By on October 6, 2017

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2017 Subaru BRZ

2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder (205 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm; 156 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm)

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

21 city / 29 highway / 24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

11.1 city / 8.0 highway / 9.7 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $28,465 (U.S) / $34,445 (Canada)

As Tested: $39,660 (U.S.) / $34,445 (Canada)

Prices include $820 destination charge in the United States and $1,750 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

If I were opening a performance driving school tomorrow and needed to strike a deal with an OEM for a supply of cars, the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ would be on that list.

To be sure, plenty of other production cars are well-suited to the purpose of instructing students. Last time I went through a track school, the company used BMWs (3 Series, if memory serves, but the 2 Series is also good). The Mazda Miata and its related cousin, the Fiat 124 Spider, would also serve as good choices. I could probably, without much effort, pick a whole bunch of cars from the current market, utilizing all types of drivetrains and transmissions, that would be great for novice track drivers to get their feet wet with.

Yet, the Subieoyta would right there at the top of that list. Here’s why: It’s quick but not too quick, the electronic nannies can be programmed to let the rear end step out (but not too far), the steering is direct and quick, and the car’s light weight makes it very tossable.

Lack of power/lack of a turbo has long been a complaint about the BRZ/86, and while Subaru hasn’t added a turbo for 2017, the car did gain five more horsepower and five more lb-ft of torque, up to 205 and 156, respectively.

The BRZ is easy to drive quickly without running into trouble — that’s for sure. It’s weird to drive a Subaru without all-wheel drive, but one quickly gets used to flicking the car into and out of corners, letting the rear end hang where necessary and catching it with a bit of opposite lock.

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Acceleration is fine for public roads, though it’s not going to light anyone’s hair on fire. It will get you from corner to corner quickly, which is all that matters.

The six-speed stick is a bit notchy in an old-school way, and it works well with the clutch – I can’t imagine opting for the automatic if you buy this car.

My test unit came with the optional Performance Package, which includes Brembo brakes, upgraded front struts and rear shocks, and wider wheels.

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On public roads, it’s hard to tell how much that package enhances performance. The wider wheels are supposed to improve steering stability, for one thing, but without driving both versions of the car back-to-back, it’s hard to spot the difference.

Speaking of steering – the BRZ’s steering remains among the best available on a production vehicle. Precise, quick, well-weighted – it’s what enthusiasts and journalists ask for. And it’s not so performance-oriented as to become annoying while commuting.

Ah, commuting. While the BRZ is, in theory, cheap enough to serve as a second car for track use or weekend-warrior duty, many buyers will daily this thing. As one might expect from a small two-door sports car that’s more than a little track-focused, it’s not quite all the fun in city driving. It’s loud, rides a little stiff, and the rear seat is useless for hauling any human that isn’t a toddler. Also, the trunk is small.

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Inside, the cabin materials are a bit on the cheap side, and you’re stuck with Subaru’s infotainment system, which just isn’t very good. You do get a cool screen in the gauge cluster than can show you different performance metrics, and the tach and speedo look cool, so it’s not all bad.

Both the BRZ and 86 have the same basic styling they’ve had since the beginning, and the look still feels fresh. Some may find it dated, but not I. It’s a good-looking car.

Affordable, small rear-drive sports cars are a small niche in the market. You have the BRZ and its twin, the Miata and 124 – and that’s about it. Yes, you can get fun-to-drive non-V8 versions of the Mustang and Camaro, but they have a slightly different focus than the BRZ.

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For the BRZ, that focus is all about handling. It excels on the back roads and at the track.

Which makes its trade-offs worth it. A car like this isn’t easy to live with, but it rewards those who do.

Which brings me back to the track-school starter kit premise. A novice track driver will find satisfaction as he or she gets better, and the BRZ is the kind of car that will help them improve quickly, while having fun doing it.

Some cars are built with a purpose. The BRZ is one of them, and it’s among the best at filling its role.

