Published on July 7th, 2017 | by Seán Ward0
Subaru BRZ 2017 – Don’t Hate The Auto
Cast your mind back to the launch of the Subaru BRZ back in 2012, the same time Toyota launched the almost identical GT86, you’ll remember journalists all over the world went a little bit mad. To some extent both cars went in the opposite direction to many other performance cars of the time, with less weight, less power and skinnier tyres.
Although relatively few people have bought a BRZ or GT86 since, it remains one of the most entertaining cars on sale today, and now for 2017 the BRZ has been given a spruce up.
The elephant in the room, if there is one, is how much power the BRZ’s 2.0 litre, four-cylinder boxer engine produces. For those of you who are looking for me to tell you Subaru has tuned the engine to give another 50bhp or strapped in supercharger I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed, as the 2017 BRZ produces the same 200bhp as it’s always done.
That said, the BRZ’s engine has been updated, it’s just none of the updates (a stronger cylinder block, a lower friction camshaft, lighter rocker arms, polished valve stems) increase the engine’s output, instead making it marginally more responsive and economical instead.
Driving the BRZ is still a pleasure, though. I do understand why some are frustrated the BRZ doesn’t have any more power, but part of the charm of the package is that there’s enough power for you to go quickly and spin the rear wheels but not enough power that you’ll kill yourself or lose your licence.
The engine needs to be revved, as anywhere below 4,000rpm and you really aren’t going anywhere very fast. Above 4,000rpm and the engine is noticeably more awake, only dropping off slightly a few RPM short of the 7,400rpm redline.
As you will have realised from the title, the BRZ I found myself driving was the automatic. “SACRILEGE”, I hear some of you cry, but hold your horses, let me talk you through it.
The BRZ’s automatic is a simple six-speed auto, not a seven or eight-speed double clutch as seems to be the way with many sports cars nowadays. Initially the feeling is odd, driving a car that’s reputation is pinned on the way it drives and the experience, but the BRZ’s automatic doesn’t sap a huge amount of joy from the car.
Leaving the gearbox in automatic, I was stunned at how docile the BRZ could be and just what a difference not changing gear myself in a car like the BRZ could make; rather than ragging it at every opportunity I found myself relaxing a little more, savouring the car rather than rinsing it. It isn’t the best automatic gearbox around, lurching between gears at normal speeds from time to time, but it blips the engine on the way down and is quite quick on the way up when you’ve really got your foot down.
There are paddles behind the steering wheel, of course, for those moments when you do decide to change gear yourself. The changes remain the same, quick when you’re going for it and a little jerky when you’re not, but being able to manually change gear brings out even more of the BRZ’s character. One interesting challenge unique to the automatic BRZ is that the clutch is no longer in your repertoire, so you have to wait for slippy surfaces or use the car’s weight transfer to get the rear wheels to spin.
The dampers have been redesigned to reduce body roll whilst also improving comfort, a change you can feel but only if you’re really looking for it. The BRZ’s handling remains as sharp as ever, and the whole car feels so solid around you that you’re able to tune directly into what the tyres, the suspension and the brakes are doing at each corner.
16-inch ventilated disks at the front and 15-inch ventilated disks bring the car to a halt nicely, although the automatic’s brake pedal doesn’t feel quite as communicative as the manual’s.
Subaru hasn’t fiddled around with the design too much. The nose is lower and wider, there are full-LED front headlights (a first for Subaru), new rear lights, new wheels and a new metal rear wing.
Inside the cabin Subaru has modified the steering wheel and changed the leather, changed some of the materials, added Alcantara to the uber-supportive seats, and integrated a small LCD screen into the instrument cluster that can display a G-meter, steering angle gauge, brake force gauge, lap timer or torque and power curves. The cabin still doesn’t scream ‘quality’, but things like the Alcantara seats have improved things slightly.
Driving the automatic was something of a surprise. Initially the prospect of driving one of the most involving cars on sale with an automatic gearbox had me feeling frustrated, but the BRZ’s personality is so strong and the way it drives so good the auto ‘box didn’t ruin the experience. It’s different, that’s for sure, and three peddles and a stick would ultimately be more rewarding, but the automatic means more people can enjoy the fun – what’s so bad about that?