Pure handling delight. Confidence in motion. Ultimate driver control.
Abstract sound bites? Maybe, but these have been Subaru’s goals for the BRZ—the front-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car co-developed with Toyota—from the very beginning. Before the 2009 concept unveiling, before Toyota’s 2008 entrance, and before rumors of the Impreza- and Legacy-based concepts in 2007 flipped the enthusiast market on its side.
To keep enthusiast interest bubbling, Subaru and Toyota kept tight lips on the project while rumors circulated about engine power, weight distribution, Nurburgring testing, production numbers, and even the extent of how much of the project Toyota controlled. But after years of playful teasing, Subaru has finally lifted the veil.
We can confirm that the BRZ will be a lightweight, handling-oriented sports car powered by a new 200 hp 2.0-liter flat-4 with an advanced injection system that helps it rate 30 mpg highway. Best of all, the BRZ will hit showrooms in May, and cost around $25,000. Subaru also said the car will come in two models, Premium, and Limited, and that there will be a standard six-speed manual transmission, and a quick-shifting, six-speed automatic that will rev-match on downshifts for instant response.
There will inevitably be some Subaru enthusiasts who are turned off by the BRZ’s underwhelming power numbers (compared to the WRX and STI). To this, Toshio Masuda, BRZ Project Manager and Senior General Manager for Subaru Product and Portfolio Planning, said to us before the Los Angeles Auto Show, “We didn’t pursue numbers. We just wanted it to be fun no matter if you’re beginner or more.”
For Subaru, fun meant starting with a low center of gravity. It is so low (18.1 inch), in fact, that it is unmatched by any other production car. It’s lower than the Mazda MX-5, BMW M3, and even the vaunted Ferrari 458 Italia. What exactly does that mean? You guessed it: “pure handling delight.”
A low center of gravity means very little body movement (from left to right, and rear to front when cornering and braking), which in turn, allows higher cornering speed. This is achieved through Subaru’s use of a flat-4 engine, a unique design that enabled the engineers to place the engine closer to the middle of the car for an ideal front/rear weight distribution (about 53-percent of the weight is in the front of the car for optimal balance). With a set of moderate grip tires, and a lightweight platform constructed of high-tensile steel, Masuda promises a sports car that is equally fun for novice and advanced drivers, regardless of price.
Thus, for the time being, “pure handling delight” is also the non-answer to whether there will eventually be more power. And that likely means a turbo is not in the works, at least not behind and above the engine, where Subaru turbos and their related parts usually reside. Since the BRZ’s low profile was engineered with an extremely low hood design (and cramped engine bay), there is virtually no conceivable place for a turbo.
This raises another interesting possibility, though. Todd Hill, Project Engineering Manager for Subaru, indicated that the BRZ can use the Atkinson cycle, a hybrid-electric supplement to the boxer-4 engine. Under this scenario, a BRZ Hybrid could see a considerable boost in off-the-line power and fuel efficiency, albeit with a hit on the BRZ’s 2770-pound weight. Further hybrid details were not discussed.
Some other details we picked up:
- Subaru engineers promised excellent crash results, due to high-strength tensile-steel in the roof and other key areas
- The backseat can safely secure a front-facing child seat with LATCH safety system
- Weight savings from the aluminum hood, behind the front axle battery placement, and an all-new fuel system placement
- The BRZ’s 0.27 drag coefficient is very low, better than Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, and Honda Insight
- The BRZ requires premium fuel, and has a 13.2 gallon fuel tank
- The BRZ’s suspension tuning is different than the Scion FR-S, and does not share suspension parts with other Subaru models, though some of its parts are loosely based on other models
- Both models receive a standard 6.1-inch navigation display, 196-watt audio system with iPod and Bluetooth connections, a center-mounted tachometer, a digital shift indicator, a short-throw shifter, and a 14.4-inch quick-ratio steering wheel
- Comes standard with 17-inch wheels (215/45R-17 summer tires); 18-inch wheels are optional
- Other options include heated leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate controls, fog lamps, and keyless entry with a push-button starter
- When the backseat is folded, the BRZ can accommodate four extra wheels, a helmet, and basic tools for a trip to the race track
- The instrument panel was designed with enough clearance for a racing roll cage
- Subaru is targeting the Mazda MX-5, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper S, and to a less extent, the Ford Mustang GT and Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Automotive.com’s take: If you drink the Subaru-brand Kool-Aid, then you may be inclined to believe that the BRZ is the classic sports car reincarnated. It’s got a great front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, is lighter than everything not named MX-5, smaller than a Porsche Cayman, and is more efficient, practical, and arguably better looking, too. The recipe spells success, especially with an accessible price point. But who will buy it? And, is it really as fun for mom as it is for David Higgins? We can’t wait to find out.