by Gabe Beita Kiser
There's not much to be said about the Subaru BRZ that hasn't already been said about the Scion FR-S or Toyota GT86-both of which we've already driven and enjoyed thoroughly-but the entire point of cars like these is to have an absolute ball and feel ever so slightly better than 70% of the other cars on the road. When the opportunity to have that kind of experience arises without having to pay for the car, its gas, and associated damages if any were to occur, who's gonna say no?
And so once again we found ourselves with another rear-wheel drive coupe imported from the Gumna Prefecture of Japan, this time painted in a lovely shade of WR Blue Pearl and given an appropriate Subaru badge to match-an accurate indicator that it's a Subaru-made 2.0-liter low-center gravity boxer-four underneath the hood and not some inline-four concoction from Toyota. The only piece of external visual superiority this Subie had over its Toyota twin, aside from an attractive color that allowed those red Brembo brake calipers to stand out, was a spoiler at the rear that added a hint of aggression and more importantly visual, balance to help the rear end's taper feel less abrupt.
Nothing about the hardware has changed since the last time we checked in with 2017's model GT86, however our Subie did come optioned with the $1,195 Performance Package. That adds those lovely red Brembo brakes, SACHS front struts and rear shock absorbers, and 17" Grey alloy wheels. Get inside and the differences remain subtle and hard to pick out, but the discerning eye can spot them and immediately tell why Subaru can make an Outback and still be known as one of the "fun" Japanese brands while Toyota is considered a boring automaker despite the fact it used to (and soon will) make the Supra. It all starts with the discrepancies the manufacturer can most easily control.
This includes things like the infotainment software and air conditioning controls. There are switches resting under three sleek silver knobs-as well as those knobs themselves- controlling A/C functions and both sets of controls liven up the experience more than the GT86's chunky dials can ever hope to. It's a subtle touch, but what more is to be expected for a vehicle that calls itself a sports car and costs less than $30 grand? At least Subaru was kind enough to throw in heated front seats since creature comforts like these help do away with the BRZ's exposed tinny nature on cold foggy nights. It's nights like those, however, that the differences between each car fade into the distance. And so do the similarities for that matter.
Once the road is yours and reflections of the headlamps bouncing back off the fog are the only things staring at you, the BRZ and GT86's shining quality comes out. That would be the fact that, even with only 205 horsepower slithering through six driver-selected gear ratios, it absolutely begs to be flogged. It's a true statement of intent that Subaru markets its engine's low center of gravity before the horsepower rating because the BRZ's apparent resistance to forward momentum really does take a backseat to an appetite for the corners. That hunger can come at any time, even when downshifting to pass a Prius at which point it becomes necessary to tame oneself as the reckless inner need for road domination begins to take hold.
Satisfying that craving takes a long lonely winding road so that the process can begin. Be patient as the tachometer climbs higher into the rev range and you'll be treated to a raspy engine noise being piped into the cabin-the boxer sputtering and coughing as if it was a piece of sandpaper that contracted rabies. Pray your shoes are dry before heel-toe downshifting into the first corner (wet Converse and metal pedals do not mix) and yank the wheel hard. With or without those skinny 215mm tires, the taut suspension and anorexic body provides grip, grip, and more grip. And then, just when you think it'll break hold, you realize that the BRZ is simply not going fast enough to oversteer.
Annoyed, the natural reaction is to dive lower into the gears in search of more momentum but that poor 2.0-liter's fight to make the peak and trough between corner-exit acceleration and pre-apex braking doesn't go very far. That's why, despite the subtle differences it has over the GT86 that are sure to make the boy racers happy, the BRZ is more like a loyal corgi owned by Usain Bolt rather than a half-breed mutt from the pound that can play fetch. As much as its excited self is overjoyed to play, it simply cannot keep up. At least it's fun to take to the dog park when you get a spare moment.