2017 Subaru BRZ Review - Better, Not Best

Jeff Wilson
by Jeff Wilson
Fast Facts

2017 Subaru BRZ

2.0-liter BOXER four-cylinder, DOHC, direct/port injection, Dual Active Valve Control System (205 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm; 156 lbs-ft @ 6,400-6,800 rpm)
Six-speed manual (opt. six-speed automatic w/ paddle shifters), 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
$26,315 (U.S.) / $29,745 (Canada)
As Tested (Limited/Sport-Tech)
$28,465 (U.S.) / $31,745 (Canada)
Prices include $820 destination charge in United States and $1,750 CAD for PDI and A/C tax in Canada.

Back in May of this year, TTAC reported the list of changes coming for the 2017 Subaru BRZ and asked if what amounted to a rather modest workover would get consumers excited enough to reverse the sports coupe’s declining sales trend.

Having spent a week acting barely responsible in Subaru’s only two-wheel-drive offering, my belief is no, the BRZ will not buck the trend. After commuting in it, doing school pick up duty and grocery runs — all in a most irresponsible way, revving the little four-cylinder boxer engine to redline again and again — I expect there will be a blip on the sales radar this year. Sadly, I also expect the BRZ (and its Toyota 86 twin) to slowly slip into automotive obscurity.

This terribly depressing thought has mostly to do with declining overall consumer interest in fun, driver-oriented cars, and it does nothing to celebrate what a wildly fun machine this is.

Full disclosure: I specifically requested to review the BRZ because it was at the top of my next-car shopping list. Small, sporty, RWD machines with proper manual transmissions are becoming rarer than un-crashed Mustangs at Cars and Coffee events, so this thing holds tremendous appeal.

The BRZ is a good looking car — low, sleek — and even after years of familiarity, I still find they catch my eye on the open road. The visual updates for 2017 are nominal, including a reworked front fascia and LED lights, plus a new aluminum spoiler. If you liked the look before, you’re likely pleased with the updates. If not, well, this new one probably won’t do it for you either.

Inside, the changes are equally ostensible. The infotainment system — a version of Subaru’s StarLink set up — is a bit of an improvement over last year’s system, though this one still features a dull, low-res, 6.1-inch touchscreen and map graphics that look a generation or two out of date. Operation is straightforward enough and credit to Subaru for including the navigation as standard fare on even the cheapest-trim BRZ.

My Canadian Sport-Tech trim car (Limited trim in the US) also offered heated seats, dual-zone climate control, push-button start and new for 2017, a 4.2-inch multi-function display nestled into the right-most circle of the primary gauge pod. That display can be dialed in to show oil and coolant temperatures, voltage, trip computer info, a g-meter or a lap timer — all of which are controlled by the buttons that have newly mushroomed out of the BRZ’s steering wheel.

The seats were – and remain – comfortable and fairly supportive, even for aggressive driving (though they’re not as ideally suited for track duties as say, the Recaros found in a Fiesta ST). There are some areas of hard and cheap plastics throughout the interior, but this is an affordable car, and the overall design is both functional and stylish.

A large part of the appeal of this car for me — as opposed to, oh, say that other tiny two-door, RWD sportster from Mazda — is Subaru’s attempt at back seat accommodations. When I last reviewed a Scion FR-S, my then-five-year old son was diminutive enough to fit without too much trouble. Now nearly seven, he continues to grow, and on a few occasions he found his little feet getting squashed when the front passenger seat was pushed back to a position suitable to contain a human. Any semblance of practicality I’d held kinda flew out the window at this point.

That rear seat does fold down as a single unit, opening up the 6.9 cubic foot cargo space to accommodate a full set of track wheels and tires, which the BRZ still desperately needs. As before, the tires Subaru thinks are suitable for a sports car are the same ones found on the top-trim Toyota Prius. They howl and protest at the hard work of speedy cornering, and give up their grip on asphalt quicker than a car with such a good suspension has any right doing.

The argument for these tires is, of course, they allow drivers to break the back end loose into amusing drifts with relatively little effort, despite the engine’s meagre output. And indeed it’s easy to control those drifts thanks to Subaru’s efforts to take what was already one of the best-handling sports cars out there and improve upon it.

Spring rates have been tweaked (softened, in fact, in the rear), but the rear anti-roll bar is stiffer and the dampers improved, adding to a livelier handling machine than before that also rides slightly better. The stability-control system has a new “Track” setting allowing for a little more playfulness, and the Torsen limited-slip differential is still part of the package. These changes conspire to create a car with tremendous track potential, were it not for those tires (which, of course, can be easily replaced).

The BRZ has suffered plenty of internet abuse and been dismissed by many potential buyers for the feeble punch of its 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine. I’ll admit, during the first few stoplights and on ramps, I concluded pretty quickly that I didn’t think I could live with a car with such wheezy mid-range power. I’ve been drinking from the fountain of turbos for the past few years and have grown to like them and their corruptive power.

