This is the Subaru BRZ, which is perhaps best, if contentiously, described as Subaru’s take on the Toyota GT86 itself the long-awaited lightweight, front-engined, rear-drive sports coupé that has enjoyed what some would see as protracted pre-launch overexposure.
The contention would appear to be over just who is responsible for what in the two cars’ conception, design and development. In 2008, Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe decided he wanted an affordable 2+2 coupé, but his company was already at full production capacity and its development engineers were flat-out working on other projects. As a result, the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ coupés are, in fact, mostly a Subaru production.
Subaru’s 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 percent 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 (but pricier) Toyota. However, he admits that the differences between the cars are limited to wheel design, badges and interior trim.
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 1239kg, and has a centre of gravity 2.5cm lower. The power deficit – more than 100bhp – is not dwelled on, however.
At the BRZ’s heart is Subaru’s 2.0-litre flat-four front engine, codenamed FB20 and already well established in the Impreza. However, it sits 12cm lower in the engine bay than in an Impreza, and 24cm further back. The result is a claimed 45/55 percent front/rear weight distribution. The engine produces 197bhp at 7000rpm and 151lb ft at 6400-6600rpm. Not a huge output, but it feels quick enough, and, thanks to the Toyota-derived cylinder head and direct injection it spins up faster than any other normally aspirated Subaru boxer engine. Only from 1800-3000rpm is the absence of any 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 into controllable oversteer. And at high speeds it feels very stable, thanks in no small part to a relatively long 2570mm wheelbase.
The engine can be linked to manual or automatic six-speed gearboxes. 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, fittingly for such a back-to-basics concept, more fun.
Subaru may describe the interior as pure, but some customers may regard it as spartan. However, the 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, and if readability at speed was the only goal, then they are a success.
In terms of trims, there are two to choose from - SE and SE Lux. The entry-level BRZs come with dual-zone climate control, USB connectivity, keyless entry and go, sports seats and cruise control as standard on the inside, while outside there is 17in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, a rear spoiler and a sporty bodykit.
Upgrade to the range-topping SE Lux model and you’ll find heated front seats and leather and Alcantara upholstery included into the package.
A refresh for spring 2017, coincidentally very similar to the one Toyota recently carried out on the GT86, brings a new 4.2in screen, along with a smaller-diameter steering wheel with audio controls, tweaked exterior styling and powertrain and suspension improvements claimed to improve handling and fuel efficiency. There’s also a new track setting added to the drive mode selector.