 mpg highway.
The BRZ's strongest selling point is handling. Its 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 car's center of mass is headed while there's still plenty of time to adjust.
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.
Comfort, safety, and features
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.
Unfortunately, the BRZ isn't all that comfortable or versatile beyond that. The front seats have plenty of room, but they're a bit too firm and could use more adjustability. Taller drivers will be able to fit a race helmet on, and the rear seatback folds forward to fit extra wheels or gear. But those back seats are just a tease, and only good for a child seat...maybe. Trunk space is good enough for a carefully packed weekend trip, but the load opening is quite narrow.
The BRZ has earned mostly "Good" ratings from the IIHS, but the federal government isn't yet done testing. A rearview camera is standard, but the BRZ lacks the advanced safety options found on almost all other Subarus.
Base versions only cost around $27,000, which is why we think the BRZ is one of the performance bargains of the decade—and, perhaps, an instant classic. Power features, air conditioning, and cruise are standard, as is 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.
Limited cars get heated seats and other nice touches, and also offer a Performance package with a stiffer suspension tune, wider wheels, and distinct trim.
2017 Subaru BRZ
A classic 2-door shape and a wraparound cockpit give the Subaru BRZ its crisp sports-car looks.
Now in its fourth year on the road, the BRZ is a standout in the Subaru showroom. Surround by boxy SUVs and anonymous sedans, it's a 2-door outsider with a classic sports-car shape.
It's that classic shape, and the bare bones, but good looking, interior that prompted our 7 out of 10 rating. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The BRZ bristles with references to great sports cars of the past, though it comes off as completely contemporary and modern. The silhouette is clean, and its flashy five-spoke wheels, flared fender lines, sculpted flanks, arched roof and long hood help complete the look.
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 could have avoided that eyesore.
The hood is especially low, which hints at the flat-4 engine and its low placement inside the BRZ. This year, the BRZ gets some slight changes, with a new front bumper cap that flanks LED fog lamps, and revised LED headlights.
Other visual stamps include a standard rear spoiler, full-LED taillights, and new wheel patterns.
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.
This year, a redesigned leather-wrapped steering wheel is a bit smaller than before. Limited-trim cars get a wrapped instrument cluster hood and seats embroidered with the BRZ logo.
Limited cars also received a 4.2-inch display in the instrument cluster with additional gauges. There's a lap-time stop watch, a G-meter, a braking-force and a steering-angle indicator, and readouts for oil and water temperature, and battery voltage.
Some of the materials and trims used inside could be a little more exciting. Despite more soft-touch trim added this year, the BRZ remains a model that has plenty of hard, plasticky touch points.
2017 Subaru BRZ
Acceleration is average, but it's delightful handling that keeps us in the BRZ's fan base.
The 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.
We gave it a 7 out of 10 on our performance scale thanks to its very good handling and an excellent 6-speed manual transmission. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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. The engine has been retuned on manual-transmission models with a new intake and lower-friction parts to make 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet; automatic-equipped cars still turn in 200 hp and 151 lb-ft.
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. It's precise and engages its gears with the snicky touch of a fencer's epee.
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.
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.
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.
The big change for 2017 is a new Performance Package, offered on manual-shift cars in Limited trim. It includes beefed-up Brembo brakes, with 12.8-inch rotors and 4-piston calipers in front and 12.4-inch rotors and 2-piston calipers at the back. Sachs ZF shock absorbers are swapped in, as are black-finished 17-inch alloys a half-inch wider than the base wheels, riding on 215/45R-17 summer tires. Weight goes up 28 pounds from base trim (2,785 pounds), but still checks in 12 pounds lower than Limited BRZs (2,835 pounds).
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. This year, the BRZ's stability-control programming has a new algorithm that lets it have more yaw, a real complement to the car's predictable nature. Without being overpowered or over-tired, the BRZ lets its tail hang out a bit before a small neat correction reels it back in.
2017 Subaru BRZ
Comfort & Quality
Two passengers will appreciate the BRZ's cozy cockpit; everything else is an afterthought.
With the BRZ, Subaru carves out enough space for two passengers to enjoy the ride, and gives them enough space for carry-ons and weekend race-crew support. It's tidy, but not too spacious—that's the price paid for its excellent handling.
Climb into the cockpit, and the amply bolstered seats give enough upper-body support for a brisk drive through the mountains. The driving position is quite upright for a car of this kind, but the seats have enough give to make them comfortable enough for commuting.
They could use more lumbar support, though, and getting in and out will be an exercise for tall drivers, as they clear both the seat cushions and the low roofline. It's even more pronounced in Limited models, which get Alcantara seats with even more bolstering.
Once they're in place, front passengers will find their legs splayed out, against the center stack, with the lower cushions feeling all too firm after a few hours. The BRZ does have lots of head room, a boon for drivers who need to get in while wearing a helmet.
We gave the BRZ a 6 out of 10 for comfort thanks to good front seats—and little else. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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.
2017 Subaru BRZ
Safety in the BRZ is below average by Subaru standards, fine by the absolutes.
Ratings aren't complete for the 2017 Subaru BRZ, but they're fairly OK.
The NHTSA hasn't completed testing for the BRZ, but gave it four stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for rollover protection.
The IIHS, meanwhile, gave last year's BRZ mostly "Good" scores, save for an "Acceptable" rating in the tougher small-overlap impact test, which simulates hitting a telephone pole or other narrow objects.
Middling scores keep it from climbing higher than a 6 on our rating scale, but we did award an extra point for a standard rearview camera. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The BRZ also lacks advanced safety systems and options beyond the usual stability control and airbags. There's no forward-collision warning system or automatic emergency braking, and no blind-spot monitors.
A rearview camera is standard. For a sports car, outward vision 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.
2017 Subaru BRZ
The BRZ doesn't offer much in the way of extravagant options and features.
The 2017 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.
Good base features and a big 6.2-inch touchscreen help the BRZ get to a 7 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
There are essentially still two trims offered on the 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 touchscreen audio and infotainment systems in the BRZ used to be among the worst on the market. They were 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. A rearview camera was made standard at the same time.
The Limited models gain upgraded seat bolsters, heated seats and mirrors, a rear spoiler, dual-zone climate control, fog lamps, and a keyless ignition. It also adds more soft-touch materials and trim for the 2017 model year.
All told, the BRZ stickers at just under $30,000, even with automatic. Options are limited to a few port- and dealer-installed accessories.
A new Performance Package added for 2017 is offered only on the Limited model, and only on cars with the manual transmission. It gains a spoiler, a revamped suspension with Sachs shock absorbers and a thicker rear anti-roll bar, as well as Brembo brakes and wider black-finish wheels.
2017 Subaru BRZ
The BRZ has fairly good ratings by the EPA, particularly the automatic. But who wants that?
This year's figures came in very good for the 2-seat, 2-door sports car. Manual-transmission models earned ratings of 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined, while automatic-equipped cars were even better at saving fuel, at 24/33/27 mpg.
That's good enough for a 6 out of 10 on our efficiency scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The BRZ requires premium fuel to get there.
Those numbers put the BRZ among cars like the Corvette and 911, in a good way. They're all remarkably good at consuming less fuel when they're driven in everyday situations.
The good ratings are due in part to several factors: its direct-injection fuel system, its tall high-gear overdrive, and the fact that it weighs only about 2,800 pounds.