Still, it should be stated Subaru has made some updates to the engine, bumping the power for six-speed manual models up to 205 horsepower from 200. Torque is also up 5 to 156 lb-ft – still lower than a Honda Civic. Not a new sporty Civic Type-R, or even the upcoming Si, mind you, but the same Civic you see everywhere driven by everyone that weighs only about 100-pounds more than the BRZ.

The little Subie isn’t actually slow; it’s just that it’s not quick by modern standards. I get that this is a car all about balance and too much power would completely change its personality, but even a reasonable 250 hp — or, better yet, more torque — would make the already-great BRZ absolutely amazing. Subaru claims there’s simply not enough room under the BRZ’s hood for the extra plumbing required for forced induction. That’s a shame since WRX power would be just answer, especially with its crisp-shifting, short-throw, six-speed manual transmission.

Curiously, Subaru has reportedly beefed up the block and differential, despite its mediocre 5-point increase in torque and horsepower. It appears, however, that this has more to do with preserving longevity for those hell-bent on modifying their cars rather than a sign of a future STI variant.

A new turbo Mustang or Camaro solves the BRZ’s power deficit, but both of the pony cars – as accomplished performers as they’ve become – still feel large and ponderous compared to the tidy and frenetic BRZ. This is why it’s such a shame that Subaru seems to have only gone part way in making their little coupe as great as it can be; a change that might’ve earned the BRZ more internet respect and honor it deserves.

There’s no question the BRZ is one of the most fun new cars available today. Few machines offer such a raw and visceral driving experience these days without being complete track machines or extremely expensive toys. The BRZ demands its drivers to learn to really drive, especially on the track. It’s ridiculously engaging and raw in a way that so few contemporary cars are.

Subaru will continue to sell some BRZs, but since it’s just a little too impractical and a little short on the performance, they won’t be selling one to me.

[Images: © 2016 Jeff Wilson]

Jeff Wilson
Jeff Wilson

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2 of 65 comments
  • Squelchy451 Squelchy451 on Sep 03, 2017

    FFS reading the comment section of any misunderstood car is so frustrating. Most Japanese cars aren't known for having gut-punching torque. They'll out rev anyone but won't have enough torque to open a jar of pickles. When you see a car with 200 HP but 150 torque, what do you expect? We've all been so coddled with turbocharged engines which gives torque on demand and great mileage on paper that we've forgot what it means to have a rewarding experience with a vehicle. Learn the limits of the car on the low-grip tires, deal with the torque dip by either revving it up or accepting the car for what it is, and just enjoy what is just so rare these days--a RWD car with four seats and a manual transmission.

  • Starbase101 Starbase101 on Oct 02, 2017

    So I decided to "upgrade" my 2013 BRZ to a newer 2017. Big mistake. The 2017 is terrible compared to the older model. Yeah, it's got some nice improvements: shark-fin antenna instead of plastic rod (but reception is rather poor), rear backup camera, LED lighting....but the list of what Subaru totally screwed up with (in my opinion) is too long to ignore. This is supposed to be a sports car, yet it resists acceleration. Yep, this car is S L O W. It accelerates like a tractor. The standard OEM navigation map is now gone, leaving a large dead area on the dash where a touch screen sits unused. The outside temperature and MPG readings no longer exist (and I have the Limited edition). The Blue Tooth will not maintain a connection to my iPhone and I've given up re-pairing it every few days. The steering wheel feels like cheap hardened foam compared to the nicer 2013 wheel. Doors don't automatically lock when you start driving as on other makes of cars. You cannot arm the security alarm with doors or trunk open because the alarm will then set off when closing them. The door handle sensor for locking the car hardly ever works, and the sensor for unlocking the car only unlocks the one door rather than the whole car (you need to manually press an unlock button inside to release the other side door). The auto-dimming rear view mirror still does NOT auto-dim (same poor technology as the 2013, yet Ford has an auto-dimming mirror which does work nicely so it's not unrealistic to expect this to actually work). The rear seating area is smaller than the 2013, which was already cramped, so the back seats are pretty much just for show - my kid doesn't even fit back there comfortably so forget about seating 4 adults in the car. Add to all that various rattles and vibrations which just should not be happening on a factory-ordered brand new car. Even the pearl blue color isn't impressive - it's blue, but there really isn't any "pearl" look to it at all. If I knew then what I know now I never would have traded in my 2013 for this disappointment.

  • Slavuta Why America needs school buses altogether? When I was in school, I rode on a regular city bus
  • Jeff Buy whatever works for you if you own an EV and are happy with it good, if you buy a hybrid or plug in hybrid and it works for you good, if neither and you like your ICE the way it is that is also good. I believe over time EVs will get better and have a larger segment of the market.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Is New Jersey better than Old Jersey?
  • Tassos Jong-iL Looking forward to buying 2 of these with all of those Rubles we have been earning lately.
  • Dartdude I have a 17 Ram 1500, love the dial and took to it right a way. don't have a lever blocking the dash panel or taking up space on the console.