What is it?
This is the Subaru BRZ, which is most easily introduced as Subaru’s take on the Toyota GT 86 – although that statement is factually contentious.
When, in 2008, Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe decided he wanted an affordable 2+2 coupe, he found that his company was already at full capacity building cars it could sell, and its development engineers were flat out working on alternative powertrain projects. As a result, the Toyota GT 86 and Subaru BRZ rear-drive, front-engined coupes are, in fact, mostly a Subaru production. Oh, and there will likely be another spin-off, badged as a Scion FR-S, for the US market.
BRZ project leader Yoshio Hirakawa refers to the car as "ours" and confirms that Subaru was responsible for its development, testing and production, with Toyota – a 16.5 per cent share holder in Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries – taking the lead on project planning and design. To this end, Subaru has also built a new production facility for the car, near its main facility in Oizumi in Japan.
Hirakawa promotes Subaru’s version of the car as more focused at the enthusiast than the better-equipped Toyota. However, despite early reports that the Subaru may have more power, he also confirms that the differences between all three versions of the car are limited to wheel design, badges and interior trim, plus price.
He also confirms the BRZ was benchmarked against the Porsche Cayman R, eagerly pointing out that the Subaru is 100kg lighter than its rival at 1270kg, and has a centre of gravity 2.5cm lower. The more than 100bhp power deficit is not dwelled on so long, however.
What’s it like?
At its heart is the Subaru 2.0-litre flat-four front-mounted engine, codenamed FB20 and established already in the Impreza. However, it sits 12cm lower in the engine bay than in the Impreza, and 24cm further back. The result is a claimed 45:55 per cent weight distribution front to rear.
In the car we drove the result was a joy. Subaru is claiming 200bhp at 7000rpm and a redline than starts at 7500rpm, plus maximum torque of 151lb ft at 4000rpm. It felt quick enough, and, thanks to the Toyota-derived cylinder head and direct injection it speeds up faster than any other normally aspirated Subaru boxer engine. Only from 1800-3000rpm is the absence of boost slightly noticeable.
The Subaru BRZ feels agile and light-footed. Turn in to a fast corner and it understeers only very slightly, but trail the brakes or lift mid-corner and that quickly turns in to controllable oversteer. At high speeds it feels very stable – thanks in no small part to its relatively long 2570mm wheelbase.
The engine can be linked to manual or automatic six-speed gearboxes. The first three gear ratios of the manual are shorter than the steps of the automatic box in order to increase the low torque gap and sharpen the sporty handling. The automatic box, which image-wise probably fits better to the Toyota version, comes with the three modes 'Auto', 'Manual' and 'Temporary Manual', the latter allowing downshifting via paddles behind the steering wheel. Both work well, but the manual is more fun.
The only real note of caution concerns the interior, although bear in mind that we drove an early version. Subaru may describe the interior as pure, but some customers may regard it as spartan. No premium materials were visible in this car. However, that emphasis on basic functionality has its merits – from the driver’s seat you are confronted by a big rev counter, the speedometer sitting off to the left and the temperature and fuel gauges to the right. The design is clean but basic; if readability at speed was the only goal, then they are a success.
Should I buy one?
Yes. The growing conclusion is that the hardest decision will not be whether to part with your money, but choosing between the Subaru and Toyota.
Price: TBC; 0-62mph: 7.0sec (est); Top speed: 130mph (est); Kerb weight: 1220kg; Economy: 35mpg (est, combined); CO2: 190g/km (est); Engine 4cys, horizontally opposed 2.0-litre petrol; Max power: 200bhp at 7500rpm (est); Max torque: 151lb ft at 4500rpm (est); Gearbox: Six speed manual/auto.