2013 Subaru BRZ Road Test Review
2013 Subaru BRZ brings back the purity of the purpose-built sports car
Scores High: Highly engaging driving dynamics, advanced stability control system, solid value
Scores Low: Standard tires give up easily, needs a center armrest
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2013 Subaru BRZ is not your typical Subaru. As one of the first carmakers to enlist all-wheel drive across its entire model line, the BRZ is confirms that Subaru can step back from the volume-selling crossover market to focus on the world of sporty, rear-wheel-drive coupes. Despite this break from tradition, the BRZ’s horizontally opposed (boxer) engine ties the car to its Subaru lineage, as do the highly-entertaining driving dynamics that make it one of the more engaging vehicles available – regardless of price. Of course, with a starting price below $26,000 the BRZ isn’t just a sporty new coupe, but a compelling and modern-day tribute to the pure, no-nonsense sports car.
The balanced approach that marks the Subaru BRZ’s performance is appropriately reflected in its exterior design. A long hood, sloping rear window and short trunk convey a sporty attitude upon first glance. Its clean body panels encompass subtle flares over the wheels, while an unobtrusive spoiler and fog lights (on high-end “Limited” models like our test car) heighten the sports car theme. We liked the standard 17-inch wheels with their attractive thin-spoke design, but the standard Michelin tires were rather tame in terms of grip because they aren’t dedicated performance tires. If it were us, we'd probably swap them out for improved rubber shortly after purchase.
We actually tested the BRZ’s tires even more thoroughly than we initially planned. Sure, we knew we’d hit our favorite Southern California driving loop during our loan period, but once we got there we couldn’t resist pushing the BRZ up to – and beyond – it’s maximum lateral grip. With a slightly front-biased weight distribution (53/47) and sublime suspension turning the BRZ is remarkably easy to toss through a set of corners. The front end will plow slightly when it’s initially pushed beyond the tires’ mid-grade grip levels, but skilled drivers can easily add a dab of throttle to bring the back end around in a wonderfully controllable drift. The McPherson struts up front and double wishbones out back work in perfect harmony with the electric power steering to provide effective feedback during at-the-limit maneuvers.
But what really makes this car a boon for drivers of all skill sets is the brilliant stability control system. We like leaving the electronic nannies on unless we’re all a track facility, which in many cars means the end of driving fun before it begins. But the BRZ’s stability control system knows not only when to intervene, but exactly how much, and at which wheel. This keeps the Subaru pointed where the driver wants it to go. Once we realized this we started driving more aggressively just to feel the stability control system in action as it managed the Michelins’ mediocre traction. It was rather amazing to experience a sub-$30,000 car executing such highly advanced driver aid in such a subtle and effective way. This was once the domain of high-end luxury and exotic cars, but not in 2013.
A major contributing factor to the BRZ’s handling magic comes from its extremely low center of gravity. Subaru claims it’s lower than a Porsche Cayman, which was the primary model used in benchmarking the BRZ’s driving dynamics. And one of the items that helped lower the BRZ’s center of gravity is the 2.0-liter, 200 horsepower Subaru boxer engine. The flat layout of this engine allowed Subaru to position it lower and farther back in the engine compartment, effectively centralizing the BRZ’s mass to increase handling stability.
Those 200 horsepower feel more than adequate. They pull the 2700-pound BRZ up to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds when it’s equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, like on our test car. The engine makes a credible 151 pound-feet of maximum torque, and we noticed that while the engine can rev past its 7,300-rpm redline, it didn’t rev quite as quickly as we might like. Those 151 lb-ft of torque struggled a bit to fling the car forward unless we had just the gear engaged, suggesting things would get far more sedate in a BRZ equipped with the 6-speed automatic. Regardless of transmission, the 2013 Subaru BRZ manages impressive fuel economy ratings. With the 6-speed manual it’s rated at 22 city mpg, 30 highway mpg and 25 combined. The automatic does even better, at 25/34/28.
Interior Design and Function
Sport coupe interiors aren’t typically designed with practicality in mind, though Subaru did what they could to give the BRZ more than just track-day appeal. For instance, the small rear seat can accommodate child safety seats, and cabin noise levels remain tolerable at highway speeds. Outward visibility is also excellent due to the relatively narrow rear roof pillars (at least for a fastback vehicle). The comfortable-yet-support front seats feature alcantera leather inserts on the Limited trim we drove. These combine with the balanced suspension tuning to keep things settled down over broken pavement while offering plenty of lateral support when charging through corners. The two rear seats may work for child safety seats, but they won’t work for full-sized adults unless small adults are sitting up front.
The interior’s overall design is functional, including a large speedometer and an easy-to-reach shifter. Many of the cabin’s surfaces are hard plastic, but areas you’re likely to come in contact with, including the top of the door panels and armrests, have soft-touch inserts. A navigation system comes standard on all BRZ models, though the interface and graphics quality feel a bit outdated. We appreciated the HD radio, USB audio port and Bluetooth phone connectivity (also standard on all models). We were less impressed by the lack of redundant steering wheel controls for audio functions and cruise control. And on longer drivers we pined for a center armrest to support our right elbow and shoulder.
Primary Features and Options
A basic level of standard features would have sufficed given the nature of the BRZ, but credit Subaru for packing this sport coupe with a healthy dose of upscale items. A starting price of $25,495 gets you a BRZ in “Premium” trim with standard features like a limited slip differential, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, HID headlights and the aforementioned HD radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a GPS navigation system with touchscreen controls. The automatic transmission adds $1,100 and includes paddle shifters.
A BRZ in “Limited” trim starts at $27,495 and adds the leather seat inserts, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button engine start, fog lights and a body-colored rear spoiler. The 6-speed automatic adds $1,100 to the Limited trim as well.
It’s Perfect For…
Buyers looking for a low priced, low weight, pure-of-heart sports coupe might have thought we wouldn’t see one again in new car showrooms. Yet the 2013 Subaru BRZ delivers an all fronts, with an engaging driving experience and an advanced stability control system offered at a value-packed starting price. For performance car fans on a budget it’s hard to imagine a more ideal dance partner on twisty roads or weekend track days.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $28,595
Options on Test Vehicle: Destination Charge ($950)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $28,545
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of Subaru of America (with additional photography from Total Car Score)