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Old 11-01-2011, 09:14 AM   #1
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Thumbs up Subaru BRZ Prototype First Drive Review: "Off the Chart" (Motor Trend)

First Drive: 2013 Subaru BRZ Prototype

Off the Chart: Subaru Nails it With a Nimble, Intriguing Sports Car

From the December, 2011 issue of Motor Trend
By Angus MacKenzie

Every so often in this business, you drive a car that lets you know in the first hundred yards or so that it's special -- that it's somehow greater than the sum of the numbers on its spec chart. The new Subaru BRZ is one of those cars. It's not the fastest, the most powerful, nor even the sexiest two-door coupe in the business. But if you love driving, you're going to love this Subaru.

The Subaru BRZ is the result of one of the auto industry's oddest joint ventures since Alfa Romeo and Nissan hooked up in the 1980s to produce the ARNA, a car that spectacularly combined the worst features of both: It had Alfa Romeo's suspect reliability and Nissan's boring styling and sloppy handling. This time, though, everyone looks like a winner. Subaru gets a great sports car it couldn't afford to build, and Toyota gets a great sports car, to be badged as a Scion here in the United States, that it couldn't find room to build.

Toyota did the planning and design. Subaru did the engineering, and will build both versions at its Gunma plant in Japan. Both cars will initially be identical, apart from front and rear bumper fascias, badging, and detail equipment levels. We haven't sat in the Scion yet, but we've driven the BRZ, albeit a heavily camouflaged prototype. First impressions are good. Very good.

The key to the BRZ's appeal is the unique hardware under its relatively conventional skin. This is the world's only front-engine, rear-drive sports car powered by a boxer engine. The Subaru 2.0-liter four is an all-new engine with a different block from that used in the 2012 Impreza, and features Toyota-sourced direct injection. It gets a unique FA designation within the Subaru engine family (the closely related 2012 Impreza engine is known as the FB, while the 2011 Impreza is the EJ), and though Subaru engineers were tight-lipped about the engine's output, they didn't disagree with our guess of about 200 hp and 170 lb-ft. The engine drives the rear wheels through a choice of two Aisin six-speed transmissions, one a manual, the other a conventional planetary automatic with manual actuation via steering wheel-mounted paddles. The transmission is the same one used in the Lexus IS 350, among others. Front suspension is MacPherson strut, while the rear gets a complex multilink setup. Brakes are disc all around.

Keeping the center of gravity as low as possible -- always a good thing for a sports car -- was one of the BRZ's key design goals, and Subaru's engineers have made the most of the flat-four engine's obvious advantage in this area. Compared with the 2012 Impreza's engine, the BRZ's boxer sits almost 4.8 inches lower and just over 8 inches farther back in the chassis. What that means is this: The top of the engine is roughly knee height, and the center line of the front axle is aligned with the bore center of the rear pair of cylinders.

When you slide in behind the wheel it's apparent just how low the cowl height is, even though you're sitting low in the car. Once on the road, the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center you notice how rapidly and accurately the BRZ responds to driver inputs. The weight distribution is not quite 50/50; Subaru engineers will only admit that less than 60 percent of the car's mass is over the front axle, and the chassis has been set up for mild understeer. But there's no mistaking the agility borne of low mass, slung low.

The ride is firm, but not harsh. Tellingly, the BRZ was developed on 16- and 17-inch wheels, defying the fashionable trend toward factory-fitted dubs rimmed with rubber-band-thin tires. The benefit of smaller wheels, of course, is reduced unsprung mass, and therefore better, more precise wheel control. Our tester rolled on 17s fitted with 215/45 tires that delivered good grip and gave plenty of notice approaching the limits of adhesion.

