2018 Subaru BRZ tS First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Subaru BRZ tS First Drive

A Heroic Chassis in Search of an Engine


If you're reading this in the hopes that the 2018 Subaru BRZ tS finally answers the clarion call for more power in Subaru's sole sports car, you can stop reading now. It doesn't.

Instead, the BRZ tS is the grippiest, hardest-braking and most exclusive version of the automaker's elemental rear-wheel-drive sports car yet produced.

More Grip but Same Power
Since its 2013 debut, fans and would-be buyers of the Subaru BRZ have cried for more power. And over the years, the company has reliably ignored those pleas, aside from a minuscule 5-horsepower bump last year. The BRZ tS continues this tradition, packing the same 2.0-liter flat-four engine as its stablemates and developing 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque.

Instead, the BRZ tS is a limited-edition model that turns things up in the handling department and adds a few aero pieces to round out the package. The heart of the changes in the BRZ tS centers on its better tires and retuned suspension, both in the pursuit of higher cornering limits. Gone are the tepid Michelin Primacy HP tires and 17-inch wheels adorning previous BRZs, replaced with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires and 18-inch wheels. The new rubber is no wider than the old stuff, but the change in tire compound and construction alone imbues the BRZ tS with more mechanical grip.

Subaru engineers then set about revising the suspension to more fully capitalize on the tires' characteristics and to reduce the degree of pitch and roll. To that end, the BRZ tS rides on springs that are 15 percent stiffer in front and 8 percent stiffer in the rear. Accompanying this modest increase in spring rate are Sachs dampers and a handful of chassis-stiffening measures intended to improve steering response.

Aero Package Reduces Lift
Yes, the two-position adjustable carbon-fiber rear wing looks hopelessly tacked-on. But you can take comfort in knowing that it is indeed functional. Together with front and side aerodynamic appendages, Subaru has substantially reduced aerodynamic lift with only a minor attendant increase in drag.

Braking in the BRZ tS is handled by larger brakes — namely standard 12.8-inch discs and four-piston front calipers and 12.4-inch two-piston rears — that are also available as an option on garden-variety BRZ Limiteds. Meanwhile, the cabin of the BRZ tS also receives a few cosmetic differentiators, such as red seat belts and red accents on the seats and steering wheel.

A Rewarding Drive With an Asterisk
The BRZ is one of the more engaging cars you can thread through a set of corners, and the BRZ tS only enhances its personality. It turns in beautifully and exhibits the kind of playful agility and willingness to change direction that only lightweight cars can demonstrate. Grip is noticeably more tenacious than in the plain Jane BRZ, yet the forgiving, slide-friendly nature and adjustability remain intact. Nor is the fortified suspension so rigid that it spoils the ride quality. If anything, it rounds off sharp impacts better than the suspension in the pre-2017 model.

There is a downside to the car's improved handling quotient: It makes the engine even more underwhelming by comparison. A balanced sports car has grip and thrust in equal measure. Not so in the BRZ tS. There's enough grip on tap that exiting corners at full throttle results in an anemic ooze forward rather than the kind of thump in the back that the chassis deserves. On the plus side, the engine changes that Subaru ushered in last year have reduced, but not eliminated, the car's infamous midrange torque hole.

Against the backdrop of the engine's glaring lack of power (and the only partly addressed midrange thrust issues), there's the racket it makes. It's no more endearing now than it was in the past. This is an agricultural-sounding engine and at anything less than full whack, where it produces a satisfying intake honk and where volume isn't a drawback, the din quickly grows tiresome. Particularly in its tS version, the BRZ is a chassis in search of an engine.

Fixing the Wrong Problem
Subaru has had a ready-made, turbocharged solution under the hoods of several other vehicle models for years now. But the carmaker has been loath to commit the associated resources to a relatively low-volume (and thus low-profit) car such as the BRZ. To date, the only recourse for owners seeking the thrust needed to more fully exploit their car's chassis is to turn to the aftermarket. Supercharger and turbocharger kits abound, with the usual caveats those systems entail.

Unfortunately, the rarity of the BRZ tS will compel owners to keep it stock: Subaru is bringing only 500 of the BRZ tS to the United States starting this spring. It will be offered with no options, although it comes equipped with many of the features on the pricier Limited trim. It's yours in white, blue or black paint for $33,495, plus $860 destination.

The 2018 Subaru BRZ tS is about $3,800 dearer than a Performance Pack-equipped BRZ Limited, which is probably a fair sum, given its exclusivity and additional bits, even if those bits don't address the car's most obvious need. It's the engine, in case we haven't made that clear.

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