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Road Test and Review - 2013 Subaru BRZ

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
October 26, 2012
8 min. Reading Time

Perhaps no automobile in recent memory has been the subject of such intense anticipation and resultant scrutiny as the 2013 Subaru BRZ coupe.  Designed in conjunction with Toyota, and the mechanical twin of the Scion FR-S, the Subaru BRZ breaks new ground for the Japanese brand.  The BRZ steps away from Subaru's all-wheel drive branding in North America to become its very first rear-wheel drive model ever offered outside of its home market, and it also represents the first time the automaker has allowed another manufacturer to take over the styling reigns while it concerned itself largely with the engineering of the vehicle's platform.

Most importantly, the Subaru BRZ was designed with fun foremost in mind - not practicality, not fuel efficiency, not pure high performance, but fun.  Yes, the lightweight BRZ has been carefully balanced so as to reward on-track driving, but the true measure of the compact coupe is the wide smile that it plasters across one's face almost every single time the key is turned in the ignition.

2013 Subaru BRZ: Competition

The 2013 Subaru BRZ occupies an interesting slot in the compact performance spectrum.  Based on its low-mass design the BRZ matches up well against the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a two-seat roadster that has long been the platform of choice for weight-conscious drivers.  However, given the presence of a fixed roof - and higher level of power - many of Subaru's would-be BRZ buyers will be cross-shopping the car against rear-wheel drive coupes like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and the V-6 editions of the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro.  Each of these vehicles outweighs and out-powers the BRZ, which makes the Subaru entry somewhat of a special case that doesn't have any direct on-paper competitors but rather a raft of real-world rivals.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2013 Subaru BRZ is offered in two different trim levels.  The BRZ Premium represents the entry-level version of the car and it retails for an MSRP of $25,495.  The BRZ Limited offers an additional dose of luxury gear and a bit of a sportier look for an MSRP of $27,495.

The version of the car that graced our test fleet for the week was a Canadian-market model that, when optioned to match American equipment levels, came in at an MSRP of roughly $26,000.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Exterior

The 2013 Subaru BRZ is unquestionably the most conventionally-attractive shape ever to have worn the badge of Pleiades.  This is because most of the heavy lifting on the BRZ's sheet metal was done by Toyota personnel.  Although the sexy shapes that once adorned Toyota coupes might feel shrouded in the mists of time, there was once an era when the company's designers didn't exclusively play it safe, and the BRZ's flowing curves demonstrate that this institutional knowledge was never forgotten - only misplaced for a decade or so.

The Subaru BRZ offers the long and low front hood that most associate with potency in a coupe design, an attribute enhanced by the profile of the boxer four-cylinder found in the engine bay.  The coupe's haunches are a pleasing mixture of rounded edges and sharper creases, and the rear bumper's trapezoidal cutout makes a nesting spot for the automobile's dual exhaust tips and rear triangular center light.  Perhaps the only awkward aspect of the BRZ's looks is the flat black plastic piece that bisects the front grille, which is a shame given the otherwise aggressive feel imparted by the lower air dam and wrap-around bumper.  Two small additional 'air vents' are inset into the front fenders just ahead of the doors, and the vehicle's 17-inch rims come in a pleasing black chrome finish.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Interior

The 2013 Subaru BRZ is ostensibly a four-seat coupe featuring a 2+2 layout, but there's really only enough space inside for two front passengers and a stack of shopping bags, backpacks, or duffels behind them.  Most of our drivers were completely incapable of even setting a single foot into the rear section of the car while the front seats were in a comfortable position, but more flexible members of our test team discovered that by folding their legs up underneath themselves they could tolerate the back seats on shorter trips.

Honestly, we weren't all that interested in the BRZ's vestigial rear accommodations because its front seats were so incredibly competent when it came to holding us in place no matter how out of sorts we got the car.  The side bolstering offered by the coupe's front buckets keeps driver and passenger perfectly snug both on the track and on the street, and they were also comfortable to boot.  Subaru has done an excellent job in developing dual-purpose thrones that wouldn't feel out of place in a more serious track car.

