by Roger Biermann
Introduced in 2013, the Subaru BRZ has become a stalwart of the low price, big fun rear wheel drive fraternity, and has rekindled pure driving pleasure in a world dominated by turbocharged front-wheel-drive hatches and morbidly expensive German Autobahn bombers. Since its inception, the BRZ has received a host of updates, and despite its close resemblance to its brother, the Toyota 86, the BRZ has always managed to cut out its own corner in the market, with different color options and wheel designs making it, as some might perceive it, the classier version. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and a closer look at the BRZ’s features, comforts and niggles will give you a better idea of why the often overlooked sibling deserves its place in the sun. After all, it’s rear-wheel-drive, makes all the right boxer noises, and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
For 2019, Subaru has canned the tS variant but will continue to offer the car in Premium and Limited versions along with a Series.Gray limited edition which will offer buyers the exclusivity of a Gray color scheme, limited to 250 units. The Limited Gray edition will be available exclusively with a six-speed manual.
The Series.Gray Limited Edition gets bespoke interior touches, otherwise it shares the Limited models DNA which includes the Performance Package that is a $1,195 option on the Limited manual-transmission models. The package includes Brembo brakes, sportier Sachs shock absorbers, and 17-inch black wheels.
The biggest change for the 2019 BRZ would be the addition of the Limited Series.Gray version, which shares its Cool Gray Khaki color with the Japan-only BRZ STI Sport and equips the side mirrors with a crystal black finish. Wheel options include 17-inch STI branded wheels which gives the BRZ a welcomed dollop of street cred, and aggressive dual tailpipes finish off the rear end. Buyers in Japan get small revisions the rear wheel arches, which now sport fins to improve aerodynamics, and a new shock absorber setup tightens up the handling even further.
The dimensions of the 2019 Subaru BRZ have remained the same, and that means you get the same crisp steering and eagerness to please through the bends; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right?
A 101.2-inch wheelbase plays host to a car with a width of 69.9 inches, a body length of 166.7 and a curb weight of 2,789 lbs for the Premium, climbing to 2,798 lbs for the Limited variation.
Color options for the 2019 BRZ reaffirm its tasteful yet sporty segmentation from the 86. Subaru offers the BRZ in six eye-catching, no-cost colors, not including the Limited Series.Gray’s special Cool Gray Khaki. New owners can choose from Crystal Black Silica, WR Blue Pearl, Dark Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Pure Red, or Crystal White Pearl. The BRZ looks good in any of these, but the rally-inspired WR Blue and simple Crystal White remain popular colors. The Limited edition Series.Gray version will be limited to 250 units, but the unique exterior color looks fantastic.
Outright performance has never been the BRZ’s strong suit, but it still delivers an engaging drive that gets you up to speed with relative ease. The trick is to maintain that speed. The 2.0-liter boxer engine shared between the BRZ and 86 remains the same. Outputs of 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque encourage the BRZ to a 0-60 mph time of around seven seconds, which pales in comparison to the Miata’s claimed 5.9-second sprint. These figures don’t tell the whole story, however, as the handling and driving pleasure are the key aspects that set the BRZ apart from almost everything else in the price range.
Since its inception in 2013, the BRZ as well as Toyota’s 86 have shared the FA20 engine, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Subaru boxer motor developing 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque. While not the most powerful, the engine has seen some revisions in 2016, slightly bumping the horsepower and torque figures, but not by a large enough margin to be really noticeable. The naturally aspirated engine uses Subaru's trademark flat-four engine design, with the addition of Toyota's D-4S injection system, which uses both Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) and multipoint fuel injection. The flat four design gives it the trademark Subaru off beat rumble, but not to the extent of its turbocharged siblings.
Converting that power into motion is handled by either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, the latter only available on the Premium model. Toyota’s in-house developed manual offers crisp and snappy gear changes and should be the gearbox of choice if you’re looking to squeeze the maximum amount of performance and enjoyment out of the car. The six-speed auto, borrowed from the Lexus IS 250, benefits from software modifications that helps mimic a dual-clutch transmission but falls short of the real thing. Outright acceleration takes a big knock in the auto, and selecting your preferred gear when pushing the car hard can get a tad frustrating, as the auto will hesitate slightly before giving you what you asked for. The auto doesn’t do the BRZ a disservice, but for outright driver engagement, opt for the manual.
