by Michael Butler
The sportscar world has come on in leaps and bounds in the last decade, with some manufacturers producing cars with over 700 horsepower, and the age of small naturally aspirated rear-wheel-drive cars seeming to be all but dead. Toyota, Subaru, and Mazda, however, refuse to give up on the recipe that has provided thousands of smiles, slides, and edge of your seat motorsports events over the years. When the BRZ was first introduced, it was met with slight confusion; why would Subaru build a rear-wheel-drive sports car with a puny non-turbo engine? Well, that question was instantly answered as soon as people got behind the wheel, and the BRZ/86 name has become synonymous with accessible sports cars and is arguably one of the most famous sports cars to come out of the last decade. The 2020 car sees the return of the performance-tuned tS, which adds Sachs shock absorbers, Brembo brakes, and a number of STI chassis braces. Starting at $28,845, the BRZ goes up against the mechanically related Toyota 86 and Mazda MX-5 Miata.
The Subaru BRZ has been with us since 2012, and since then it's been at the receiving end of a number of appearance, interior, and chassis updates; but for 2020, the recipe has remained more or less the same, despite growing calls for a turbocharged engine. Subaru USA has, however, reintroduced the tuned tS version, which failed to appear on the 2019 roster. The tS features an exclusive Ceramic White paint color, Sachs dampers and coil springs, an STI V-brace, and more.
If you consider yourself a gearhead, even in the slightest degree, you'll be able to recognize the shape of the BRZ instantly. Knowing whether or not it's a Subaru is another story altogether, as the BRZ and Toyota 86 are easy to get mixed up. So, how do you know when it's a 2020 BRZ passing you on the track? Look out for the exclusive Cherry Blossom Red accent around the front grille and the unique rear bumper cover. The roof-mounted shark-fin antenna and BRZ badging are all finished in black. tS models get 18-inch wheels finished in matte-bronze and a low profile rear spoiler. Both the Limited and tS come with LED headlights and foglights, and you'll find heated body-colored wing mirrors on the BRZ Limited. So nothing fancy, you simply get what is needed to keep the rain off the windshield, the road ahead illuminated, and your rear end in check for pesky Miatas.
Most people are stunned when they spot a BRZ or 86 in the wild; they're small cars, which makes complete sense when you consider their purpose. Total length comes in at a compact 166.7 inches, and the total width is a skinny 69.9 inches. The BRZ stands 52 inches tall and has a ground clearance of 4.9 inches. Track in the front is 59.8 inches, growing to 60.6 inches in the rear, and the whole package rolls around on a stubby 101.2-inch wheelbase. One of the BRZ's major allies in providing an exhilarating driving experience that's so difficult to match, is its curb weight of only 2,798 pounds in base form, swelling to 2,833 lbs on the tS, and 2,840 lbs in auto form, which helps it brake later, accelerate faster, and corner harder. This is one of the basic building blocks of creating an effective and fun sports car.
The ethos of the BRZ can be spotted everywhere you look: from its purposeful stance to the no-nonsense interior, and the exterior color options follow that same ethos of getting the job done while having fun. The Limited model is available in five basics such as Crystal Black Silica, Crystal White Pearl, and Ice Silver Metallic. We think that Magnetite Gray Metallic and WR Blue Pearl are the standout colors. The hardcore tS version is exclusively available in Ceramic White, which gives it some sleeper appeal. Hand us the checkbook, and the only real way to go is WR Blue: Ferrari's are red, Toyota Camrys are off-cream, and performance Subarus are blue. Enough Said.
Possibly one of the most debated topics in the sports car world is the BRZ's performance figures. Some believe that Subaru hit the nail on the head when they chose to go with the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter Boxer engine, while others have begged and pleaded for a turbocharged version, claiming that the chassis can handle double the horsepower with ease. We stand firmly on the side of the former: the entire point of this car is to make performance driving accessible and fun for everyone, from professional drivers to 16-year old gearheads just getting into the game. The BRZ's performance can be described as mild to lukewarm depending on who you ask; all we know is that a zero to sixty time in the low six-second range doesn't sound that fast, by modern standards, but with a low center of gravity and a low curb weight, that time feels faster in the real world. Around town, the BRZ zips through traffic, and on the highway, we would be tempted to slide under a semi, Fast and Furious style. A turbo engine is most likely on its way, but the all-motor engine in this car has served the BRZ well, even if the chassis can handle way more power.