The cloth seats in our test vehicle were complemented by suede-like door panel overlays that added a touch of class to the good quality plastics that made up most of the Subaru's interior trim.  The steering wheel felt meaty and was nicely cross-stitched with red thread, and the oversize tach positioned directly in front of the driver featured a small inset digital speedometer that was more useful than the backwards-sweeping, tiny-numbered analog unit to the left of the display.  We even dug the clean, metallic-style panel positioned in front of the passenger, which worked well with the matching gearshift surround and the smooth dash top.

We did have a couple of issues with the BRZ's interior that detracted from our enjoyment of the car.  The first was the leather boot attached to the parking brake.  Each and every time that we yanked on the brake while leaving the car, the booth would unhook itself from the center console and hang awkwardly from the brake handle, exposing its clips and making the Subaru's interior feel far cheaper than it actually was.  No one should have to regularly re-install a piece of trim on a brand new car, particularly one attached to a moving part like the parking brake handle.

We were also extremely dissatisfied with the BRZ's Pioneer navigation and entertainment system.  The stereo lacked USB or AUX inputs (those that we found in the glove compartment were apparently usable only with an iPod), but worse than that, the touchscreen interface took a long time to boot up and was also clunky to navigate.  We frequently found ourselves accidentally hitting the 'OFF' panel on the touchscreen when using the small rotary volume button located just to its left, and the 'eco' graphic that dominates the screen while forcing the nav map to the far right on the display was distracting and unnecessary.  If at all possible, do not order this piece of equipment with the BRZ and source your own aftermarket entertainment system instead.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2013 Subaru BRZ comes exclusively with a direct-injection 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer four-cylinder motor that generates 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.  A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the BRZ - and recommended - while a six-speed automatic (with manual shift capabilities) is available as an option.  Fuel mileage for the compact coupe is listed at 25-mpg in stop and go driving and 34-mpg on the highway when the autobox is selected, and 22-mpg city and 30-mpg highway with the manual.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Driving Impressions

Everything that you might have previously read about the 2013 Subaru BRZ, heard from a friend, or deduced from the buzz that has accompanied its release over the course of this past year is true: the coupe has more than secured its spot at the top of the brand's performance pyramid as the most engaging vehicle it has ever produced.  In simpler terms, the Subaru BRZ is one of those rare automobiles that manages to deliver both on the track and the street, transforming even a simple trip to the corner store into an enjoyable experience.

The first thing that sucks one into a deeper appreciation of the BRZ is its steering feel.  Electric power steering rarely offers the amount of heft and feedback offered by this compact coupe without coming across as artificial, an affectation the Subaru avoids handily.  Next, the absolutely perfect balance of the vehicle's chassis imbues drivers with a sense of confidence that belies the automobile's price point.  The BRZ is quite light, measuring in at roughly 2,880 lbs in its highest spec form, and with most of that mass mounted low to the ground thanks to its horizontally-opposed engine design the car is capable of responding to steering, braking, and throttle inputs with the rapidity and alertness typically associated only with cyborgs or bill collectors.

We were able to flog our test vehicle on a local road course, which added an entirely fresh dimension to our appreciation of exactly what Subaru and Toyota have accomplished together with the BRZ platform.  Doing our best to push the coupe to the limits of its design envelope merely amplified the Subaru's street performance and illustrated that this is one automobile that is destined to become the favored low-buck track day warrior for drivers around the world.  This is no faint praise: Hyundai's attempt to reach the same market with the heavier and less responsive Genesis Coupe simply doesn't resonate in the same way as the BRZ.  The compact coupe's chassis sings around the corners, tail slides in the most predictable manner possible, and joyously eggs the driver on to brake later and later with each passing lap.