Before the BRZ platform was released, fans of affordable, lightweight, sporty rear-wheel-drive cars hadn't been catered to in a long while by any brand aside from Mazda. Historically cars like Toyota’s AE86 combined rear-wheel-drive dynamics, a lightweight chassis and a rev-happy engine to create an accessible sports car that taught the driver to focus on driving capability and maintaining momentum through the bends, instead of relying on brute power to mask driver error. And if the occasion arose, a bit of tail-happy drifting could easily be achieved.
The BRZ was designed to put a smile on your face, whether you’re a seasoned driver with track experience or a first-time sportscar buyer; the capability of the BRZ to make any driver feel like a pro is what makes it so great. When pushing the BRZ through a set of corners, the driver gets excellent feedback as to what the front wheels are doing, and more importantly, where the limits of adhesion are. The BRZ is such a finely tuned machine that even a novice can read and correct steering inputs to get the most out of the car. The modest power outputs suit the chassis almost perfectly, making it incredibly exploitable, but a few more ponies would be welcomed with open arms by keener drivers.
On-road ride comfort is firm but not overly so, and gives the driver a great balance between road surface feedback and bump soaking suppleness. The chassis and suspension setup has been fine-tuned to the point that it becomes telepathic in a sense, and every input you give as the driver translates into a tangible reaction from the car. The only problem with the BRZ’s handling prowess is that it will always egg you on to take a corner just a little faster.
The words sportscar and gas mileage don’t usually mix, but there’s hope at the end of the fuel line where the BRZ comes in.
Subaru’s boxer engines have never been great at returning gas mileage numbers worth bragging about, but thanks to the BRZ’s relatively lightweight and direct injection engine, the numbers aren’t all that bad. Remember, this isn’t a car you buy for its fuel-sipping capabilities, so these numbers shouldn’t play a massive part in deciding whether or not you should get one.
The manual six should return numbers of around 21/29/26 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles respectively. The auto six will see those numbers climb to 24/33 mpg in the city and on the highway respectively.
The 2019 Subaru BRZ has stuck to its roots. A simple interior design that might seem dated actually functions brilliantly by choosing function over form. This doesn’t mean that the interior is completely barren and simple, merely that it favors ergonomics over style. The steering wheel and bucket seats are superb and set you up for driving fun without needing any major adjustments, catering to drivers of all heights in a low-slung seating position. The dash and infotainment system are laid out in a sensible manner, with all the important controls within easy reach. The display screen features small buttons on its surrounds, which can prove tricky for some to use on the go. In the BRZ, Subaru doesn’t try to make you feel like you’re in a luxurious BMW 7 Series; instead, it provides a well thought out cabin that gives you everything you need to have a good time on the road, with all the basic commuter conveniences covered, too.
When you step inside the BRZ, you’ll be greeted by a functional yet comfortable, and decidedly sporty interior which successfully pays tribute its core purpose: to have fun. The leather-wrapped, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel accommodates a wide range of preferences, but taller drivers might find that it doesn’t have enough height adjustability. The front seats do an excellent job of keeping the driver and passenger firmly gripped when pushing through the corners and are some of the best sports seats you can find on a budget. Interior space is fairly ample for a two-door sports car and accommodates two adults and their luggage with aplomb. Even though the BRZ has rear seats, it would be best to think of it as a two-seater, as the back seats were clearly not designed to seat anything more than a teenager in the rear of the cramped 2+2 configuration.
The BRZ’s interior remains relatively unchanged from previous incarnations, with minor but noticeable differences between the Premium and Limited variations. All models share the fold-down rear seatback, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and shifter handle, as well as simulated leather dashboard trim with contrast stitching. The premium makes do with a cloth interior which has a quality feel and finish, while the Limited gets a mix of Alcantara and leather, however, both trims are only available with black upholstery.
The BRZ’s trunk and cargo space won’t allow you to pack for a cross country trip, maybe a cross-state trip if you pack lightly, but for a car of its size, it offers acceptable space for your belongings. According to Subaru, the BRZ offers 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, but in relevant terms, it will fit enough baggage for a weekend away for two. Compared to the Mazda Miata’s 4.9 cubic feet, the BRZ seems generous.
Two centrally mounted cupholders, along with individual holders in the doors, make the BRZ a capable coffee holder, while a center console and glove box, both sporting a 12-volt plug, make the BRZ quite adept at stowing away all your bits and bobs. But the interior is limited and smartphones and wallets will reside best in your own pockets.