Powering the 2020 BRZ is the same all-motor four-cylinder flat-four that's been with us since the car's inception, and a contentious one it's been. The total power output is 205 hp at a high 7,000 rpm, and total torque comes in at 156 lb-ft at 6,400 rpm, while cars equipped with the six-speed automatic see those numbers drop to 200 hp and 151 lb-ft. What this spells is an engine that needs to be kept in the high rev range if you're planning on traveling at any significant speed. This can get tiresome in day to day driving when the torque of a turbocharged WRX would be appreciated, but on the track, it adds to the overall engagement of the car.
The BRZ is the go-to example of the famous saying, "it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow." Power is sent to the rear wheels (where else) via a beautifully engaging six-speed manual transmission. Notice that the word engaging features a lot in this review; that's because it's what the BRZ is all about. A six-speed automatic transmission is available, but we wouldn't recommend it, as the already ponderous zero to sixty time gets extended by seconds, and it takes a large chunk of the fun out of pushing the car for all its worth.
Modern sports cars place a massive focus on the powertrain, and horsepower numbers of 300 to 400 seem pedestrian at best when you can get 700-hp plus Ford Mustangs straight off the showroom floor. This is why cars like the BRZ and Miata feel like a breath of fresh air every time you climb behind the wheel. Sure there's enough power to get you up to speed, but the fun lies in maintaining that speed through the corners, and boy does the BRZ deliver. The steering on this car is one of the most direct we've experienced: the quick 13.1:1 steering ratio provides a telepathic response to every twitch of the steering wheel, similar to - you guessed it - a go-cart.
Both the Limited and tS benefit from a Torsen limited-slip differential, which helps to put the power down through slow corner exits, and the optional sport-tuned four-wheel independent suspension - featuring Sachs performance shock absorbers (standard on the tS) - provide excellent performance damping. STI chassis goodies, in the form of a V-brace and strut tower brace, can be found on the tS to stiffen things up even more for sharper handling and responses. Optional Brembo brakes (standard on tS models) are razor-sharp and inspire confidence on and off the track, but the stock ventilated units are also up to the task, but will fade faster around the track. The BRZ is one of the most fun cars to drive fast, period.
Subaru's flat-four engines have never been known to return good gas mileage, especially in turbocharged configuration, and the BRZ is no different: drive with your pinky toe, and you might see the EPA rated official figure of 29/21/24 city/highway/combined on the Limited with the standard six-speed manual transmission. This number drops to 20/27/23 mpg for the tS. If you're looking for fuel economy, then go for the automatic car: you'll see an impressive 24/33/27 mpg. Out in the real world, these numbers are most likely to drop into the low 20s to high teens, depending on how good your aftermarket exhaust and intake sounds. Fitted with a 13.2-gallon fuel tank, the BRZ has an estimated maximum range of between 304 and 356 miles.
The 2020 BRZ has come quite a way since the early 2010s when its interior reminded us more of a well-equipped Lotus Elise than a Porsche Boxster: just like the rest of the car, Subaru chose to keep things as simple as possible, but to many this plan backfired. The majority of BRZ owners drive their cars on a daily basis, and a more substantial interior was always close to the top of the priority list. The 2020 car has thankfully addressed a lot of those issues, and while the interior on the latest model doesn't feel as upscale as the latest MX-5 Miata, it does enough to keep most drivers happy. The center console on the latest BRZ can come across as a bit too busy, but all the controls are within easy reach of the driver. Standard interior features for 2020 include a heated six-way manually adjustable driver's seat (passengers get four), a leather steering wheel and shifter, old-school analog speedo, coolant temperature, and fuel-level gauges, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control.
There's no mistaking the BRZ for a people carrier; sure, you can fit four people in this tiny 2+2 Japanese sports car, but 50% of the occupants are going to have a really bad time. The front sport bucket seats offer great support and would only be improved by a four-point racing harness. The back seats also take on the shape of a traditional bucket seat and would be some of the greatest rear seats on a modern sports car if only there were more legroom. So, we should probably talk about interior space then. Headroom is surprisingly decent, and six-footers will just about make the cut; you get 37.1 inches in the front, and 35 inches in the rear. Shoulder room comes in at 54.5 inches front, and 51.7 inches rear. The all-important legroom measurement is a night and day type of story - those in the front get a generous 41.9 inches, while back-seat passengers will have to amputate their legs from the knees down to make use of the 29.9 inches in the rear.
