You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

2017 Subaru BRZ First Drive Review

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/5/2016 Manufacturer, Kim Reynolds
undefined 2017 Subaru BRZ First Drive Review

"This is goddamn insaaaane!" I shouted against the shhhhhhh of wind storming around the cabin. As my left hand threaded the delicate shifter click-tick-chink into sixth, the exhaust hoarsed out another reedy ut-whahaaaa, the tach needle commenced its last saw-tooth climb, and my eyes finished their widened into 100 percent full-surprise Macaulay Culkin saucers. 

Partly from fear. But also because my retinas were anxious to sponge up every photon of visual detail about what was rushing at me ahead. Because "ahead" looked just like I'd bailed out of a plane and fell into an endless cloud. An enveloping fog had slid down the slopes of Mount Fuji and unfortunately decided that it liked it right about here, meaning I was now bulleting straight into this white vapor goo in Subaru's newly updated BRZ.

This straight at Fuji Speedway in Oyama, Japan, is nearly a mile long. Below me, the twirling Michelin tires were sizzling over the mist-soaked asphalt. Not exactly the flooded track that caused Niki Lauda to famously quit the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix and hand the World Championship to the water-skiing McLaren of James Hunt. But it was sure wet enough for me. "My life is worth more than a title," Lauda had said next to his steaming Ferrari as he pulled his balaclava off his fire-raw face. Mine is worth more than a story lead. Except, well, I guess it isn't.

MotorTrend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTrend Image

Long, teeth-clinched seconds passed at top speed, the windscreen ghost white as the grandstands on the left and pits on the right smear hauntingly past the side windows. I searched for the pairs of red brake lights of the other cars that should eventually wink on, my visual Morse code to the tight right first corner that I knew was close. And suddenly, double dots like hazy red cherries finally did appear, floating maybe 50 yards ahead. I hit the brakes—tires chirping eerr, eerr, eerr —and suddenly I was close up on those other cars' tails. Out of nowhere, there was a weaving blue BRZ with its new aluminum rear wing and more expressive taillights and a black car, a current BRZ, here for comparison. I downshifted twice, jumping two gears at a time, and screwed the wheel to the right. And like that, my stomach relaxed, the perspiration stopped. The fog was thinner and the road was snaking, letting me finally dance a little with this car's perfectly matched driving partner.

The man and machine duet is only well paired when their physical scales and reflexes are in perfect synch. If your partner's rotund, you're nervous about that lamp on the end table; if its violently powerful or overtired, you're dancing with an agitated addict. The BRZ doesn't put a foot wrong at either. Its svelte build wears 12-foot-wide roads in a pleasurable loose fit; corners become a canvas for joyous, apex-kissing sweeps. Any larger cars just add arthritis to the trajectory. Meanwhile, its tires are right-sized to appreciate that a slip angle isn't a cold-sweat fright but a violin string to be bowed; the inevitable mistake can be caught with the hand speed any of us can achieve. The engine's well-proportioned power paints a smile on you without revealing clinched teeth, too; the acceleration never outruns your cerebellum's wits. 

And for 2017, Subaru's engineers have buffed this balance to an even higher sheen. After our lapping, we corralled the BRZ's engineers in the pit garage next to the company's full-blown racing team that was running a test session and peppered them with questions.

MotorTrend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTrend Image

Drivetrain: The two-liter boxer rises 5 hp to 205 at 7,000 rpm and 4 lb-ft to 115 at 6,400 revs. Most of this is credited to better breathing from a larger intake manifold on one end—it's necessarily cast in aluminum (red-finished) instead of molded plastic—and expanded-diameter exhaust plumbing on the other. More robust bottom-end bearings; lower-friction cam, valve, and piston surfaces; and a reduced-resistance high-pressure fuel pump benefit the engine in other ways. The old torque crater at 4,100 rpm is still there—but pinched narrower by 7 percent more twist around 3,000 rpm bookended by similar muscle added up near redline. When asked why even that diminished torque dip remains, the interpreter hesitantly translated the question into Japanese, whereupon the engineer subtly winced and was silent for an instant. "It's an inevitable characteristic of four-cylinder engines," he said. You could sense that this man had spent many long nights wrestling with that dip in the curve.

