Coming this fall, Subaru will begin selling an all-new model of the least Subaru-like machine it offers. The BRZ doesn’t have the all-wheel-drive that the company proudly touts for the rest of its range. It doesn’t have much ground clearance. As the only two-door vehicle in Subaru’s showroom, it’s also of limited practicality.
“There were some eyebrows raised at the BRZ’s original launch,” said Anton Pawczuk, Senior Director of Product Management at Subaru Canada.
Indeed, the BRZ did not sell wildly to the masses. For every BRZ sold in 2019, Subaru found homes for twenty-three Crosstreks. Crossovers own the bulk of the entire automobile market these days, and sportscars are a dying breed.
However, BRZ sales have at least been holding steady. Over the past five years, an average of 700 new owners per year have taken the keys to what they say is a fun, affordable and lightweight machine.
As for the all-new 2022 BRZ, it’s not looking to deviate from the original recipe too much.
A new 2.4L flat-four engine produces 228 horsepower, a 10 per cent increase over the former model’s 2.0L motor. More important is the increase in torque at lower revolutions per minute (rpm): 184 lb-ft of torque is now available at 3700 rpm, as contrasted against the 2.0L’s 154 lb-ft peak at 6400 rpm.
Thus, the new BRZ’s engine will still rev above a lofty 7000 rpm at the track, but it doesn’t have to be wrung out just to keep up with daily traffic. The torque curve is also smoothed out, with little of the mid-range dip the 2.0L suffered from. Subaru claims acceleration to highway speeds have dropped by over a second.
Grip has been improved too, with standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires on either 17″ or 18″ wheels, dependent on trim level. A limited-slip differential is standard on all models, the better to put the power down coming out of a corner.
Creature comforts and safety improvements include a new 8.0″ touchscreen that comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The optional technology upgrade comes with on-board navigation and Subaru’s Starlink system, which has app-based features like remote-start for automatic-transmission-equipped BRZs.
Subaru has tuned their six-speed automatic transmission to manage twisting roads better than the old version, downshifting before the corner rather than in the middle of it. Further, automatic BRZs will come equipped with Subaru’s camera-based safety system as standard.
The added performance, comfort, and tech is all welcomed, but the appeal of the BRZ was always its stripped-down nature. A proper sportscar should be lightweight and nimble; it’s not so much about the speed as it is about the driving experience.
Until such time as the production version arrives in fall of this year, that experience must be guessed at. However, some clues are promising. Despite the larger engine and infusion of technology, the new BRZ is only 10 kg heavier than the old one. Weight-saving aluminum can be found in the hood, fenders, and the roof. The latter, along with a lower-mounting point for the new engine, helps give the BRZ an even lower centre of gravity than the old model. The chassis is also much stiffer.
The steering ratio is very quick, closer to that of an STI rather than a WRX. Redline for the new 2.4L engine is only 200 rpm lower than the previous 2.0L. Slight improvements to the action of the six-speed manual transmission, picked on 75-80 per cent of previous BRZs, should make for satisfying shifts.
As for pricing and fuel consumption, no information is yet available. However, one of the reasons this new generation of BRZ doesn’t have a turbocharger is that Subaru claimed it would add too much cost and complexity to the car. The expectation is that pricing will remain close to that of the current model.
All of which makes the BRZ a rare machine. Competitors like the Nissan 370Z or Mazda MX-5 offer more power or open-topped motoring, but lack the practicality of the BRZ’s folding rear seats. Larger coupes like the Mustang and Camaro are much quicker, but can feel bulky on a tight backroad.
Then there’s the literal elephant in the room. There are any number of big, heavy crossovers that will outperform the BRZ in the numbers game. Whether powered by twin-turbo V6s or hefty battery backs, performance crossovers use clever all-wheel-drive systems and huge horsepower figures to beat physics into submission. It’s why the traditional sportscar market is shrinking.
In this way, it turns out the BRZ still embraces Subaru’s outside-the-mainstream ethos. The company first found success marketing the likes of the Outback and Forester as alternatives to an SUV. The BRZ’s focus on lightweight feel and handling over just throwing power at the problem makes it something of an anti-crossover.
The 2022 BRZ may be a niche product. But it’s a compelling one. More than a few will likely find a way into the garages and driveways of Canadian owners. And, come late fall and a twisting country two-lane strewn with crisp leaves, perhaps into their hearts as well.
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