Is the simple Subaru BRZ as effective on the road as early reports suggest it is on track? Matt Saunders finds the answer on the Route Napoleon, with an MX-5 and 370Z in tow.
We’ve come to the Cote d’Azur to find out one thing. Has the Subaru BRZ earned its place at the top table alongside the likes of the Mazda RX-7, Nissan 200SX and Toyota Supra.
All the early signs have been good. Handling-related superlatives flowed after a track test in a prototype last year; just as they did after a circuit session in the Toyota GT 86. But you couldn’t say for sure without spending time on really testing roads, could you? Preferably with a couple of other modern Japanese sporting greats along for the ride.
And with the promise of a BRZ on the mountain roads of the Cote d’Azur, a pair of modern Japanese sporting greats is exactly what we’ve lined up.
The inclusion of the Mazda MX-5 is justified not only by the uncomplicated amusement value it offers, but also by the fact that it is the world’s biggest-selling sports car. If the Subaru can match the Mazda’s for smiles-per-pounds-spent, it’ll be doing very well indeed.
Mirroring that ‘less is more’ appeal is the Nissan 370Z, which remains one of very few sub-£30k, six-pot, rear-drive performance cars on offer. Could it confirm nagging doubts that the Toyobaru’s 197bhp, four cylinders and 7.5sec 0-60mph aren’t sufficient?
How it came to be?
Although both Subaru and Toyota would take credit for the originality and authenticity of their sports car, the fact is neither company could have produced it on its own.
Four years ago, Toyota had the will, the vision and the investment. But nowhere to build it and no capacity to develop it beforehand. Subaru had the production and engineering facilities, many of the mechanical building blocks you’d need for a great sporting rear-driver and the desire for the brand development that such a car could achieve. But without greater potential sales volume, it could never have made the sums work.
Then in 2007, Katsuaki Watanabe, ex-president of Toyota secretly met with Ikuo Mori, president of Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries. In 2008, as Toyota announced an increase in its minority stake in FHI, the Toyobaru plan went public. Toyota would design the car, and put up the lion’s share of the finances; Subaru would engineer and develop it, and produce it at its plant in Gunma. They would develop their own marketing strategies, but Toyota’s bigger cash pot would deliver them the majority of production.
That’s how Subaru ended up with a sports car that looks unlike anything else in its line-up – exactly like a modern Toyota sports coupé, in fact. It does have one of Subaru’s inimitable throbbing boxer engines under bonnet; an engine with a massive influence over the motive character of the BRZ. Its size, shape, location and output all make contributions to a dynamic repertoire that makes this car as distinctive as it is effective on the road.
But before probe at the periphery of its range of abilities, there are some static considerations understand. As much as lightness and compactness are key in the modern car-making business, they are also BRZ cornerstones. It measures 4240mm from nose to tail, so it’s within a foot of the length of the Mazda MX-5. More remarkable still, it weighs just 1202kg, or 1239kg if you go for a Premium version like our test car. Our diminutive 2.0-litre MX-5 Coupé Cabriolet – a car held as the most convincing argument for lightness and simplicity in a mass-market sports car – is heavier than our test BRZ by around 10kg.