The BRZ has the same sweet-natured nimbleness as a Mazda Miata or a Porsche Boxster. That sensation is helped by the fact that, like the Miata and the original Boxster, the BRZ's engine simply cannot outdrive the chassis. It only takes a few miles along your favorite canyon road to start wishing you had 100 more horses to play with. The car stays flat through the turns, and when pushed very hard it will oversteer, but the onset is smooth and progressive. The low mass--Subaru says production cars will weigh a feathery 2500 pounds--means you can brake later for turns, carry lots of speed through them, and still nail apexes like a sharpshooter. The BRZ rewards neatness: Get it right and we bet you can hang with the more-powerful AWD WRX through the twisties.

The 2.0-liter boxer delivers healthy mid-range punch, though a little more top-end bite would be welcome. The tach is redlined at 7400 rpm, but there's little point hanging on much past 7000 as the power delivery goes flat. The engine idles quietly, but develops a pleasing muted throb, like an STI wrapped in cotton wool, when you get active with the gas pedal. Our prototype was fitted with the automatic transmission. It felt crisp and clean in regular driving, and responsive in manual mode, matching revs on the downshifts when you fanned the left-hand paddle.

The BRZ -- really, could Subaru have come up with a less evocative name for a sport coupe? -- is on some levels the most conventional car Japan's quirkiest automaker has ever built. But it opens up some intriguing possibilities for the company, especially as Subaru and Toyota are free to develop the BRZ hardware any way they like from here on in. Subaru engineers quietly concede there's more power to come from the boxer four, though they won't confirm whether a turbo is in the works. They admit the BRZ structure has been engineered from the get-go to allow for a convertible version, so you can bet we'll see a softtop model within the next few years. And, most intriguing of all, they say the platform is flexible enough to allow for a significant wheelbase stretch. A BRZ-based four-door sport sedan? Now that's an interesting idea...

How the BRZ came to be

The teaming up of Toyota and Subaru is intriguing, but not unprecedented. Back in 2008, both shared a desire to brighten their somewhat dim sports car portfolios. Toyota would take the lead in planning, designing, and bankrolling the new two-door, dubbed AS1, while Subaru offered its proven high-performance engineering and production capabilities. The companies would split sales and marketing duties.

Automotive history buffs will enjoy learning the BRZ isn't Subaru's first rear-drive vehicle. That title belongs to the 1953-'54 Fuji Heavy Industries Prototype 1 sedan, later known as the Subaru 1500. P-1 employed the first Japanese-made monocoque body and paved the way for brand icons such as the Subaru 360 and 1000. - Nate Martinez

Great Expectations

Once the Toyota/Subaru deal was sealed, engineers from both automakers made sure to agree on basic expectations. There weren't many, but each was critical in crafting the coupe you see here.

First, it had to be lightweight and fuel-efficient. Second, handling prowess, rather than all-out speed and horsepower, needed to be emphasized, with a low center of gravity. Third, there had to be enough room for four passengers and luggage space for a pair of golf bags.

Engineering a mid-engine layout would negate the 2+2 seating requirement, while an AWD system would add weight and reduce fuel economy. A twin-clutch gearbox would also add unwanted mass, plus increase cost. According to Subaru's engineers, a front-engine/rear-drive configuration with a boxer engine and a traditional gearbox duo was "ideal for [the BRZ's] vision."

Engineers were tight-lipped about exact production numbers, but they nodded in agreement when we coughed up a 3000-unit-per-year guess. That would put the BRZ in current WRX STI production territory, making it a low-volume niche car. - Nate Martinez

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Old 11-01-2011, 09:18 AM   #2
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2500lbs? wow
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:27 AM   #3
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hmmm.....lets see....cant wait any longer
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:43 AM   #4
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What's the going rate for a kidney? I can do my own personal weight reduction and maybe pay for most of this car!
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:45 AM   #5
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Every time I read one of these reviews I start smiling.