Now, about that turbo.

[Images © Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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30 Comments on “2017 Subaru BRZ Review – The Track School Starter Kit...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    According to the Subaru website, to get the optional Performance Package I also must buy the BRZ Limited. The only configurator gave it a price of $29,960.

    $30K will get you a Nissan 330ZX.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    I like this car the way it is, but it would be so damn cool with a Toyota 3.5L V6. I know people do the swaps, just wish Toyota would.

    If you can’t beat a Camry V6, join them.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Toyota is in full Mazda mode when it comes to the 86 crying about how giving it 45 more horsepower will somehow turn it into a low agility Coronet R/T and ruin the car.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    No replacement for displacement (or tubro or supercharger or for the love of god something!)

    That torque figure being so low is what stands out to me.

  • avatar
    AK

    If for some reason I had to immediately replace my current car, I’d probably get a used FRS.

    There’s a few 2014s locally with the 6 speed and under 30k miles and they’re asking $15,9xx

    Didn’t love it when I test drove a new one years ago, but for $15k, I think I’d be happy.

    • 0 avatar

      This was me… The lease was up on my Dart and I wanted something fun.

      Picked up a used 2013 FR-S with 60K for $16,000. (prices have dropped since I got mine). They are GREAT value used and will likely hold their value pretty well as kids crash them and everyone starts looking at the car with rose colored glasses like they have with other “slow” cars (E30s, S2000s and Integra Type R)

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I expect these to hold their value as well; they will make terrific “toy” cars. They are the Miata coupe that Mazda isn’t building anymore. If you don’t fit in a Miata or don’t want a convertible, it’s an attractive option. The trunk and fixed roof probably make it an easier sell if you need to justify a toy car to the rest of the family.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Sports cars shouldn’t be sullied with turbos. If they absolutely need more power, add revs.

  • avatar
    Chris from Cali

    I bought one of these (2017 BRZ w/PP)in May for my birthday present. I have a Mk7 Golf R and a V60 Polestar, so this was planned as the aforementioned track day toy/weekend warrior. Funny thing is, I end up driving it to work more than the other two combined. It’s really a fun car. Yes, it’s slow. Yes, it has a terrible dead spot in the powerband at 4K. Yes, it’s loud/cheap/blah blah blah. What it does do exceedingly well is put a gigantic smile on my face I as go through 3-4 gears to redline and NOT go to jail. Try that in your fast whatever else.

    I’ve had a bunch of Porsches, fast Audis, etc. This is right up there in the fun sweepstakes. No cachet, not as well made, but it is so mechanical and so right. LSD? Check. Nice seats and steering wheel? Check. LED lights (standard, btw, not $3K like Porsche)? Check. Big brakes (for a tiny car)? Check.

    Go in open-minded and test-drive one. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Combine that with the $4K+ I got off sticker, and I was happy.

  • avatar
    brakeless

    FRS/BRZ/86 is one of the worst cars built in the last decade. It’s like a Pinto, Corvair, Samurai, Audi 5000, Aspen and Prius all rolled into one. Nobody should ever buy one, never ever. It should not be allowed on any road or any race track that allows people near it.

    However, I am willing to take one for the team. I am looking to scoop up a sub-$15,000 used FrBreeZ86 and put it to good use. I am just waiting for prices to drop a bit more. It will be a good enough daily beater/dog car.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Smooth revving engine, good steering, fine handling. I’ve driven one on the track, and it is in fact a fun track car, under one condition: that everyone else is driving the same car. Or at the very least a similarly underpowered car. But in the real world, where damn near any other car you’re like to see at the track has buckets more horsepower (and torque) it’s not so great, because you end up spending all your time looking in the mirror and pointing other people by.

    It’s a mystery to me why the factory hasn’t done something about that, but as it stands this is the car that’s smart, has a great sense of humor, makes its own clothes… and goes to the prom alone.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve driven one on track too. A student had one and she was not aggressive enough on the brakes but too aggressive on throttle so I asked if I could run a few laps to show her what the car could do. Plus I was very interested to see if the GT86/BRZ/FRS lives up to the hype.