For 2019, the BRZ comes with more features than ever, but it’s still a relatively barebones sports car with a focus on driving, and not so much on all-out comfort. The Premium gets a manually adjustable air conditioning system with air filtration, while the Limited gets a dual-zone automated climate control system. Sunvisors with hidden vanity mirrors and "welcome lighting” add to the BRZ’s list of small luxuries. They do add up. Power mirrors and windows are a given. Another welcomed feature is an LCD screen integrated into the instrument cluster, incorporating driver information like a digital G-force meter and lap time display. Keyless access with push-button start and LED headlights and taillights come as standard.
The BRZ’s infotainment system has seen constant development over its almost seven-year lifespan, and 2019 sees the introduction of bigger and better display screens. Features include dual front USB ports, an auxiliary input jack, AM/FM radio capabilities, Bluetooth media streaming, and importantly caters to full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. The Premium makes do with a STARLINK 6.2-inch multimedia system, while the Limited gets a bigger seven-inch touchscreen with similar functionality. Sound quality isn't mind-blowing, but the eight-speaker system is ample for blasting tunes while you cruise your favorite backroads.
The BRZ has had two recalls since launch. The first recall took place in 2012/13 and was due to an inaccurate description of the operation of the "front passenger occupant classification system” in the owner's manual. Other faults in the owner's manual regarding safety measures were also found. The BRZ, therefore, failed to comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards. The second recall took place when Subaru announced a recall in January of 2018 for certain 2013 Subaru BRZ models, relating to engine valve springs in these vehicles that may fracture causing an engine malfunction or a possible engine stall. Still, reports of mechanical failures are scarce, and a J.D. Power score of over 70 means that the BRZ shouldn’t give you any major hassles if looked after properly. A three-year/36,000 mile warranty comes as standard, with the option of a powertrain warranty of five-years/60,000 miles and a rust perforation warranty of five years and unlimited mileage.
For 2019, the BRZ’s IIHS scores showed best available Good results for most tests, while the small front overlap came in at an Acceptable level. The NHTSA has not tested the full range of attributes on the BRZ for the last few years, but in areas in which it was tested, it scored highly.
The BRZ comes with most of the safety features you’d expect to see in a modern sports car including electronic stability control, ABS, and driveline traction control. Side impact beams protect the driver and passenger from serious side impacts, and this is backed up by dual-stage driver and passenger seat-mounted side airbags, dual stage driver and passenger front airbags and side curtain airbags. A low tire pressure warning system, pre-tensioned safety belts, and a back-up camera make sure that the occupants are kept in showroom condition.
The BRZ and its siblings breathed new life into the sports car scene, and will likely be considered classics at some point in the distant future.
The reason for its success is the fact that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. This is a superbly balanced driver’s car that gives you feedback from every tangible area; from the moment you step into the car, to the moment you sling it around a bend, you’ll immediately realize that the BRZ is a purist’s car. It teaches you to use your gears effectively, maintain momentum, and rely on the mechanical grip through corners, and the fact that you can wring its neck, and still be traveling at reasonably safe speeds is one if its greatest hallmarks. For the keener drivers in safe environments, the ability to tread the line between balance and oversteer with the BRZ is an added bonus.
It’s not the most comfortable car to live with, and it might not be as practical as a Camry or even a Honda Civic, but for what it was built to do, the BRZ can be a fairly frugal and comfortable daily driver. The sum of these parts come together to deliver something truly special: a driver’s car for the people.
The 2019 Subaru BRZ starts at an MSRP of $25,795 in base Premium trim excluding tax, licensing, registration, and an $885 destination fee, making it one of the least expensive sports cars on sale. The Limited version will set you back $28,645 in manual guise and you’ll pay $29,530 for the auto. The special edition Series.Gray will cost you $30,140, but dealerships are responsible for their own pricing, so you may be able to find a great deal if you’re willing to look.
Prospective BRZ buyers will be able to select from three distinct models: Premium, Limited, and the special edition Series.Gray, all of which boast the same 2.0-liter Boxer four-cylinder and rear-wheel drive.
The BRZ Premium has a decent list of standard features but lacks a few niceties that are to be found in the Limited model. Sport-tuned suspension with a limited-slip differential, LED headlights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel all add to the sporty feel of the car, while manual air conditioning and a 6.2-inch infotainment system handle the niceties. Seating surfaces are upholstered in black cloth.