About that tail-sliding.  Perhaps the only weak link in the BRZ's execution are the tires that shod its 17-inch rims from the factory.  This rubber matches that found on the Toyota Prius, and it was designed for low rolling resistance, not high performance.  Why anyone at Subaru elected to cripple the BRZ with such a slippery tire compound is incomprehensible to us, because while it makes it a simple task to overcome the vehicle's grip and 'doooorifto' around the track apron, it certainly suggests that with the right set of tires the BRZ would be able to turn in much improved lap times.  They would also help the vehicle's standard Torsen limited-slip differential keeps things under control when powering out of a corner, as well. 

Assisting the Torsen diff are the vehicle's electronic stability control and traction control, which can be set to Sport mode but never turned off completely.  This struck as somewhat of an oversight on such a performance-oriented vehicle - particularly one who's horsepower isn't exactly in the 'overwhelming' category.  Still, engagement was subtle enough to make a difference without feeling like one was driving a computer simulator, and our main complaint had to do with how much additional strain it put on the brakes when out on the track.

Linking the Subaru BRZ's excellent chassis to the driver's right foot is its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.  There were some Subaru fans who were initially disappointed to hear that the BRZ would not be featuring a turbocharged mill, and 200 ponies from a naturally aspirated unit seemed underwhelming to WRX fans used to forced-induction four-cylinders.  After spending significant time behind the wheel of the coupe, we can assure you that even with only 151 lb-ft of torque available the Subaru BRZ feels vigorous and alive while connecting one apex to another.  The car might not come off like it has been shot out of cannon when dropping the clutch, but the high-revving four-cylinder motor makes all of the right sounds when being wailed down the back stretch and the vehicle's powerband is elastic and forgiving.  None of us felt that the BRZ needed more grunt under the hood - it would be 'nice' to have, but not 'necessary.'

For those of you who plan to keep your Subaru BRZ exploits on the street, rest assured that the track tuning that has been afforded the compact coupe has in no way compromised its capabilities as a daily driver.  The ride of the BRZ is firm, but not punishing, and it never rattles or gets loose on rough pavement.  The Subaru doesn't feel like a Buick, but nor does it come across like an Impreza WRX STi.  The car's platform might have been created with hardcore track junkies in mind, but the aftermarket will serve to provide the bone-jarring suspension performance that serious enthusiasts are after, not the factory.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Safety

The 2013 Subaru BRZ comes with dual forward airbags, side impact airbags, and side curtain airbags in order to protect all four passengers should the vehicle be involved in a collision while out on the road.  The BRZ is also gifted with the previously-mentioned electronic stability control and traction control as standard equipment, along with anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system.


2013 Subaru BRZ: Final Thoughts

2013 Subaru BRZ: Final Thoughts

The 2013 Subaru BRZ is a thoroughly excellent car.  Refreshingly, the compact coupe is able to accomplish exactly what its design spec calls for: provide a fun, rear-wheel drive package that is friendly to both veteran enthusiasts and those just getting started along the high performance driving path.  The BRZ is a great learning tool for understanding vehicle dynamics, but more importantly it shows that one does not have to spend a significant amount of money, nor sacrifice much daily practicality (assuming no need for a rear seat) in order to enjoy a pure sports car experience. 

Vehicles like the Subaru BRZ are increasingly rare in an automotive marketplace where it sometimes feels like vehicles are attempting to be all things to all possible drivers.  By boiling the car down to its essence and then applying the significant engineering know-how locked in the brains of both Toyota and Subaru engineers these brands have collaborated an automobile that transcends its hype and feels well on its way to becoming a modern-day icon.

What We Like About The 2013 Subaru BRZ

  • Supernatural driver communication and handling
  • Responsive engine that is well-matched to the automobile
  • Lightness, lightness, lightness
  • Excellent seats
  • Absolute blast to drive on the track
  • No day-to-day sacrifices in terms of ride comfort
  • Perhaps the most fun affordable vehicle currently on the market

We Aren't So Hot On

  • Terrible stereo system
  • Unfortunate issue with e-brake boot
  • Would appreciate more gauges to monitor oil temperature, etc
  • Cannot completely disable stability control


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