    Compared to my 350Z (on the same track) you can tell how much lightness they added here. You can literally drive one of these with one finger. The steering is so light and direct its amazing, the sharpness at which it turns in and corners is amazing. The clutch action is also light and quick. It snaps from gear to gear very well. The shifter was a bit vague to me, my Z has a more firm rifle bolt action to its throws.

    Since it was someone’s car I was instructing I didn’t push as hard as I do in my car, thus I can’t comment on the handling at the limit, but it felt like you could easily explore here. Sadly the lack of torque is noticeable, the revs climb but nothing seems to happen. I’ve owned torqueless Honda’s before and they really seem to scream at higher revs but the boxer engine felt dull and droned on. Not sure what package the one I was driving had but the brakes were fine: firm and progressive with a linear action, no complaints.

    I found the interior to be cheap and that is coming from my Nissan Z which according to many is plastic fantastic. The FRS just felt like a normal, kind of boring Toyota on the inside. I didn’t get the feeling I was in a special sports car at all… seemed like random parts-bin. The seats didn’t hug you, the driving position was bit too upright.

    The thing that sticks in my mind the most was just how you could flick this thing around all day with so little effort. After a few laps in my Z you feel like you’ve been to the gym in comparison. However the Z does feel better planted, it just locks down in the turns and rushes out with a wide power band from the wonderful VQ NA V6 pushing you along. Sure the Z isn’t fast but its a rocket ship compared to the FRS.

    I can see the appeal of owning one of these, but I would require more power. Honestly it should have come with a turbo since Subbie knows how to build those. Lastly, if I was king it would be hatchback and be called the Celica…. then they would have something. Current it feels like a 85% effort. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad they built it – just wish they had tried harder.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      “…the driving position was bit too upright.”

      That’s exactly why, every time I get into a Japanese brand “sports car”, I praise the fact that Japanese test drivers aren’t hung like Italians, and gorillas, in the arm department…. The 86, the Miata, the S2000, even the Mid engine NSX… All have you seated like a normal, stocky person. Not laying down, while the 5 feet long arms you don’t have, try to reach for controls positioned where only Enzo’s favorite aliens could possibly be comfortable operating them.

      Volvos and Saabs were traditionally similarly laid out for upright seating, so it’s not like it’s some weird quirk of the Japanese. Maybe it’s the whale meat….

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    I will also deign to accept one of these in lieu of what I really want, which is a new RX-8 with a turbo, better gas mileage, and more trunk space. And also a pony.

  • avatar
    pprj

    Nah, I was able to test drive one, really wanted to like the car. But that engine is awful. The car carries a sin: it is not balanced.

    What I mean by that is the chassis, brakes, driving position, steering feedback, weight, all these are way way better than the engine. The final recipe is one of frustration. You grade almost everything in the car as A+ and grade the engine a D-. That formula does not work for me.

    Charge us a little more but give us a 2.5 liter turbo boxer engine, up the torque please, no need to have a gazillion HP but make this car move, improve the interior a tad, keep the manual gearbox, pay attention to the sound system, head unit etc, Apple Car Play and Android Auto – yes, I want to use it as a daily – and I promise you I will show up at the dealer with my checkbook.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I wish Toyota would use its own engine line instead of the Subaru Boxer. Maybe its a packaging issue? Or they just don’t care enough?

      Still, I want to drive one of these. I went to “build” one on Toyota website, and found that I like the base model with no options, and its $27k. That seems decent. I mean, you know you’re not getting a Mustang, but I’d really like to drive it to see how I’d like it. Perhaps there are intangible reasons for its existence, I’m betting that’s the case.

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        I am with you Mr. Taurus, Toyota’s 2GR would be amazing in this chassis or even Subaru’s very own 3.6 flat!

