The Subaru BRZ Reminds You How Much Fun Driving Should Be

Rear-wheel-drive, affordable, and ready to play, it's a rare breed of car.

subaru brz 2022 blue

When the word officially came down from on high back in 2011 that Toyota and Subaru were joining forces to develop a brand-new, affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car, enthusiasts were — to put it in terms that would be apropos for the target demo back in those days — stoked. Surprised, not so much; after all, Toyota had been touting concept versions at auto shows since early 2007. But stoked? Absolutely.

After all, the Toyobaru's niche had been without a champion for some time, at least in America. The Mazda MX-5 Miata came closest, but it only came in convertible form, which made it a non-starter for some track events (and gentlemen of the George Costanza persuasion). The Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro were still a long way from the remarkably well-rounded performance cars they are today, and the few remaining affordable front-wheel-drive sports coupes like the Honda Civic Si were on their way to being replaced by sedans or axed altogether.

Perhaps just as remarkable as the Toyobaru's creation was its endurance. In spite of its small chunk of its parent companies' sales — even in its best year of 2012, it sold a combined 26,914 units in the United States — and constant rebranding that saw it go by several different names (Scion FR-S, Toyota GT 86, Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ), Subaru and Toyota stood by it, releasing a steady stream of special editions and small upgrades to keep it in the news.

But the world of 2020 was very different from the world of 2011, and not just because of, well...all of that. With crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks more dominant than ever and low-riding cars – especially two-door ones — seemingly a threatened phylum, there didn't seem much chance that Subaru and Toyota would spend the time and energy to renovate and relaunch their sporty duo.

And yet, they did. And as I found out during my first spin in it, it was better than ever. So good, in fact, that I needed to take it for a second drive to see how well it handles real-world living.

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The 2022 BRZ is as fun on the street as at the track
subaru brz 2022 blue

Many of today's sports cars pack such prodigious power, finding a place to make the most of them can be an exercise in frustration — or litigation. Unless you're willing to spend the bucks to invest in a membership at a place like Monticello Motor Club or plan your life around intermittent track days at somewhere like Lime Rock Park, you're going to be uncorking your mighty car on public roads, which means either doing so in ever-so-brief spurts or risking the wrath of Johnny Law — or worse, causing an accident.

The BRZ, however, is just as much of a delight to drive on public roads as it is on an autocross or race track. Its limits are low enough that you can reach them without breaking the speed limit (at least, not by that much) on many a public road, and its balance and handling sweet enough that you'll want to take advantage of that at every opportunity. Wringing out the engine using the six-speed manual takes work, but it's the best kind, giving you the chance to put the gas to the floor and hear the engine sing (a gruff song, I grant you, but still a satisfying one to hear) for more than just a couple seconds at a go.

The BRZ's new engine makes a world of difference
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While it may not seem all that different on paper from the boxer-four that motivated the previous generation of Toyobarus, the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter flat-four under the hood of the new car is a surprisingly big improvement. The bigger engine doesn't just make more torque, it boasts a flatter torque curve, as well, making it feel more potent throughout the rev range — especially at the engine speeds you use most during daily driving. And while 228 horsepower may not seem like much in an era of going to plaid and jailbroken Hellcats, it's still enough to spit the BRZ from 0 to 60 in less than five and a half secondsonly a tick or two behind a 993-generation Porsche 911 Carrera.

The BRZ's interior is adequate, if not exceptional
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The exterior of the BRZ may boast bargain-basement Aston Martin proportions and attractive looks on both ends — the rear, in particular, looks extremely good — but the interior feels much more in line with what you'd expect from a vehicle in this price range. In fact, anyone stepping out of, say, an equivalently-priced Honda Civic or Kia K5 might find it a bit pedestrian by comparison; hard black plastic is the dominating feature, and secondary controls from buttons to vents all feel rather low-rent.

Still, it excels at its mission, which is to facilitate the act of having fun behind the wheel. Your hand only has to move a few inches from steering wheel to shifter; the pedals are well-placed for snappy shifting, whether you heel-and-toe or not; the grippy fabric seats hold you squarely in place even through turns

As with the previous generation, there is indeed a back seat — but like the previous generation, it's better suited for carrying cargo than humans. (Being able to fit a full spare set of wheels and tires inside for track days was a notable party trick of the old Toyobaru, and the new one seems equally capable.) It shouldn't present a problem for anyone who just needs room for grocery runs and the occasional couples' vacation, but if you really need room for four people, you're probably better off buying a WRX — or perhaps a Civic Si or Veloster N — instead.

subaru brz 2022 blue

That budget-conscious planning extends to the instrument panel, which, while all-digital, still manages to look decades old. Part of the issue is the fact that the right-hand third of it is a monochromatic 1980s-style display that could have easily been pulled out of a 40-year-old GM car, but even the other two-thirds — which, blessedly, offers multiple colors — looks a dash dated. It certainly works well — the tach-and-digital speedo in the center, as Porsche has long used, is a layout more carmakers should emulate — but given the ways other carmakers are making layouts both legible and interesting, it's a bit of a bummer.

But to concentrate on such minutiae, again, is to miss the point. The BRZ, like the GR 86, exists to make every trip, every errand, every experience behind the wheel not just a task, but a pleasure. From the feedback that flows through the wheel with every turn to the pulsing that comes up through the shift knob, the BRZ exists to be a visceral driving experience the likes of which is all too rare in new cars these days.

With coupe sales flagging in the face of the SUV wave and an all-electric future looming, it's remarkable that Toyota and Subaru would even bother to team up once again for a new generation of affordable sports cars. (Not surprisingly, the next Toyota-Subaru joint is, in fact, an electric crossover.) Bless them, however, they did — and not only did they do so, they made a point to make it appreciably better than its predecessor. If you have the space in your garage, snap one up while the getting is good and hang onto it forever. Your kids and grandkids will thank you one day when they turn 16.

2022 Subaru BRZ
subaru brz 2022 blue

Base Price / Price as Tested: $28,955 / $31,455

Powertrain: 2.4-liter boxer-four; six-speed manual or six-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 228

Torque: 184 lb-ft

EPA Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway

Seats: 2, plus maybe 2 more tiny folks in a pinch


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