The affordable sports car has long been one of the most revered classes of automobiles for enthusiasts.
Triumph and MG got the ball rolling in the 1950s and early ’60s, then the Nissan 240Z exploded on the scene just as the decade of the ’70s was set to take off. The Mazda Miata was a stunning success when it was introduced in 1990, and Honda followed suit in ’99 with the wonderful S2000 roadster.
All of these cars had several things in common: They were light, affordable, nimble, affordable, reasonably quick, affordable, attractive and extraordinarily fun-to-drive. And did I mention they were affordable? Some were coupes, some roadsters, most had two seats, others had marginal rear seats. Most of all, though, they were priced at a level real working men and women could afford and they were fun. Very fun.
No, these weren’t as plush and powerful as the big dog sports cars from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and others, but they were just about perfect for what they were supposed to be and for the markets they served.
The latest entry to follow the affordable format is the Subaru BRZ, which was introduced as an all-new model in 2013.
For a company best known for its frumpy but utilitarian compact SUVs and sedans and its fast-and-furious rally car-based WRX and STI sedans, the BRZ is a revelation.
Specifically, the BRZ is surprisingly orthodox when sticking to the time-honored formula. It’s a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe, wrapped in extremely sexy sheetmetal and priced at a bargain basement $25,595 to start. It’s light, nimble and fun to drive, critical elements to its success.
Subaru jointly developed the BRZ with Toyota, which sells its version as the Scion FR-S. Suspension tunings on the BRZ and Scion are slightly different. Having not driven the Scion, I can’t compare the two, but in terms of handling, Subaru definitely got it right on the BRZ.
With a curb weight of just 2,679 pounds, the BRZ is as sensitive to your touch and inputs as a long-term lover – a good one, anyway. The power rack-and-pinion steering delivers sensational feedback and at all but the absolute limits, the handling is balanced and neutral. That’s in large part to the nearly equal 54/46 distribution of weight from front to rear, which make the BRZ eminently tossable in tight or fast corners alike.
The fact that the direct-injection, flat-four engine is moved back and down relative to where it sits in Subaru sedans helps handling, too.
Speaking of the engine, with just 2 liters of displacement, no turbocharger and only 200 horsepower, BRZ owners aren’t likely to be pouncing on Porsche 911 Turbos to drag race with. That said, 0-to-60 miles per hour acceleration takes only about 6.3 seconds, with a top speed of more than 140 mph. Maybe I’m getting old, but the BRZ feels plenty fast to me.
More importantly, one of the keys to the whole affordable-sports-car-ideal is balance: The BRZ isn’t the quickest or fastest sports car out there, nor does it pull the most lateral G’s on a skid pad. But it is fantastically fun to drive, with real-world performance that will make grown men and women giggle like school children. The BRZ is a blast to drive, certainly more fun than anything else even close to its price point.
Contributing to the sense of goodness is a great cockpit, obviously designed by drivers who like to go fast. The key elements are proper positioning of the steering wheel, three pedals and the gearshift to each other. I’ve sat in race cars that don’t line up as well and the only relatively affordable production car I can think of this well organized is a 3-Series BMW.
There’s a firm, meaty steering wheel to hold onto with posts at the correct 3-6-9 positions you’d find on a clock. Outward visibility is outstanding and the seats hold you as securely as your momma’s arms. Yeah, the interior materials are Subaru-grade and not Mercedes-grade, but that’s OK: They are a honest reflection of the affordable nature of the BRZ. And besides, if you want leather seats and a little fancier interior you can the BRZ Limited for just $27,595, still a screaming bargain.
As far as the back seat goes, it’s perfect for groceries, pets or maybe small kids.
There are virtually no factory options on the BRZ, just a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes, Premium or Limited trim, and a bunch of dealer-installed trim and appearance gee-gaws. You don’t need them anyway, because the BRZ is fine in its minimalist form.
Kudos to Subaru – and to Toyota/Scion – for keeping the notion of the affordable sports car alive and well. The BRZ is a fantastic demonstration that sometimes less really is more.
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-passenger, two-door sports coupe, rear-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.0-Liter four-cylinder, 200 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque.
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 101.2 inches.
OVERALL LENGTH: 166.7 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 2,762 pounds.