A larger infotainment screen, Alcantara and leather upholstery, and an automatic climate control system among others separate the Limited from the Premium model, while the Limited also gets access to an optional six-speed automatic gearbox instead of the standard six-speed manual.
The special edition Series.Gray is based on the 2019 Limited model equipped with six-speed manual transmission and comes standard with the optional performance package which re-tunes the suspension and brings upgraded Brembo brakes as well as wider wheels and tires, and bespoke gray styling, as well as a unique exterior color.
|Premium||2.0-liter Flat 4 Gas||6-Speed Manual||Rear Wheel Drive||$24,607||$25,795|
|Limited||2.0-liter Flat 4 Gas||6-Speed Manual or 6-Speed Automatic||Rear Wheel Drive||$27,181||$28,645|
|Series.Gray||2.0-liter Flat 4 Gas||6-Speed Manual||Rear Wheel Drive||$28,571||$30,140|
With a range consisting of three models, there’s quite some room to play with in terms of making the BRZ suit your needs, and Subaru gives buyers the means to add a little extra through options and packages.
On the mechanical side, the optional Performance Package is quite an attractive proposition, and throws a Brembo performance braking system as well as a set of Sachs performance shock absorbers into the mix, turning an already capable car into a precision tool that can stick to much more expensive machinery around a track. The Limited model also gets the option of a quick-ratio electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering (EPAS) Performance Package.
Exterior options include 17-inch gray-finished aluminum-alloy wheels for the Limited model or owners can opt for a set of 17-inch STI wheels priced at $1,653. An STI-inspired under spoiler priced at $499.99 finishes off the exterior options.
Interior options on the BRZ includes some added in-car audio performance in the shape of a Kicker powered subwoofer priced at $4,599.99, added safety features like an auto-dimming mirror with compass and HomeLink ($377) and small touches such as a cargo tray and a footwell illumination kit. An STI short shifter kit priced at $499 is another appealing performance-enhancing option worth considering.
The three models on offer each have their merits. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense sports car, the Premium will do fine. Add the performance package and you’ll have a strong track day performer. The Limited adds a touch of maturity and comfort, which doesn’t detract from the car’s sporty nature but adds to its daily liveability. For those who need that extra bit of individuality, the Series.Gray is a cool limited edition offer which should age well. Our choice would be the Limited model, with the added performance package, of course, blending the performance the BRZ is becoming renowned for with the added creature comforts to make it a suitable daily companion.
The legendary Mazda MX-5 doesn’t need an introduction. Since 1989, this little Japanese sports car has captured the hearts of millions across the world and has been a gateway drug for keen drivers looking to get into motorsport events of all kinds. In terms of daily driving, the Mazda gives a softer, more balanced ride than the BRZ, the same goes for road noise and gearing. The BRZ feels like it’s on the edge and ready to go, whereas the Miata has a more laid back approach. The BRZ handles better at ten-tenths and feels capable of handling more power, whereas the Mazda feels more at home at nine-tenths.
In practical aspects, the BRZ offers semi-usable rear seats and a larger trunk, while equipment and specification levels are closely matched. Both cars are extremely well matched in terms of outright performance, and even the price points are closely matched. Getting the hardtop RF version will see the Miata’s base price shoot past that of the BRZ, but in standard soft top trim, the Miata isn’t far off from the BRZ’s low starting price of just under $27,000. Decide how many seats you want and then buy appropriately.
When comparing the BRZ and 86, people always ask how different these two cars can actually be. Well first off, the similarities. They both share a rear-wheel-drive layout, 2+2 seating and a profile that some could mistake as being identical. They are both assembled at Subaru’s assembly plant and share the same engine. So what truly separates them? Firstly the price: the base sticker price for the 2019 BRZ is $25,795 for the Premium trim with a manual gearbox whereas the 86 starts at a base price of $26,505. Interior comfort and quality and cargo space are an even match, but the BRZ’s interior features take first place, mainly due to the fact that the 86 does not feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The BRZ is slightly quicker in the acceleration department and also returns better gas mileage numbers. The 86 is, however, the better car to throw around the track, thanks to its superb TRD Special Edition trim. Overall it must be said that the BRZ offers more value, but you can’t really go wrong with either.