        In its current offering, the price tag just seems outrageous to me.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The car centers around “handling”, RWD and the “low-hanging” mass of a “flat four”. “Driving” enthusiasts with a pulse were supposed to go nutz for this setup, and completely disregard its total lack of ballz.

        The price isn’t bad, for what is it. But the problem for me is the ’80s. I’m like the “Vulpine” of mid-engine compact, 2-seater runabouts, that were available “everywhere” at affordable prices. I figured they’d always be made. But unlike him, I’m done with “wishing”.

        So I’m sure can I find an extremely low-miles example of a 1st gen Supercharged MR2 in near-mint condition, somebody’s been hording for half the price of a brand new Toyobaru.

        Of course I’d drive it daily, like it’s “stolen”. But it’s my belief there’s an army of us, thinking like me, totally fed-up and rejecting the new stuff, digging up something awesome from decades ago, while having tons of cash left over, even after modifying and rebuilding it to our exact tastes and power/performance “needs”. And having an absolute blast doing it, owning it, showing it, and of course driving it.

        New cars feel very “disposable” with built-in obsolescence. I’d lease, if I had to, and there’s an aftermarket “solution” to most new car “gadgetry”. But as a bonus, it’s easy to disable all the traction nannies, when they don’t have any!

        • 0 avatar
          EAF

          Mike, skip the MR2 and save your build money, for the price of this BRZ you can buy yourself a second-hand NSX that checks all of the boxes.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Thanks! The NSX wasn’t on my radar, and they remind me of “Pulp Fiction” and “Oh you’re sending The Wolf?…”

            But plenty of awesome older stuff around, where prices haven’t gone completely nuts (M3 E30+, 911) with many still dropping in value. The supercharged ’03+ Cobra Mustangs and Lightning F-150s? GTO/GXP? Lotus Esprit?

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I’m very interested in driving one of these to find what the story is with the power. I suspect the problem is more the dead spot in the power curve, rather than an outright lack of power.

    It’s an inexpensive sports care where you are supposed to be able to beat the crap out of it without going to jail. If you do that, published 1/4 mile trap speeds are similar to published times for the E46 330i I’m driving now. While I realize the 330i is not fast, we are all very spoiled if that’s considered too slow to get out of its own way, as many seem to imply about the 86.

    • 0 avatar
      NeilM

      burgersandbeer writes: “I’m very interested in driving one of these to find what the story is with the power. I suspect the problem is more the dead spot in the power curve, rather than an outright lack of power.”

      Max power is at 7000 rpm and max torque at a very high 6400 rpm, only 9% below peak power. So no, the problem is the lack of torque until near the end of the rev band.

      This would suggest to me that the FA20 engine doesn’t have variable valve timing, yet in fact it does. Maybe it’s just not very well implemented.

      • 0 avatar
        brakeless

        It’s like 205 HP from a naturally aspirated 2.0L isn’t good enough for people anymore.
        It’s all relative. Mainstream cars are stupid fast anymore. It doesn’t leave much room for a “balanced” sports car when your average minivan or pickup truck does 15-second quarter miles. Drive a Nissan Versa woth a CVT for a week, then hop into a FRBReeZ and complain.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    They have the right to spec this car however they want. It’s just that the lack of a turbo is so inexplicable. The market is crying for it. Subaru has a history of putting turbos in just about everything including Imprezas, Legacys, Outbacks, Foresters and the upcoming 3 row crossover. Plus there’s a proof of concept in the aftermarket. So it’s hard to understand what’s stopping them.

  • avatar
    Nedmundo

    I definitely appreciate the old-school goodness of NA engines, like the wonderful 2.4L in my TSX, but I agree the 86/BRZ should have more punch. When Subaru introduced a 1.6T boxer a few years ago, I thought it might be compact enough to preserve the 86/BRZ’s balance, and that we’d see it eventually. No dice.


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