Stick Shift: 2017 Subaru BRZ

Unlike the late Scion FRS, now Toyota 86, the Subaru BRZ is still the BRZ, but with some welcome tweaks for improved handling and power output for 2017. The fact is, this newest entry has undergone the most significant update since its launch in 2013. It’s wonderful to see that Subaru hasn’t ‘softened’ the BRZ in any way, but has stayed true to a winning formula that’s always delivered a well-balanced car for any car lover who enjoys the act of driving above all else.

Visually, the new Subaru BRZ has maintained its sporty good looks. It wears a widened front fascia and comes equipped with full LED headlamps and taillights. A fully functional aluminum rear wing sits on the trunk and combines with the low ride height, 17” aluminum wheels and other design tricks that both freshen up and visually widen the new BRZ.

On the inside, the little Subaru continues to be the more refined, clean cut sibling to the rowdy Toyota 86. It’s also much more tech savvy, with many features coming standard, like navigation, HD radio, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone, premium audio and an easy to use infotainment touchscreen system. The cockpit is tight if you’re over six feet tall, and the back seat is non-existent unless the fronts are moved all the way up, effectively making them non-existent too. Pick a row, you can’t have both.

Good news is, when the front seats are scooted back into their proper position, they may be the best part of the BRZs’ interior. They’re beautifully shaped, like every great racing bucket you ever swooned over as a kid leafing through car magazines. As expected, they’re tremendously supportive under the most extreme cornering, but also remarkably comfortable, even after long stretches of responsible driving.

Every button and switch is thoughtfully positioned for ease of use, and have a nice weight and feel in their operation. The black, Alcantara-trimmed upholstery looks and feels fantastic, especially with that sporty red contrast stitching on the leather wrapped shifter, seats, steering wheel and other interior panels. Combine all this with a little carbon-fiber sprinkled in for good measure, and you’ve got an attractive interior with plenty of quality materials and sporty design features that blend well, without ever feeling too over-the-top or obnoxious.

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Lucky for us, we find the bulk of the changes for 2017 on the performance side of things. The BRZ is still powered by a carefully tuned 2.0L horizontally-opposed DOHC engine. Output is up by 5 hp and 5 lb-ft. of torque. This brings total figures to 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. While these gains may not seem impressive at first, squeezing more power from a small, naturally aspirated engine, already engineered close to its limits, is no easy task. To achieve these gains, the 2017 BRZ gets a re-worked aluminum intake system, a more free-flowing exhaust manifold, and other minor changes. With only a brief slip from the R17 summer-performance tires, this modified 4-cylinder can reach 60 mph in the mid 6 second range from a dead stop. While this acceleration may not be drawing crowds at the local drag strip, the power curve is user friendly and the 2.0L gets along best with high rpm’s, where it makes enough power to keep things plenty exciting.

Another area where the 2017 Subaru BRZ has squeezed out additional improvements is in the handling department. Sport-tuned suspension with slightly stiffer front springs and softer rears are paired with additional chassis braces and reinforcement. Throw in bigger Brembo brakes with the Performance Package and predictable steering that I found to be both communicative and razor sharp, and you begin to see that the new BRZ is as toss-able as ever. A track attacking, driver-centered force to be reckoned with. This well balanced, light weight BRZ finally allows some drifting, even with its stability control engaged, and has a Torsen limited-slip differential to help pull things back in line if you happen to swing the tail out too wide.

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If it’s a bit more power and room you’re craving, the Ford Focus ST or Golf GTI are worth a good look, though there’s sure to be plenty of bolt-on upgrades available for the BRZ to get a few extra horses under the hood. On the other end, the Mazda Miata offers all the driving consummation of the BRZ, but with a drop-top to boot. Despite all of this, from the moment you push the 2017 BRZ through its first tight bends, there’s no denying that this car has been carefully engineered to put a smile on your face. It’s responsive, balanced, and begging to be pushed to its limits. While its personality may be the best part, it doesn’t stop there, giving us plenty more with an attractive interior, lots of standard tech, and sporty good looks. While it’s not exactly the total package, a mark that’s elusive at best, you’re only a test drive or two away from near total forgiveness.
By: Brandon Randall
Price as tested: $28,465.00

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