DRIVEN: SUBARU BRZ
Toyota's let us drive the GT86 on the track but Subaru's let us loose on the road in its BRZ - Dan's still grinning
Proof that BRZ plus sideways equals big grin
grand or two cheaper for a start, subject to confirmation.
More on the fraternal comparisons in due course, but one thing's for sure; that little cough as you hit the starter button before the boxer four catches is pure Subaru. And that chunky, mechanical gear shift action, likewise the beautifully placed pedals and thrummy flat-four hum. From initial impressions it feels a lot more natural with stars of Pleiades in the centre of the wheel than the Toyota ellipses. But maybe the traditionally long and convoluted press presentation has done a good job of softening us up - quick, more meaningless graphs showing indecipherable measurements of ...who knows what! It's the Subaru way.
This drive in the south of France for the BRZ is the first time the Toyobaru has been unleashed on the street; drives in the Toyota half of the equation until this point have been restricted to track sessions. Which gave Chris Harris the perfect environment to answer the all-important question: will it go sideways?
His video should answer that one quite neatly. But you'd have to bloody hope so, given the combination of low weight, low centre of gravity, an LSD and surprisingly skinny 215 section tyres - 205s on the stripped out versionwith the steel wheels we'll be getting next year. The centre of gravity is a biggie, one of the less indecipherable of the graphs relating to the fact the BRZ's 460mm is lower than a Mazda MX-5's and comparable with a Boxster or Cayman, both of the latter of course sharing the boxer engine layout.
But these cars aren't about graphs or statistics. Indeed, they're a rejection of all that. Subaru's 'pure handling delight' is a classic bit of Japanese-English but it does at least get to the point, likewise the 'have fun!' command at the end of the press conference. We've waited a long time for someone to have the guts to build a sports car that opts out of the horsepower arms race and concentrates on feel and fun. And this is it.
Junior partner or not, Subaru has beaten Toyota to letting us sample the BRZ/GT 86 on the road. And it's an immediately confidence-inspiring little car.
The all-electric steering is neat, pointy and direct and the weighting is good. It's a precise and tidy little car the BRZ, and it encourages you to drive it so. Tight or not, the engine responds crisply to throttle blips and other demands and works brilliantly with the tightly gated manual. Driving position and controls are all spot-on, these little factors hugely contributing to the general sense of well-being and confidence.
Around town it feels crisply sprung and not exactly compliant, though it's not stodgy like some and the damping is at least nice and quick to react. There's much talk of Subaru opting for different suspension settings to Toyota and, chatting with Subaru engineers, they admit that this is so while proving unwilling to offer up numbers or percentages. Interestingly we are told that damper settings are different (though the difference is officially 'nuance'), but Subaru opts for stiffer springs up front while Toyota goes the other way round. Our spokesman suggests that Subaru's emphasis is on stability while Toyota opts for a more fun-focused set-up, which may seem surprising if you reckoned the BRZ was going to be the more enthusiast-ready of the two. Whatever, it rides beautifully at speed with a gentle but well-damped amount of body movement that lets you really feel what's going on. Which is the kind of subtlety we can all enjoy.
Out of town the BRZ shares much in spirit with the MX-5, in that it's less about building speed than carrying it. There's more power than the Mazda of course, but not the grunt of a 370Z, the more delicate feel of the BRZ encouraging neatness and precision rather than lead-footed thuggery.
You do need to pedal it pretty hard to make meaningful progress, though. But the reward for keeping it above 5,000rpm is a much more aggressive note and a real last minute surge towards the redline, reflected in the fact peak power doesn't come until 7,000rpm. You need to keep busy with the gears to keep it there but that's no chore, perfectly placed pedals and a precise gate making it a blipper's delight. And it's stuff like this that matters more than horsepower or lap times.
But for the rest of the more mainstream audience it'll pootle about and do all that their TTs, Sciroccos, Mini Coupes and RCZs do. Let's hope they drop their badge snobbery and buy the buggers in decent numbers, so a few years down the line we've got a ready supply of affordable rear-drive coupes to fill up the PH classifieds for years to come!
Engine: 1,998cc flat-4, direct injection
Transmission: 6-speed manual/6-auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 151@6,400rpm
0-62mph: 7.6 sec (auto 8.2 sec)
Top speed: 144mph
Weight: 1,239kg (manual, Premium spec)
MPG: 36.2mpg (combined)
CO2: 181g/km (manual, Premium spec)
Price: £26,000-£28,000 (subject to confirmation)