In this age of powerful and fast but somewhat pudgy performance cars, driving enthusiasts who would rather pilot a lighter and more agile sports car should take note of the 2015 Subaru BRZ. Comparing a Subaru to such sports car luminaries as the Datsun 240Z, Porsche 944 and original Mazda RX-7 would’ve been heresy just a few short years ago, before the BRZ debuted. Yet this Subaru can proudly stand tire-to-tire with those icons as it similarly proves that if you’ve got a very well-balanced chassis, communicative steering and light weight then you don’t need a lot of power to have a lot of fun. Sharp looks and an as-new price tag well under 30 grand, nicely equipped, don’t hurt either.
The BRZ, which was co-developed with Toyota (which sells its version as the Scion FR-S) breaks with Subaru tradition in that rather than having the brand’s expected all-wheel-drive system, it uses a lighter and more sporting rear-wheel-drive layout. It also uses a naturally aspirated engine rather than having a turbocharged mill expected of a Subaru performance model.
Though it may be outgunned by heavier, V6-powered sport coupes, the BRZ is not exactly a slug. With a curb weight just under 2,800 pounds, the 200 horses unleashed by its flat-4 “boxer” engine are enough. Besides, this car is more about straightening out curvy roads than ripping straight-line acceleration. Going with rear-wheel drive and the flat-4 engine allowed the powertrain to be set farther back and lower in the chassis. That architecture translates to a low center of gravity along with ideal front/rear weight balance. Factor in wonderfully communicative steering, and the result, as we discovered in our BRZ long-term road test, is a superbly balanced sports car that’s one of the most rewarding to drive, regardless of cost.
If, however, neck-snapping power is a must for you, and you don’t mind a four-door body style you can also check out the BRZ’s sibling, the 2015 Subaru WRX. Offering a similar mix of speed with practicality is the Ford Focus ST. Of course, there are also the 2015 Ford Mustang and the 2015 Nissan 370Z, which are quicker if not as agile as the BRZ. However, the Subaru BRZ, which earns an “A” rating from Edmunds.com, should be very appealing to those who value an involving drive and back-roads athleticism in a small, affordable package that comes packed with features.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Subaru BRZ is a four-seat compact coupe available in three trim levels: Premium, Limited and Series.Blue.
The Premium comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, summer tires, a limited-slip rear differential, automatic bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat and a fold-down rear seatback. Electronic features include a 6.1-inch touchscreen; Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; a navigation system; voice controls; smartphone app integration (Aha Radio); and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Stepping up to the Limited adds foglamps, a rear spoiler, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, simulated suede and leather upholstery and an All-Weather package that includes heated front seats and heated mirrors.
With only a total of 1,000 slated for production, the Series.Blue (available in blue or white) includes the Limited features and adds aero body styling tweaks, black wheels, red brake calipers, interior accent stitching and a black-and-blue interior scheme.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2015 BRZ is rear-wheel drive and features a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that produces 200 hp and 151 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic with shift paddles and rev-matched downshifts is optional except on the Series.Blue, which is manual transmission only.
In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped BRZ went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. The automatic BRZ did it in 7.9 seconds. These times (especially the automatic’s) are on the slow side compared with V6-powered rivals that are about a second or so quicker. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg combined (22 city/30 highway) with the manual and an excellent 28 mpg combined (25/34) with the automatic.
Standard safety equipment on the 2015 Subaru BRZ includes antilock brakes, traction and stability control (with selectable levels of calibration), front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, the BRZ came to a stop from 60 mph in 114 feet — a short distance — but about what you’d expect from a sporty car with summer tires.
In government crash tests, the BRZ earned an overall rating of five stars (out of a possible five), with four stars for total frontal-impact crash protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the BRZ received the highest possible rating of “Good” in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. The BRZ’s seat/head restraint design was also rated “Good” for whiplash protection in rear impacts. In that agency’s small-overlap frontal offset test, the BRZ received a second-best “Acceptable” rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The BRZ has a simple, pleasantly styled cabin that features a blend of Toyota and Subaru switchgear and materials. It’s a bit bland compared with some other sporty cars in its price range like the Genesis coupe, but then this is supposed to be a back-to-basics driver’s car.
There’s no shortage of features, however, as even the base model is loaded with high-tech items like navigation, HD radio and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. Sadly, those particular features are controlled by a touchscreen interface that’s difficult to use. The menu layout requires a lot of back-and-forth commands, and the small virtual buttons are tough to press on the first try. Not helping matters is that there are no audio controls on the steering wheel. As such, you might catch yourself taking your eyes off the road to fiddle with the controls.
The BRZ’s firm, well-shaped front seats are supportive enough for hard driving on curvy roads, yet are still comfortable for long-distance trips. People of just about any size should find the driving position to be quite agreeable, and thanks to the low-profile hood, there’s an expansive view of the road ahead.
Yes, there’s a backseat, but few adults would want to sit back there. Legroom is next to nil, your head will be either very close to or pressed in to the rear window, and the center tunnel impedes hiproom. Trunk space is also rather small at 6.9 cubic feet, but folding down that mostly useless backseat expands cargo capacity considerably.
If you’re the sort of driver whose car must be able to hammer down freeway on-ramps with its tires ablaze, the 2015 Subaru BRZ is not for you. Its power is sufficient but not thrilling. Instead, the BRZ is for those who get a kick out of going around corners and feeling all the nuances and inputs that go along with a car that offers phenomenal communication and impeccable control.
The BRZ’s limits are approachable and easily controlled, which makes it a wonderfully engaging sports car. The steering practically telegraphs the front tires’ grip status right to the driver’s hands. What’s more, the brake pedal is firm and consistent in feel, and the chassis remains composed even when the road surface doesn’t. We’d go for the manual gearbox, which is a pleasure to shift, but even the available automatic transmission is programmed for enthusiastic driving.
Used for more mundane duties like the daily commute or a long road trip, this little Subaru is still rewarding. It’s surprisingly easy to drive, and the ride is sufficiently supple over broken pavement. The one dynamic demerit is that there’s a fair amount of road noise, especially over concrete roadways.