“Keep it simple” is a siren song for driving enthusiasts and weekend racers who love a certain kind of sports car. And if you hear that as meaning lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, relatively inexpensive, inherently well-balanced, and not overwhelmed by electronic controls—and excluding muscle cars—it’s been a song sung surprisingly little in recent years.
The 2013 Subaru BRZ has all that seductive simplicity, though—to a degree that’s rare today (think Mazda MX-5 Miata, the late Honda S2000, and maybe the Nissan 370Z). We’ve waited eagerly for months to drive the BRZ; now we have on some quite challenging canyon and mountain roads near Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. And the BRZ lives fully up to our expectations for practicality and exceeds our expectations for driving enjoyment.
Pure handling delight? Check.
To the point, the BRZ is a hoot to drive, especially when the road becomes tighter and curvier. This is no straight-line speed machine; it was engineered for balance, poise, and the sort of seat-of-the-pants driving feel that few models have today. The BRZ’s 2,800-pound curb weight, simple layout, and “pure handling delight” mantra all speak to that.
On those sorts of roads, the BRZ's horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engine, a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four, feels ideally matched for the car, even though its 200 hp—and especially its 151 pound-feet of torque, made at a high 6,600 rpm—isn’t all that special by today’s standards. Keep the engine spinning and you’ll be happily squirting out of one corner and on to the next, though. The engine revs meaningfully into its high ranges, and is at its best in the 4,500-rpm to 6,500-rpm range, where power is building quickly and somewhat ordinary four-cylinder intake sounds yield to a tenorous, pulsating bark that does indeed sound like WRXs that have received the tuner treatment.
Peak power is reached at 7,000 rpm, but there’s no point in revving all the way to the 7,400-rpm redline as power drops off noticeably the moment you hit the power peak. But even with the six-speed automatic transmission we had, keeping the engine in its powerband was easy, and fun, with the steering-wheel paddle-shifters; in its sport mode, the transmission firms upshifts (and delays them) noticeably and provides a neat rev-matched throttle blip for downshifts. Pressing harder on the accelerator in sport/manual model also doesn’t force a downshift—a feature we appreciated when we wanted to keep a clean line through some tight uphill corners with a choppy surface.
After even a few minutes driving the BRZ, we found it confidence-inspiring and extremely predictable. With low-mounted struts and coil springs in front, plus a front brace, and a double-wishbone (multi-link) setup essentially adapted from the STI, the BRZ is tuned to scrub speed off at the front wheels first and transfer its weight cautiously back to the tail when the driver pushes it. You can edge the tail out under power, but you have to make an effort to do that with revs and a heavy right foot. There’s a DSC Sport mode for the stability control, but you hardly need it as the BRZ feels so neutral and dynamically transparent. Factor in the rather quick steering ratio—with gear apparently mounted just right to transmit the subtleties of the road as you approach the limit, and it’s the kind of sports car you just feel comfortable with on dry highways.