A bit sharper to drive, a bit smarter inside, still as affordable: the BRZ has never been better
The Subaru BRZ has a better-selling sibling, the Toyota GT86, but we’ve always preferred the Subaru. Probably because chief engineer Yoshio Hirakawa told us he was adamant the Subaru should be the sharper, more driver-oriented of the two. Its steering is thus crisper, turn-in more eager, high-speed damping more controlled. The better car for enthusiasts, if you like.
Sadly, for people who actually buy cars, better refinement, keener equipment and longer warranty will usually win out, which is why the Toyota easily outsells the Subaru in the UK. Undaunted, Subaru is back for 2017 with a facelifted BRZ, one that ups cabin quality, tames the ride yet aims to make it better to drive than ever.
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Top speed: 140mph
Gearbox: SIx=speed manual
Kerb weight: 1275kg
Economy; 36.2mpg (combined)
Inside, it’s gone all modern, with a 4.2-inch screen mounted within the instrument pack, and a 6.1-inch touchscreen for the centre of the dash, masterminding sat nav, smartphones and other Bluetooth-connected devices. The steering wheel is smaller and there’s more Alcantara than before.
Ringing the changes outside are revised daytime running lights, a reprofiled front bumper, different side vents and a new take on the rear wing. Less detailed changes than Toyota has introduced for the latest GT86, but arguably more cohesive.
Onto the road, then. Sorry, those who would have loved more power: you’re not getting any. It still produces 197bhp and a mediocre 151lb ft of torque. Subaru has worked on the engine’s innards, mind, strengthening the block and reducing friction, which it says reduces emissions (although CO2 remains the same).
It’s still the same rev-hungry engine we remember, though. It doesn’t do much at all below 5000rpm and even peak torque doesn’t arrive until a screaming 6400rpm. Don’t let it drop below 4100rpm and you should be fine…
Cornering is where the BRZ has traditionally excelled over both the GT86 and most of its rivals, and this has been enhanced for 2017. There are stiffer front springs, softer rear springs, plus softer front and stiffer rear anti-roll bars. This makes the car even pointier and more incisive, enhanced by steering whose weight now builds up more progressively.
It’s more fun than ever, and more progressive with it, thanks to changes to the suspension dampers. You can take loads of liberties in it with confidence, and there’s even a Track mode in the stability system that lets you get a bit out of shape with electronics still kicking in if things go too far.
What about the ride? Subaru reckons new dampers let fewer vibrations into the cabin, but it’s hard to say for sure what difference this makes. It’s still firm, but stays the right side of harshness; you’ll need a back-to-back to ring the differences.
The only thing we’re still not convinced on is interior quality. It remains cheap-feeling and, dare we say it, 1990s. Even the £1,250 touchscreen sat nav option is in another league of datedness compared to the flashy setup you can have in an Audi TT. How much this matters depends on how much you prioritise driving fun.
Because the 2017 Subaru BRZ is more fun than ever, and certainly more engaging than the latest Toyota GT86. The icing on the cake is a list price for the single model on sale that, spec for spec, is £1500 less than the Toyota. The decision is now easier than it’s ever been.