If their fuel econ estimate is correct, I'm stoked. That's the same or better than my current car, which I tend to drive the piss out of and still get at or better than the 27mpg combined EPA rating out of it. And the BRZ has DOUBLE the horse power! I love modern engine tech!!!
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:46 AM   #6
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I dig it, but the fact that more power is coming will make me wait some more time before I pull the trigger. I want my next car to last 10 years with me, and I won't be too happy if there is a more powerful version I could have had. I do like the way this looks though. I've said it before, but I prefer the front from the FR-S and the rear of the BRZ.
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:53 AM   #7
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Are those renders real?
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:54 AM   #8
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I don't buy the weight. I hope for the price though!
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:54 AM   #9
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Are those renders real?
I think they are from Subaru if that's what you mean by real...
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Old 11-01-2011, 09:54 AM   #10
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I dig it, but the fact that more power is coming will make me wait some more time before I pull the trigger. I want my next car to last 10 years with me, and I won't be too happy if there is a more powerful version I could have had. I do like the way this looks though. I've said it before, but I prefer the front from the FR-S and the rear of the BRZ.
Eh if a truely better version comes in a few years I'll take a loss and sell the first one to get that one.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:00 AM   #11
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The most exciting/ intriguing part of that review is that the companies are "free to develop the BRZ hardware any way they like from here on in." If that's the case, the twins might end up in significantly places after a couple of cycles of independent development...
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:03 AM   #12
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Eh if a truely better version comes in a few years I'll take a loss and sell the first one to get that one.


There's always going to be something slightly better coming out in a few years. You will be waiting forever.

Just buy and enjoy the BRZ/FR-S and then if a super-improved version comes out and you just have to get it, then take the hit and trade up or pay off the original and get the new one.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:13 AM   #13
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I don't buy the weight. I hope for the price though!
The weight is very possible depending on the price. Not uncommon with STI is forged aluminum wheels, sport buckets, aluminum beams, bodyparts, brakes and suspension parts will drastically reduce weight. You can easily save 200+lbs.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:16 AM   #14
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It says the length is 148.8? That can't be right!
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:17 AM   #15
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The weight is very possible depending on the price. Not uncommon with STI is forged aluminum wheels, sport buckets, aluminum beams, bodyparts, brakes and suspension parts will drastically reduce weight. You can easily save 200+lbs.
This is for the prototype of the production car, which Toyota has already stated the JDM weight for it. It will NOT become lighter coming to the US and since the Subaru car is supposed to be mechanically and body wise (save for bumpers, interior treatments and badging) to the Toyota, then no, it's not going to lose 200lbs in comparison.

This review is not an STI, and I'm not sure an STI has ever weighed less than the WRX? The current models are ~170lbs HEAVIER.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:17 AM   #16
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It says the lenght is 148.8? That can't be right!
No, like all of these reviews, ignore all of the specs.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:20 AM   #17
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Happy with all the information comming out,2500lbs seems too good to be true!!!!
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:21 AM   #18
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Eh if a truely better version comes in a few years I'll take a loss and sell the first one to get that one.
Yeah, I've been thinking the same thing. I've been waiting long enough for this car already. I want to buy it when it comes out and then get a better version when it comes out a few years down the road. At least I can switch all the parts to the new one so I don't have to hold off on the mods now. Thats what I did when I traded in my Elise for my Exige.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:24 AM   #19
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A full one second off to 0-60mph compare to the Toyota varient stats. The BRZ would have to be producing over 160kw compared to the Toyota's 147kw to achieve the one second drop in acceleration.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:25 AM   #20
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I like the shape of these taillights better than the toyota, but I hate how the inside lamps look like they came from a camaro.
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:26 AM   #21
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No, like all of these reviews, ignore all of the specs.
Ok! Thank goodness! At 6'2, I would not have been able to fit one leg in that car!
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Old 11-01-2011, 10:28 AM   #22
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^ here's hoping it's 2500lbs (MX-5 @ 2469). As you say PAI they will keep the weight down. W/the FT-86 using inexpensive steel pretty much everywhere, saving you mention could mean Subaru is aiming for the performance bullseye, not just 'good enough' at a cheap price. My kinda thinking..
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