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.
Weâ€™ve come to the Cote dâ€™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 couldnâ€™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 dâ€™Azur, a pair of modern Japanese sporting greats is exactly what weâ€™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 worldâ€™s biggest-selling sports car. If the Subaru can match the Mazdaâ€™s for smiles-per-pounds-spent, itâ€™ll be doing very well indeed.
Mirroring that â€˜less is moreâ€™ appeal is the Nissan 370Z, which remains one of very few sub-Â£30k, six-pot, rear-drive performance cars on offer. Could it confirm nagging doubts that the Toyobaruâ€™s 197bhp, four cylinders and 7.5sec 0-60mph arenâ€™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 youâ€™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 lionâ€™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 Toyotaâ€™s bigger cash pot would deliver them the majority of production.