LAKEVILLE, Connecticut – The last time I drove a Subaru BRZ was at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, one of America’s great race tracks. I ruthlessly whipped a rear-wheel-drive skateboard around a 1.5-mile circuit (and along the infield autocross track), swinging the gears straight to the front at 100-plus mph, turning the envelope 2- 3 pushed around the carousel.
You’ll be happy to know that the $30,555 sports car is entertaining you around Metro Detroit at 55 mph.
The affordable ‘RU’ stands out in today’s premium performance environment. These are the days of super-performance with track-focused, six-figure cyborgs like the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Corvette C8 and the Ford Mustang GT500. Oh, my knees are getting weak. These monsters are a joy to drive on the track with operable exhaust notes, sophisticated electronics and race-car inspired suspension. But how many track days can you manage in a year? Driving them around town is like walking King Kong on a leash.
For sports car lovers on a smaller performance envelope — and smaller budgets — there are affordable treats like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and BRZ and its sister Toyota GR86.
For only $30K, my Ice Silver tester was almost as playful on public roads as it is on the track. On a rainy weekend morning, I took Suby to the deserted public streets of North Oakland County for some fun. Turn on track mode, turn off traction control. Taking a Michigan U-turn, I choked and the rear end popped out—my right foot managing the slide smoothly with the BRZ’s 184 pound-feet of torque. Try it on slow roads with a 470-torque Corvette and you might be swapping ends.
I repeated the fun as I headed north into lake country at low speeds, 90-degree turns and S-turns and switchbacks. Subaru and Toyota co-developed the BRZ and GR86 twins, and this second generation’s biggest improvement comes from the upgraded 2.5-liter flat-four engine pulled from Subaru’s toolbox. Where the first generation car was underpowered, the new 228-horse mill allows drivers to take advantage of the chassis’s superb handling.
I operated smoothly using paddle shifters to maintain revs because the rev band of a non-turbo engine is thicker than 3,000 rpm. For such reasons, a 6-speed manual is preferred over an automatic (75% of BRZ sales are stick)—and it will save you an upgrade of the $1,500 automatic.
The styling is also a big improvement for this second-generation BRZ – maturing nicely so that it looks like it belongs next to the Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s that essentially populate the tennis club parking lot where I keep my car. I spend my free time
However, I’ll admit that I’ve had some hot affairs with BRZ’s GR86 twins in the years since my first date with BRZ in Lime Rock. And, ahem, I have to admit I love the look of the Toyota. It’s leaner, meaner, more timeless.
The interiors are similar, with the cupholders awkwardly placed in the center console, making it difficult to keep a drink and smartphone attached to the console by wire. I quickly made it a habit to store my bottled Snapple in door cupholders, because when you have a sports car, you’re constantly driving through the countryside to find twisted roads.
As previously mentioned, the BRZ has a small competitive set, but even Michigan Subaru fans’ eyes may wander to the excellent Subaru WRX in showrooms. Ooohh.
With all-wheel drive for all-seasons, 271 horsepower, the same 2.4-liter Boxer-4 and 258 pound-feet of torque from the spacious rear seats, the WRX Pocket Rocket is the better all-around car. And since its platform was developed by Subaru, not Toyota, it has all the latest ‘RU technology’ features such as a large center screen. That’s why so few small sports cars are offered these days – electronics and suspension advancements have forced compact cars to be run as smaller, less utility sports cars.
But like a Junior 911, the BRZ is determined to offer its own form of utility. No, its rear seats can’t swallow up to six feet (I had to take my feet off to fit back in there), but at least they’re there. Unlike the Mazda MX-5, the ‘RU’s second row complements its rear boot so you can load it up with extras on your trip north. It provides daily utility to fulfill its daily convenience.
So BRZ has more bandwidth than you first realized. In the end, though, you buy a Subaru for what it is fearless: a light, 2,864-pound sports car that – in its second generation – really justifies its place in the auto world.
Sleek lines that no pocket rocket can match. Low center of gravity to make even an electric car the envy. Stick shift so you can line it up through the twisty. Rear-wheel drive so you can spin it around an autocross course.
Or dance in the rain on a rainy day.
2022 Subaru BRZ
Vehicle Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive four-passenger sports car
Price: $29,615, $960 inclusive of destination fee ($30,555 premium, automated model as trial)
Powerplant: 2.4-litre Boxer 4-cylinder
Power: 228 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic
Display: 0-60 mph, 5.4 seconds (Car and Driver, Automatic); Top speed, 140 mph
Weight: 2,864 pounds
Fuel saving: EPA, 20 mpg city/27 highway/22 combined (manual); 21 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined (auto)
High: Fun, economical daily driver; 2.4-litre power
Downs: Bizarre console; Not as flashy as the cousin Toyota GR86
Overall: 3 stars
Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpaynedetroitnews.com or Twitter HenryEpayne.
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