by Jake Lingeman
The first Subaru BRZ was fantastic. It and the Scion FRS-turned-Toyota 86 were a return to mildly powered, rear-wheel-drive sports cars like the original Datsun Zs and old MGBs. With their matching four-cylinder engines, they slotted a rung below the new Nissan Zs and two rungs below our favorite V8 American pony cars, at least in power. But for the fun factor, they almost couldn't be rivaled.
The last BRZ was fun and excellent, but we would have never called it thrilling, with an engine that sounded like a garbage disposal and that was gutless in the midrange. But this new version packs a 2.4-liter Boxer engine with 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque - up 23 hp and 28 lb-ft on the old one - making it a blast on twisty back roads, epic on long autocross courses, and pretty damn good on the road course, if not scarily fast. Its biggest competitors are the Toyota GR 86 and Mazda MX-5 Miata, but as a 2+2 coupe with rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, comparison can be drawn to the entry-level Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang too.
The BRZ in its original form was a brilliant concept with flawed execution, but this update takes it to another level. Subaru might have even beaten the Mazda Miata at its own game.
The 2022 BRZ is technically all-new and now in its second generation. Once again co-developed with Toyota, it employs a heavily revised version of the old platform. It follows the same recipe as the old car, which means a Boxer engine in the front, a six-speed transmission in the middle, and power only to the rear wheels. The main criticism against the first-generation 86/BRZ was a lack of grunt, which Subaru hopes to fix with a newly developed 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated flat-four engine. It produces 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. The latter is a 15% increase and the most crucial figure related to this new budget performance car.
See trim levels and configurations:
Subaru has moved the seats a few millimeters closer to each other and lower to the floor. The hip point is actually lower than the center of gravity, which makes you feel like part of the vehicle's chassis when strapped in. It has 50% more torsional rigidity and 60% more lateral rigidity, making for an aggressive handling/ride balance and quick changes of direction. So quick, in fact, your pilot got a little woozy on the muggy New England day.
The base tires are Michelin Primacy measuring 215/45 R17. The upgraded Limited trim comes with lower profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber measuring 215/40 R18. We'll note that on the way out to the track, another driver bent two of those bigger wheels on one side after diving through a pothole. However, we'd still have no problem daily driving this, even on rough midwestern roads.
The suspension setup is the same as last year, with independent MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar in front, along with double wishbones and another stabilizer bar in the rear. Weight balance is 53/47 front to rear.
In our first autocross event, the BRZ would slide to our heart's content, but we'll note that even in track mode with the traction control off, if you push the angle too far, the nannies still step in to save you. The best portion of the track featured an uphill hairpin turn, which allowed for super slow speed, super smoky drifts. As much as we like sticky tires, this car is decidedly more fun with the Primacy rubber.
On the full Lime Rock course, we did use BRZ with the stickier tires, and on some of those 75-mph, flat-out corners we appreciated the extra rubber. There wasn't a ton of road feel in the steering wheel, but because we felt so connected to the chassis we could tell when the car was about to slip.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
If you don't need space for four occupants or kids, you should trade whatever you're driving for a Subaru BRZ right now, no matter what climate you live in. It's that good. It was almost a perfect car before, and though we're not power junkies, the additional ponies make this vehicle feel like a Lotus. Okay maybe not that sharp, but it's certainly in the medical tool realm, as opposed to a farm implement like a Mustang or Camaro.
It is the first year, which always brings a few problems, but the base price is perfect at $28,955. Anecdotally, we know a few people with the first year of the first generation, and they've been problem free.
As for the competition, the stellar VW GTI is within a few hundred bucks but is far less fun despite being quicker in a straight line. The biggest rivalry will come from the roofless Mazda Miata. It doesn't have rear seats and its trunk is much smaller, but as a like-for-like driving experience, it's pretty damn close. That's perhaps the biggest praise here, though, as the previous BRZ wasn't up to the same standard as the Miata. This new one, however, is the Miata's biggest challenger in decades.
|Subaru BRZ||228 hp||20/27 mpg||$28,595|
|Toyota GR86||228 hp||20/27 mpg||$28,400|
|Subaru WRX Sedan||271 hp||19/26 mpg||$29,605|
Some people said they could tell the subtle handling and performance differences between the previous-generation 86 and BRZ. Those people were lying. However, a comparison between the new ones may prove slightly different as Toyota used several different suspension components in their pursuit of a sharp driving experience. The Toyota has different steering knuckles, stabilizers, bushings, springs, and ECU tuning, and Toyota wanted it to be a sharper, harsher car than the slightly more comfort-oriented BRZ. We still say you'd have to drive them back to back to notice the difference. Aside from those elements, both have the same 228 hp and 184 lb-ft and the same gearbox choices, even the available rubber options are the same. Minor tweaks are brand-specific. The Subaru has red stitching on the seats, for example. The Toyota has nice GR badges on the steering wheel and starter button. But they're the same car, right down to the safety features that are only available once an automatic gearbox is equipped.
The exteriors are different.
The car you choose will come down to brand preference, and both brands enjoy a strong following in the USA. The only other thing that could have an impact is pricing. The BRZ used to be the more expensive of the two, but Scooby's new pricing structure is quite aggressive and likely to close that gap. At the time of this writing, Toyota hasn't published pricing for the GR 86. Either way, we'd recommend a test drive of both to see which you prefer.
If the BRZ is a bit on the small side, don't worry. Subaru also offers the WRX at a similar price. You won't get the tail-happy antics or that razor-sharp track driving experience, but the WRX comes with its own set of unique skills. It has a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four delivering 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That's a lot more torque than the new 2.4-liter NA flat-four can muster. With just 228 hp/184 lb-ft on tap, the WRX's power and intelligent AWD system put it ahead when it comes to outright speed. Since it's a sedan, it also has a usable rear seat and a big trunk. The WRX is the car you upgrade to when you decide to expand the family. For everything else, the BRZ is a more engaging experience.
There's an all-new WRX coming out for 2022, but at the time of this test drive, no details had yet been confirmed. It's expected to utilize a turbocharged version of the BRZ's 2.4L.
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