Subaru has accomplished a lot with very little. By using a combination of leather, Alcantara, and aluminum, they have created a space that feels decidedly sporty. All the significant touchpoints, such as the steering wheel, shift knob, and seats are covered in leather, with the seats getting a combination of black leather and Alcantara. The high-performance tS model gets leather and Alcantara seats with red leather bolsters, and the dashboard is covered in simulated leather with accent stitching.
For young single types, the BRZ offers enough trunk and cargo space for the daily grind, but if you're stuck with a spouse and/or kids, the BRZ simply won't cut it. Total trunk volume comes in at a minuscule 6.9 cubic feet - which is significantly bigger than the trunk in the Mazda MX-5 Miata, mind you. You'll be able to fit your track day essentials such as a helmet, small toolbox, and a six-pack of Red Bulls, but not much more. Most owners use the back seat for extra storage, which helps the overall practicality of the car, and the rear seats are foldable for even more practicality. Small-item storage is limited to slim door pockets, two cup holders in the front, a small storage compartment in the center console, and a lockable glove box.
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to the features list on the 2020 BRZ. Notable exterior features include LED headlights, foglights, and heated side mirrors. Inside you'll find a leather steering wheel with integrated cruise, Bluetooth, and audio controls and red stitching. Sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, two 12-volt power outlets as well as dual-zone automatic climate control are also included. The security system includes keyless access with push-button start, an anti-theft system, and an immobilizer. Unfortunately, there are no advanced driver assistance systems such as lane-keep assist or auto-forward braking available on the BRZ; however, you can get an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, and Subaru's Starlink safety system which includes features such as automatic collision notification and enhanced roadside assistance.
The Starlink infotainment system on the 2020 BRZ is a vast improvement over the older Subaru systems. Both the Limited and tS are fitted with a seven-inch multimedia display with integrated navigation. Modern amenities such as standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration and SiriusXM satellite radio keep the BRZ at the frontline of modern infotainment systems. There are two USB charging ports on offer as well as Bluetooth streaming. Sound is channeled through a standard eight-speaker system that easily fills the small cabin of the BRZ with rich bass tones, but for those who want more of a punch, Subaru offers an optional Kicker-powered subwoofer. The Starlink system is simple to use and gets all the basics right.
According to the NHTSA, the BRZ has only been recalled once since 2018, and it was only the 2018 models affected, which backs up owner claims that the BRZ/86 family of cars is pretty reliable - especially for a sports car designed to be driven hard on a daily basis. Subaru backs the BRZ with a basic three-year/36,000-mile warranty, which includes a five-year/unlimited-mile corrosion warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a three-year/36,000-mile roadside assistance plan.
The safety levels on the BRZ are a contentious topic: Subaru offers no active driver assistance systems, with even basics such as blind-spot monitoring not featuring on the spec sheet. The NHTSA put the 2020 Toyota 86 through only a few tests, scoring it four stars out of five for frontal protection and five stars for rollover protection. The IIHS tested the BRZ and found that it performed well in most tests, but declined to award it with a Top Safety distinction with no advanced collision avoidance systems.
The BRZ relies on old-fashioned safety systems to keep its occupants alive in case of serious track day impacts and canyon carving mishaps. What you get is a vehicle stability control system with track mode, ABS with brake assist, LED headlights with daytime running lights, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Passive safety features include six airbags, height-adjustable head restraints in the front, height-adjustable three-point seatbelts, and a LATCH system for child seats. It would be a good idea to get the optional auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Subaru's optional Starlink Safety and Security Package is also worth looking at. It adds handy features such as maintenance notifications, vehicle health reporting, diagnostic alerts, and advanced automatic collision notification.
The last decade has produced some of the best sports cars the world has seen, from the Hypercar trio from Porsche, Ferrari, and McLaren, to the monstrous Dodge Demon and excellent Fiesta ST. The Toyota 86 and BRZ can count themselves amongst the greatest sports cars of the decade, and perhaps of the 21st century so far. What the BRZ has done for the sports car world is to bring the focus back to pure driving enjoyment. There's no hiding behind the massive power of a large displacement V8 or turbocharged four; instead, you have to work for every bit of performance on offer, and therein lies the pure beauty of driving the BRZ. It's not the fastest or most practical, but it's one of the most rewarding. Out on the road, the BRZ is only slightly compromised, especially in hardcore tS mode where the ride can get a bit harsh, but the interior is solid and features most of the amenities you'd expect from a 2020 car such as Apple CarPlay and automatic climate control. But we are disappointed that Subaru doesn't include active driver assistance tech. Starting from $28,845, the BRZ is one of the most fun cars you can buy in this price range, even if some offer almost twice the power at the same cost.
