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.
See more pictures of our Subaru BRZ group test
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.
Our 370Z carries a penalty of almost 300kg compared with the BRZ – something its brawny V6 and wide, 18-inch tyres may struggle to cover.
Equally confusing is the BRZ is the only four-seater here. They’re usable, too; big enough for a medium-sized adult on a short hop, which seems a bit of a masterstroke in a car with a longways engine, driven rear wheels and the same wheelbase as a Mini Clubman.
The front seats are comfortable for touring yet supportive for hard driving, and its seating position is spot on. You don’t feel constrained in it, as bigger drivers will in the Mazda. Unlike in the Nissan, the pedal and wheel positioning is absolutely perfect.
The BRZ’s fascia is functional but does the car credit. It escapes a bargain-basement feel with a tactile sculptural platform of a dashboard, and some uncomplicated, modern design on the climate control console and in the instrument cluster. The Nissan’s feels like a more stylish and special, whereas the Mazda’s is showing its age. But rich and stylish cabin ambience has never been what the MX-5 is all about, and the BRZ just feels like a slightly larger and newer car from the same mould.