Subaru BRZ May Revive the Lightweight, Affordable Sports Car

The BRZ was shown in Tokyo last month, and a bunch of reviewers got to drive it at Subaru’s test track. There were very few niggling comments; most everyone loved the handling of the car and its broad power band.

After so many years of idiotic horsepower wars, muscle-car wars, 0-60 mph wars, maybe it’s finally time to look at what a sports car should be—light, fast and tossable—and how to make one that the rest of us can afford to buy.

The BRZ promises super handing and decent performance (200 hp; 150 lb-ft of torque) at “less than” a $25,000 promised base price when it comes to the U.S. in May. Autoweek’s Mark Vaughn described driving the car:

If driven wimpily, you will say the 2013 BRZ understeers, which is true. But if tossed gleefully into corners like you really mean it, you will find that the BRZ first understeers and then oversteers, depending on how sensitive you are to the car’s balance. Our first laps around Subaru’s Tochigi handling course and giant skidpad were done a little too gingerly, since it was still a little damp and there is just about no runoff on the road course. There’s where we felt the understeer. Subsequent laps, driven with greater throttle input, demonstrated a delightful balance that allowed us to hang the tail out by lifting off to bring the back end over then getting back on it to keep it hanging out there.  The transition was as easy and progressive as we wanted to make it.

Jointly developed with Toyota, which apparently was responsible only for the car’s design and fuel injection, the BRZ is really Subaru’s baby. The company designed a new Boxer engine up front, set low and back in the car for a very low center of gravity. It’s a 2+2, though the rear seats are ridiculously small, and the result is a rather plain but purposeful-looking car that achieves its performance without a turbo, with rear-wheel drive and a perfectly tuned suspension.

Interior, front seats and appointments generally are fine, and most of the stuff you’d want is standard.

Our resident Toyota maven, tgriffith, told you in October that three versions of the car (from Toyota, Scion and Subaru) were planned. How or whether they will differ, except in badging, we don’t yet know.

The BRZ will have less power than its sibling WRX, no all-wheel drive, and a better manual transmission. It will be a car that will take you back to the “Mazda RX-8 and Miata, the Porsche 944 and original Boxster—and [like] all of those cars from decades ago—the BRZ is fun because of handling, not because of a sledgehammer that hits when you mash the gas pedal.”

It doesn’t want or need a turbo, and its response and performance on the track reminded some writers of the Porsche Cayman (apples and oranges, others might say, and twice the cost of a BRZ). But Cayman handling was the goal Subaru engineers were after.

And more clout is promised, with two STI versions showing at the upcoming Tokyo Auto Salon. Club racers are going to have fun with this one.

Why would Toyota and Subaru offer three versions of the same (we think) car? Is this just rebadging carried to an extreme?

—jgoods

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