The 2020 BRZ is arguably one of the most affordable and capable sports cars out there. The Limited model starts off with an MSRP of $28,845, excluding a destination fee of $900. You'll pay an extra $1,100 to get the automatic transmission. The high-performance tS will cost you $2,650 more than the base model, for a total of $34,495, and is well worth the extra dough. Fully kitted, the tS will set you back close to $38,000. The BRZ's age-old nemesis the Mazda MX-5 Miata trades in the same ballpark, starting at $27,080 for the Sport model, and climbing to $31,855 for the Grand Touring version. The Club model, which is comparable to the BRZ tS, goes for $30,190. The BRZ is also closely priced to its sibling, the WRX, which offers turbocharged power and all-wheel-drive for only $27,495.
The 2020 lineup consists of two trim levels; the BRZ Limited and the BRZ tS. Both cars are powered by the same 2.0-liter flat-four engine, which produces 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, dropping to 200 hp and 151 lb-ft in the automatic. The Limited is available in a six-speed manual or auto, while the tS is exclusively available in manual guise.
The Limited model gets exterior features such as LED headlights and foglights, a trunk spoiler, and heated side mirrors. Inside the cabin, you get manually adjustable and heated front seats covered in Alcantara and leather as well as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone climate control, and a Starlink seven-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The tS gets an exclusive Ceramic White paint job, Crystal Black Silica-finish side mirrors, and exclusive 18-inch STI aluminum-alloy wheels in a matte bronze finish attached to Brembo brakes and Sachs performance shock absorbers. Inside, it benefits from red leather bolsters on the seats.
Limited models are available with an optional six-speed auto transmission for an additional $1,100, and the highly recommended Performance Package for the manual variant adds a set of exclusive alloy wheels, Brembo performance brakes, and Sachs performance shock absorbers, all for just $1,195. For the audiophiles out there, the optional Kicker subwoofer goes for $599.99, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and integrated compass will cost you $377. For diehard STI fans, Subaru offers a range of STI-brand appearance and performance goodies, which includes a $501 short shifter kit, an STI front under spoiler for $399.99, and even STI valve stem caps for $14.99.
The Limited model offers you everything you need to have a blast on the road or track and has proven itself time and time again as being a highly entertaining and capable sports car; however, there is always room for improvement, and the performance-tuned tS model offers just enough to keep fans happy in 2020. What the tS lacks in power it makes up for with even sharper handling, stopping power, and a few cool-looking exterior and interior appearance upgrades. The tS, as with the Limited features LED headlights and foglights, but gets a unique Ceramic White paint job and bronze STI alloy wheels. Behind those wheels lurk a set of high-performance Brembo brakes and Sachs shock absorbers. Inside the cabin, the tS gets a seven-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, SiriusXM satellite radio, and eight speakers. The seats feature exclusive red side bolsters and stitching. You also get dual-zone climate control, manually adjustable front seats, and LED interior lighting. For a total price increase of only $3,550, the tS is most certainly worth the extra cash and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
When Toyota and Subaru announced that they would be collaborating on an RWD sports car, the motoring world stood up and took notice. Their creation would come to define the modern budget sports car scene and can already be considered a modern classic of sorts, but what is the difference between Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ? From the outside, the front fascias differ slightly, and obviously, the two have their own brand badging. The Toyota also sports a honeycomb mesh grille and angular foglights. The BRZ has an arguably more conservative look. Inside the 86 and BRZ share the same dimensions, and both sport soft-touch materials and leather combination seats. The BRZ, however, has a superior infotainment system. Cargo space is exactly the same. In terms of performance, these two cars are almost identical, but some say the BRZ is slightly quicker off the line and returns marginally better fuel economy, but the 86 beats it in terms of handling and ride quality. Most won't be able to tell the difference, and both are priced in the high twenties to low thirties. To us, it all boils down to brand loyalty.
Two of Subaru's most popular sports cars are also very closely priced, but offer wildly different approaches to performance driving. The 2020 WRX is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four engine that produces a healthy 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque sent to all four corners. This allows the WRX to accelerate in under five seconds with a perfect launch. Despite its extra weight and power, the WRX will still manage 27/21/23 mpg city/highway/combined in manual guise. The WRX is also the more practical car, offering more interior space and trunk space and is the easier car to live with on a day to day basis, but compared to the BRZ feels blunted and soft. We suggest getting the WRX if you need the space, enjoy a good popcorn flavored vape, and appreciate the shove of torque and woosh sound of the turbocharged engine. In a perfect world, we'd take both.