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2013 Subaru BRZ Road Test

The 2013 Subaru BRZ may be the purest, simplest sports coupe on the market, but do you want it?

What It Is
An affordable sports coupe for the rest of us
Best Thing
It's an attainable fantasy
Worst Thing
Turning it off
Snap Judgment
Buy it and drive it. Now.


It's not often that an automotive journalist, on the evening before turning in a car he's reviewing, sits at a computer to check his bank account. To go over the monthly bills and expenses, or to re-examine his current transportation scenario to see, to dream about not giving the keys back. Or, really, in the literal sense, to see if said car could fit into the family situation. And if it does, hypothetically speaking, does he pull the trigger?

Does he?

If the 2013 Subaru BRZ is anything like its twin, the Scion FR-S--and it should be--then we imagine this scenario and the inevitable decision will unfold for potentially tens of thousands of drivers each year. We're not immune to that decision, either. But we've also twice dipped our feet into those waters, so we knew what to expect.

We were on hand for the Scion FR-S media launch in early 2012, and we gave it a full road test a few months later. In both instances, we gushed over the driving mechanics and the idea that YES, there is room for an affordable sports coupe in today's automotive landscape. Which brings us to the Subaru BRZ. We'd heard that it offered the same great ride as its twin, but that it was supposed to be a more adult-like approach to comfort and quality.

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Was it more civil than its eager sister-car? Could Subaru justify the heavier cost difference to the seemingly identical Scion? And what exactly were the differences between the two?

What We Drove

The 2013 Subaru BRZ comes in two trims: Premium, and Limited. Our model was the base Premium with a six-speed manual transmission and cloth seats. In fact, our tester came equipped with zero options checked--not that we're complaining--it's just that, well, for a sports coupe, this car was loaded.

Among the features are auto on/off HID headlights and LED daytime running lamps, a touchscreen GPS navigation system with voice-activated hands-free phone controls, an eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth streaming audio, a fold down rear seat, and a leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Both models get the same 200-hp, 2.0-liter "boxer" four-cylinder engine, the advanced Toyota-derived "direct" injection system, a sport-tuned suspension, Torsen limited-slip differential, Vehicle Stability Control and a five-mode traction control system.

Though we passed on the BRZ Limited trim, an additional $2,000 nets you a leather-and-Alcantara trimmed interior, a rear spoiler, and push-button ignition. In both the Premium and Limited, a paddle-shifter equipped six-speed automatic transmission costs an extra $1,100, but with it, you get a 3-mpg boost in city and mixed driving, and a 4-mpg boost to highway mileage (22/25/30 to 25/28/34).

The BRZ is also an IIHS "Top Safety Pick" after having scored IIHS' highest rating on roof strength, side impact, and front overlap tests. Though video footage of NHTSA crash tests exist on YouTube, NHTSA has not yet released its own ratings. The BRZ comes equipped with a plethora of airbags, including side curtain and seat-mounted torso airbags. Other safety features include 3-way height adjustable seatbelts, and standard backseat LATCH points.

The Commute

Given the nature of a sports coupe, the 2013 Subaru BRZ holds up remarkably well for a commuter. That's a relative comparison, by the way, as you've no doubt noticed the BRZ ain't no Toyota Camry.

Make no mistake, the Subaru BRZ makes for a very capable racecar platform. It's got the requisite two doors, stiffened chassis and suspension, heavily-bolstered seats, a minimalist, uncluttered interior, and if I still haven't made the case, then Subaru's official pitch will: The rear seats fold down to enlarge the trunk, accommodating four spare tires, as in race tires, so you can drive your racecar to the track.

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Let me say that again differently, though: So you can drive your car to the racetrack. Despite Subaru's enthusiast-aimed, well-minded intentions, the BRZ isn't a barely-legal, one-trick racehorse. It doesn't drive like a stage-three powered juice blender. But relatively speaking, the BRZ is as easy and accessible and (almost as) comfortable to drive as a Toyota, provided you could stomach the low ride height and the difficult cabin entry.

While the interior is thankfully short of extraneous niceties, the BRZ is equipped with a few modern touches. No, there aren't any steering wheel volume or phone controls. That would be stupid and antithetical to the pure sports coupe ideal. The steering wheel connects your hands to the road--and that's it. And though the seats are heavily bolstered to secure your rump for high lateral-g driving, even the giants among our staff found the seats pleasant enough for a two-hour cruise.

I'm an audio nut, so for commuting, I place an unequal weight on audio quality. The BRZ isn't ideal for sophisticated listening, but the audio system offered enough punch to overpower road and wind noise when needed. Unfortunately, actually making it sound good wasn't easy. Though I'm grateful for the chance to individually control separate frequencies via an equalizer menu, I also recognize that it's incurably frustrating to sort through. This echoes our sentiment on the topic of infotainment--our one major gripe with the BRZ. I'm sure if Subaru's engineers had it their way, the BRZ wouldn't even have a radio or air condition, let alone GPS and voice-activated phone controls, but that's the reality of today's automotive landscape. Accepting this, though, Subaru could have done a better job making the small-buttoned controls easier to use.

