Subaru BRZ GT a five-star drive

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Drivesouth editor David Thomson rates the Subaru BRZ GT as a five-star ride, at least for the driver. Photos: David Thomson

When Toyota's 86 sports coupe earned a four and a-half star rating in Drivesouth last year, that rating came with a prediction: supply the same car minus the aerodynamic kit that spoilt its clean-lined appearance, and change to manual rather than automatic transmission, and the maximum five-star test rating will surely follow.

As readers will discover in a few weeks, Toyota has, eventually, taken the bait.

However, not before Subaru has nipped in first by slipping its version of the same car my way, in wing-free, manual-transmission guise.

For those not up with the play, the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are the identical-twin spawn of a joint endeavour. This has seen Toyota (which holds an ownership stake in Subaru) supply most of the cash, the manual transmission, and the fuel-injection technology, and have overall responsibility for styling.

Subaru, meantime, has provided the underlying platform and engine block. Plus, as prominent ''Subaru'' stamping on panels under the bonnet suggests, the 86/BRZ is built on a Subaru production line.

What might seem like a mish-mash recipe for disaster has turned out to be a match made in heaven: whichever badge it wears, the 86/BRZ has been acclaimed the world over for the pure engaging rear-drive experience it provides.

Having enjoyed the car immensely in Toyota 86 automatic guise, the arrival of the six-speed manual BRZ was an eagerly awaited event.

Sure enough, with the move to a gearstick the driver actually has to work and the sense of tactile delight that accompanies time behind the wheel is better yet. It's a honey of a gearbox in its own right, so sweet, in fact, that once one gains familiarity, rapid changes between third and fourth gears are smoothly accomplished without recourse to the clutch.

Having full control of the gears leads to greater control of an engine that delivers its throaty characterful best when worked hard towards its redline.

From here we move quickly to an enhanced ability to balance the car deftly on the throttle through medium to long bends. The BRZ corners flat, its steering is sharp and responsive (especially considering it is electrically assisted) and the brakes are highly effective, too.

Because it is only modestly powerful by contemporary standards, lurid power slides are not natural to the BRZ, at least so long as the road is dry. That said, hammer it hard into a tight bend, apply a heap of throttle, and the BRZ's tail will start to step out, only to haul itself in, as the car's limited slip differential and traction control electronics restore grip.

A couple more paragraphs could easily be devoted to describing the dynamic prowess of the BRZ. By now, though, you should have the gist, and in the interests of fair journalism there is a duty to report a few flaws.

This lovely looking low coupe is a car you step down into and because of this, some folk will find climbing aboard awkward. Having been forced to take a brief trip across town in the ''back seat'', my teenage son will also attest to the ridiculousness of the claim that the car is a four-seater.

Last and not least, comfortable and supportive as the leather-trimmed cabin is up front, there is no getting away from the fact that the ride, while fine on major highways, is firm over lumpy surfaces. Combine this with a substantial amount of coarse-chip road noise, and it's hard to escape the conclusion that an extended road trip would become something of chore, for a passenger at least.

The driver, on the other hand, would have a ball, especially if the trip involved the careful selection of winding roads that play to the BRZ's broadly arrayed handling strengths.

Five stars then? From the perspective of the enthusiast - once a manual gearbox it thrown into the mix, without a doubt.


Subaru BRZ GT a five-star drive
At a Glance

Rating: *****

For: Superb handling balance, delightful gearbox, great driving position

Against: Coarse-chip road rumble, firm ride over rough surfaces

Verdict: The manual gearbox tips the BRZ to a five-star rating


Price: $48,990 (as tested)

Engine: 1998cc horizontally opposed 16-valve petrol four-cylinder, maximum power 147kW@7000rpm; maximum torque 205Nm@6600rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive

Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear ventilated disc brakes, ABS, BA, EBD

Safety: Five-star Ancap crash test rating

Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 215/45R17 tyres

Fuel and economy: 95 octane petrol, 7.1 litres per 100km on EU combined cycle, capacity 50 litres

Dimensions: Length 4240mm, width 1775mm, height 1285mm

RATING (5/5)