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Published: 03/26/2012 - by Josh Jacquot, Senior Editor
Distill the comprehensive goodness of the 2013 Subaru BRZ down to a single desirable property and it is this: Profound control.
It is the rear-drive BRZ's competence in those pivotal split seconds as the limit of grip approaches and departs that gives it undeniably enticing character. Few cars in recent memory do it so well and those that do typically cost at least twice as much. Think Lotus Exige/Elise or Porsche 911 GT3. In other words, the BRZ offers a level of engagement that, until now, has been either too costly or too impractical for the average enthusiast.
That will change with the introduction of the BRZ to the U.S. First, with an estimated price in the mid-$20,000 range, it's not costly. Second, it's practical enough to be driven daily. And, finally, it fills a niche in the U.S. market that has remained conspicuously vacant for years.
Filling the Niche
It's not just the BRZ's communication and control that's alluring, however. Its approachable limits are what make it a wholly engaging sports car. Go on the attack in a BRZ and you're not flirting with a $120,000 disaster. What's more, it's most rewarding at modest speeds found in 2nd and 3rd gear. In this regard it pulls from the same well of level-headed appeal that makes Mazda's MX-5 Miata so fun. But being a softly sprung convertible has always compromised the Miata's abilities and limited its appeal for those seeking a dedicated driver's car.
The BRZ's singularity of purpose doesn't come with the same space and structure compromises found in the Miata, either. Its trunk is big enough to handle more than just weekend trips, its structure makes no concessions to top-droppers and its suspension tuning strikes a perfect balance between date nights and track days.
Focus, Focus, Focus
In addition to its mid-speed capability, the BRZ encourages full-attack driving on unfamiliar roads well into triple digits. Its brakes don't fade, its gearbox doesn't balk and its chassis remains composed even when the road surface isn't. We hammered it for hours over rough roads with little regard for the hardware and never once bottomed the suspension or had a moment that made us reconsider our speed.
Steering, which is electrically assisted in a rapid 13.1:1 ratio, is immensely feelsome and exact, imparting the front tires' grip status precisely to its driver's brain stem. It is perhaps the best electric steering in any car, except, possibly, Mazda's nearly extinct RX-8.
Brake response, too, is immediate and confident. Thirty minutes driving well past rational limits did damp the middle pedal's hair-trigger response, but we never lost confidence in the pedal. Ironically, the BRZ's tires, which are the same used as in the Plus Performance Package on a Toyota Prius, seemed entirely able, exhibiting only insignificant wear after a full day of back-road insanity.
Like It Should Be, Mostly
The 2013 Subaru BRZ's five stability control modes — three too many, if you ask us — are needlessly complex. So much so, in fact, that even Subaru insiders struggle to adequately explain the purpose for so many choices. There's a "Sport" mode which will loosen the electronic reins enough to allow you to have fun while still metering out protection if needed. Fortunately, fully disabling the system is easy.
What's more, it's not really needed. Because it communicates so clearly, there's no sense of intimidation driving the BRZ to its limits. It's a textbook example of predictable rear-drive behavior, which is rewarding for both the advanced and novice driver alike.
Ignoring the BRZ's entirely modest arrangement of parts, the car is a stunning experience. Considering them, it's a machine you need to drive in its element to fully appreciate. When it comes to purity of purpose, you'll be hard-pressed to find a car that delivers this much speed and involvement under $50,000 — Mitsubishi's Evo X being one possible exception. Repeat this kind of driving in an Evo, though, and you'll be buying tires and brake pads at double this rate.
Not About the Numbers
If you're the kind of enthusiast whose car must be able to hammer down freeway on-ramps with its tires ablaze, the BRZ isn't your car.
At 7.3 seconds, its 0-60 time (7.0 seconds using a 1-foot rollout like on a drag strip) isn't going to win over many drag racers. But this time comes with an explanation. The rev limiter in 2nd gear kicks in at 59.2 mph, requiring a second shift to achieve the milestone and slowing the time considerably. The quarter-mile passes in 15.3 seconds at 92.1 mph. Judge the BRZ on its acceleration alone and you'll be disappointed. But it should surprise exactly no one that 200 horsepower pushing around 2,734 pounds isn't going to thrill John Force.
But you're not John Force, are you? Neither are we, which is why we realize that the BRZ's respectable 69.1-mph slalom speed and striking 0.92g on the skid pad are more definitive of its character than is its acceleration. Those numbers are better than both the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe (67.4 mph slalom, 0.89g skid pad) and the 2011 Ford Mustang GT (67.3 mph slalom, 0.91g skid pad).
Braking, too, is solid. The BRZ required 114 feet to stop from 60 and it did so consistently with a firm, confident pedal. The Genesis Coupe needed 116 feet to make it happen and the Mustang got the job done in only 109 feet.
What You Get
By now you know that the 2013 Subaru BRZ's 2.0-liter flat-4 combines port and direct fuel injection to produce the aforementioned 200 hp and 151 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment and a six-speed automatic — perhaps the only one ever well suited to this kind of car — is optional and will cost about $1,200 if it follows traditional Subaru pricing strategies. Shift paddles offer full control over the gearbox and downshifts are perfectly rev-matched.
There are few distractions from the BRZ's driver focus inside, where the finish is spartan but not cheap. A center-mounted tachometer consumes most of the instrument panel real estate. To its left is a conventional speedometer, which is duplicated in digital form inside the tachometer itself. The cloth seats are comfortable and supportive enough for hard driving, while the steering wheel is small, thick and wrapped in leather.
Navigation, Bluetooth and a USB port are standard on Premium trim levels. Throw in the extra $2,000 or so for a Limited model and you'll get synthetic suede and leather seats, seat heaters, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start and a few other features — like a spoiler.
Subaru plans to sell 500 cars monthly in the U.S. beginning April 20. Exact pricing won't be announced for several weeks, but a Scion FR-S, which lacks the 2013 Subaru BRZ's navigation system will sticker at $24,930 including delivery. A base WRX sedan — which also lacks navigation, but comes with a turbo, all-wheel drive and four doors — can be had for $26,345 (including destination). The BRZ is considerably smaller and simpler than a WRX so we're putting our money on a base price with destination around $26,000.
Then consider the fact that Subaru's BRZ lacks adjustable dampers, throttle and steering calibrations. It has no complex electronic means of torque delivery and it can't be had with a sunroof or — mercifully — as a convertible. It is simple, relatively uncomplicated and wholly uncompromised. Despite this, it is one of the most rewarding cars we've ever driven.
Perhaps there's a lesson here. If this is all that's required to make a sports car with elegant control, engaging feedback and enlightening limits, we have only one question:
Why isn't every manufacturer doing it?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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