Also, a moon roof would be great.

Lastly, if it matters to you--and it probably does--the little 2.0-liter four-cylinder returned an impressive 25.6 mpg in our week with it, which is actually higher than the EPA estimated 25-mpg mixed.

The Grocery Run

In our highly scientific storage evaluations, we found the Subaru BRZ can hold about 7 grocery bags, or just two if you happen to own a similar Britax folding stroller as what we used in our photos. For the record, we don't know anyone who owns a BRZ (or Scion FR-S) for its grocery-or stroller-carrying capabilities, but. You know. It does a little bit of that, too. Little being the key word, there. But that's what, a week's worth of groceries anyway, right?

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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As it pertains to city driving, the BRZ is surprisingly easy to live with--if most of your driving is solo, or with just one other person. It technically has a backseat, but the aforementioned tires would be more comfortable in it than actual primates. I found the backseat easier on my feet after removing my shoes. And while it was difficult to get child seats through the space between the front seats and the pillar, I found the LATCH points in the backseat very easy to secure.

The Weekend Fun

The Subaru BRZ was made for adventurous weekend driving--everyday. Yes, that's such a cheeseball line, I get it, but the BRZ, unlike just about every other car on the market, plays so neutrally in everyday driving, but the instant the road in front of you stops being straight, something magical happens. The magic in this case is the BRZ's stiffened, lightweight chassis. That's not something you feel while cruising down the highway, or even around town, but it's what makes the 200-hp engine so rewarding.

For the record, a 200-hp four-cylinder isn't special. And neither is a regular, six-speed manual transmission. But in this case, and due to the BRZ's 2,762-lb weight, it's enough for the little coupe to accelerate to freeway speeds in as little as 6.4 seconds. That's quick-ish by today's standards, and it's more pronounced on proper roads. THAT is where the BRZ shines.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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Thankfully, the suspension and brakes are fond of those roads, too. And that ordinary manual transmission? It shifts like a dream, absent of fuss or notchiness or wiggle, and with a clutch that engages easily and accurately. The electrical power steering, too, enables the vehicle to point exactly where you direct the wheel--without slop or overcompensation. Thus, the Subaru BRZ effectively functions like a costlier, exotic version of itself, but at an everyman's price point.

Summary

The Subaru BRZ redefines greatness. There hasn't been a car this exciting, this civil, this affordable, and also this economical since… ever. A 1990s Acura Integra GS-R came close, as does any generation Mazda MX-5 (Miata), but each of those is held back in some way compared to the BRZ.

So, who is this car for? Why get this over a Mazda MX-5, a Civic Si, a Hyundai Genesis Coupe or even its sister, the Scion FR-S? There is virtually no driving difference--for normal people on normal roads--between the BRZ and the FR-S, but inside, the BRZ is definitely more premium, and uses better quality materials. The MX-5 is as superb on any road you toss it, but most people need a roof, or a trunk. The Civic Si is slower, heavier, and driven by the front wheels. In fun-ness and performance, there's no competition. And that goes for the Genesis Coupe as well.

More so than just about any car not named Miata, two minutes behind the wheel is enough to convert any driver. It's impossible to not smile, and it's difficult to give the keys back. We almost didn't.

Our advice? Get this exact model, the BRZ Premium Manual, as equipped, and just drive. Take it to the racetrack, or an abandoned or empty parking lot. Better yet, drive it on every canyon or mountain road in your area until you've seen every bump and surface imperfection in your dreams. In both directions. Then drive it some more. Drive it with the windows down and the radio off, alone or with a significant other. Feel the bloated boxer burble rumble or purr. Drive it to feel alive. Drive it to get away, or to just get to work. But whatever you do, just drive.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $26,265
Fuel Economy: 25.6
EPA City: 22
EPA Highway: 30
EPA Combined: 25
Cargo Space: 2/7
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent fitment, easy to LATCH, difficult to get into
Estimated Combined Range: 332
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average

Notebook Quotes

"OK. Now I get it. Now I get the hype, the breathless prose, the EHRMEGERDs surrounding this platform. The FR-S left me cold, a one trick pony that, despite being very good at its trick, was intolerable the rest of the time. Too much noise, too much harshness, too little refinement. But the Subaru's extra $2,000 is money well spent. The interior is a little bit nicer. The ride is marginally softer. The interior is just a couple dBs quieter. But it all adds up to a significantly improved car, one that's a much better option as a sporty, fun, quick daily driver." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"My roommate kept remarking that it felt slow compared to his WRX, but this isn't a machine of speed; it's a machine of precision, of fun… the car is surprisingly livable… [though] getting into or out of it isn't the most dignified thing... And I still hate Subaru's touchscreen head unit. I find the fact that it doesn't have a knob to control the channels irritating." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

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