What's way more curious is that due to what Subaru would consider excessive noise on downshifts, the automatic transmission option continues with the previous engine. Gosh, you'd think it would be simpler to solve whatever this problem is than bandage it with two variations of the same engine, but with auto trans being a mere 25 percent of what's already a small-selling car, I'm guessing they've done the math. Let's just agree that the manual-shift car is the priority. Shaking salt in the wound, the already excellent six-speed manual receives an extra-hardened sixth gear for better durability, with all cars shortening their diff ratio from 4.1:1 to 4.3:1.

Handling: The front springs are slightly stiffer, the rears softer; the anti-roll bars swap those traits, the shocks retuned for quicker initial response. The significant upshot is that the car's cornering axis has moved slightly rearward, making the nose even pointier. (When the car rotates, the front now moves more aggressively.) Connecting you to this is a slightly remapped steering effort that builds more smoothly off-center. The even better news is the new Performance trim that adds 0.5-inch-wider (going to 7.5 inches) black alloy wheels, roughly 1.0 inch larger front and rear Brembo brakes, and Sachs ZF shock absorbers.

MotorTrend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTrend Image

Structure and Style, Inside and Out: Pinpointed reinforcements are sprinkled throughout the body shell—where the engine bay stiffeners meet at the firewall, around the transmission tunnel, and at the rear shock's pickup points. Cosmetically, redesigned headlamp clusters project all-LED light, and its lower chin is refashioned for an impression of greater width; at back are bolder LED taillights and that slim, freestanding aluminum wing (on all models). Inside, the focal point is a new steering wheel, now a half-inch smaller, that with the Limited (the BRZ's higher trim) gets a leather-wrapping rim plus spoke-mounted thumb controls for the audio system (on the left) and the new 4.2-inch performance display integrated into the instrument bezel (on the right). Further polishing the Limited's cabin are premium material accents with Alcantara seat inserts, its seat back embroidered in a red BRZ. 

Throughout our lapping session, that race team next door had been a hive of scurrying blue jumpsuit technicians making adjustments, tapping at screens, fast-talking without the usual extreme Japanese politeness, and periodically firing up its 350-hp, 2.0-liter engine for eardrum-stretching minutes of rap! rap! rap! revving. Eventually, its two drivers were introduced and posed for pictures, and then each driver took all of us out for a lap in the cars we'd just driven.

The moment my seat belt clicked, Takuto Iguchi had his hand stuck out to shake, his helmet tilted toward me and framing blinking, smiling eyes. Takuto was having a ball driving this car, so much so that when on my lap we ran wide and right off the road in Turn 2, he just laughed hysterically. It was infectious. I started laughing, too.

MotorTrend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTrend Image

Whereas the current BRZ would bound and unsettle slightly exiting Turn 1, the updated car swept over it as if the corner had been repaved in a finger snap. Its new Track mode (previously called Sport) permits broad oversteering drifts that melt into safe, stability-controlled cornering without anything like the previous car's abrupt lasso yank. Subaru seems to have taken that car's parts and reassembled them into a noticeably more unified, more tightly stitched whole. Frankly, I can't picture anything that packs more giggles for this little money.

And strangely, that fog wound up illuminating how good this car is. "I don't think I'd have fully appreciated the confidence it gives you had the day had been clear," another journalist noted. You gradually trusted that no matter the surprises that murk happened to spring, the odds were good that you'd somehow, probably collect the car up again. 

Well except for on that long, blind straightaway.

2017 Subaru BRZ rear three quarters© Provided by MotorTrend 2017 Subaru BRZ rear three quarters

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Motor Trend

Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon