Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ownership Bliss: 2013 Subaru BRZ Premium
(Week 1)

The Subaru BRZ and its sister the Scion FR-S are a joint effort by Toyota and Subaru to establish themselves in the "Driver's Car" segment. They are 2700 lb 2+2 coupes with a boxer four up front, putting 197 hp and 151 lb-ft through a six-speed manual transmission and Torsen limited-slip differential to the rear wheels. This example is a 2013 BRZ Premium and had about 15,000 miles on it when it was picked up.

By all accounts, the collaboration is a successful one and the cars are extremely entertaining to drive. One week and almost 1,000 miles later, the initial impression is that this car is every bit as fun as it is purported to be. The seating position, the controls, the handling, and the balance of the car all seem purpose-built for entertainment, and it never does anything scary or unexpected.

Some common complaints in other reviews are that the BRZ is slow and lacks power. Compared to the decade-old Mustang this one replaced, the car feels like a cruise missile. It pulls much harder and sounds much better than expected, with the ultra-low seating position and tight chassis magnifying the sensation of speed during six-and-a-half-second 0 - 60 runs. The high-pressure fuel pump for the direct-injection motor does sound like a group of Spring Peeper frogs (and is sometimes referred to as the BRZ Crickets), but that same motor has contributed to a first-week average of 25.3 mpg. The small, tilting and telescoping steering wheel makes finding a perfect driving position easy and the deep, comfortable bucket seats keep the driver firmly planted. The shifter can be balky when the car is cold, but once everything is warmed up it smooths out, and the shift lever almost seems to get pulled into the gates as if by a magnet.

The sporty suspension gives the BRZ a jostly ride around the city but commuting is by no means unpleasant and the car can very definitely be used as a daily driver. The engine pulls usefully from as low as about 2,000 RPM, so slow-moving traffic isn't the shift-frenzy that might be expected with such a small motor. The only real difficulty in day-to-day driving is the limited rear visibility. The view straight-back is usable, but objects off the rear quarters are particularly difficult to see, and if the side-view mirrors are fogged things get quite difficult indeed.

The headlights are very good, and can be adjusted vertically via a thumb dial on the dashboard. Ostensibly to deal with suspension squat from a full load of passengers or cargo, this is a bit of a quirky feature that seems ripe for modification. The wipers are also quite effective, although the windshield seems to catch a huge amount of spray. The only other trouble is that the entertainment system relies on an encrypted SD card that must be periodically inserted for the unit to function at all, and the SD card went missing out of this one sometime before it was resold. The dealer is in the midst of resolving the issue, so until then the soundtrack is exclusively the boxer four up front and the howling tires out back.

The first week with the BRZ has been a reminder of what driving for recreation is supposed to feel like. The car is comfortable while cruising around town, but every sharp corner can be spiced up with a dollop of oversteer. The hard, skinny Michelin Primacy tires give plenty of warning while breaking loose, and do so very progressively, but provide loads of grip when the BRZ is driven smoothly. The engine sounds great when revved up to the 7400 RPM redline and the short shifter feels great to row through the gates.

It has only been a week, but so far this is the most fun I've ever had in a car.

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