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Subaru’s BRZ tS


To paraphrase singer Deniece Williams (briefly) and the Footloose soundtrack, LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOYS! Regardless of the auto industry’s recent efforts at gender diversity (and there are many), a tightly drawn 2+2 with a horizontally opposed four and manual trans could only have been executed by a small, brief outpouring of testosterone. At twelve years old and now in its second generation, Subaru’s BRZ and its platform stablemate, Toyota’s GR 86, are knocking on the door of adolescence with a refined 2.4 liter powertrain, more maturity throughout, and in Subaru’s new tS guise, track day credibility – you know, to tear up the town…

At the time of its launch for the 2013 model year the BRZ and its then-Scion stablemate built quite the buzz. A collaboration between Subaru and Toyota, the number of accessible sports/GTs – at the time – could easily be counted on one hand. As an old(er) guy I can remember sportscars and 2+2 coupes filling the pages of Road & Track; notable entries included Fiat’s 124-based 2+2 (handily outsold by its convertible variant), the MGB/MGB-GT and, if you were prepared to extend your payments, Alfa’s Spider, GTV and the Porsche 912. All provided a direct connection to the road, a nod to expressive design and enough acceleration to not embarrass you on Main Street. If paying attention, you’ll know they’re all gone.

Surviving are Mazda’s Miata in both convertible and RF configurations, Toyota’s GR 86 (which evolved from the Scion FR-S) and Subaru’s BRZ. And while the Mazda and Subaru/Toyota duo are often compared, you know they’re distinctly different in the walk-up, and fully confirmed behind the wheel.

This second iteration of the BRZ has been visually tweaked from the first, with sculpting that’s more expressive but does nothing to alienate. The front fascia is modestly more aggressive, there are now vents behind the front wheel openings, and the rear quarter panels are flared, and look to be designed for child-bearing. Functionally, the BRZ’s roof, hood and front fenders are now aluminum, which is (reportedly) intended to offset the weight gain of a larger displacement engine and added safety. 

Beyond those tweaks – and specific to the tS upgrades – are 18-inch alloy wheels in a dark gray metallic finish, a revised suspension tuned by Subaru’s in-house STI, and Brembo brakes with an oh-so-tantalizing gold finish.

Inside, the more sporting tS provides Ultrasuede upholstery with leather bolsters; the Ultrasuede does a superb job of holding you in place, but also grabs every piece of lint you or a passenger might drag into the car. And Subaru’s press material notes the simulated leather door trim panel armrests, manual trans shift lever boot and parking brake lever with blue stitching. And all of that does little to reduce the overwhelming impression of plastic.

Even less attractive to these analog eyes is the ‘STI-type’ combination meter display, which is tach-centric. In a vehicle that, for the most part, is decidedly retro, the digital dash is a step in the wrong direction. The good news is that it’s clearly visible, but seems out of step with the BRZ’s platform and functionality.

Under the aluminum hood is, to now paraphrase Neil Armstrong, one giant step for the driving enthusiast. With this 2.4 liter DOHC boxer four, Subaru not only (modestly) ups the horsepower, but exponentially enhances the refinement. The first boxer fitted to the BRZ was coarse, bordering on the agricultural. This powertrain both figuratively and literally sings as it makes its way to the redline; the only perceived negative to revving it harder is burning the gas faster. And with the snick-snick actuation of the 6-speed manual trans, the end sensation is not only synchronized, it’s almost symphonic – at least when compared to the first-gen BRZ.

Although the 2.4’s 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque is well short of what’s delivered by Subaru’s turbocharged WRX 4-door, it’s enough to send the BRZ’s 2846 pounds from 0-60, according to the shoes at Car and Driver, in just 5.4 seconds. And while those same testers complain of road noise at freeway speeds, the BRZ is significantly better on any beltway than Mazda’s Miata. The Miata is a superb car in corners, but will simply beat your brain to death when going over 70 for any sustained period of time.

We didn’t have a base BRZ available to establish what the $4K premium for the tS handling mods buys you. But unlike the first gen, where the first stop is to the wheel and tire aftermarket, the stance of this 2nd-gen is pleasing to the eye, with Michelin Pilot Sport 4s – in a 215/40 size – doing a reasonable job of filling the wheelwells. They also provide grip, which in combination with direct steering and the precision of the manual, supply a handling balance that can only be called recreational. 

In short, if/when you want to kick off the Sunday shoes you should consider Subaru’s BRZ. And do it soon. Unlike the flick, which opened in 1984, it won’t be around for another 40 years. Hell, it might not be around in four.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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