First Drive: 2022 Subaru BRZ
When the original Subaru BRZ (that's Boxer engine Rear-drive Zenith, in case you were wondering) debuted back in 2012, Subaru’s then-new performance coupe was praised for its nimble handling and driver engagement – both increasingly rare characteristics in contemporary cars even a decade ago. A joint venture with Toyota, the BRZ and its Scion FR-S counterpart benefited from a clean-sheet approach by the automakers to build an honest, lightweight sports car with a bit more practicality than a Mazda Miata thanks to its 2+2 layout and a trunk big enough to stow a set of track wheels and tires with the rear seats folded down.
While both versions of the coupe quickly found their enthusiast niches, there was one nagging complaint, even among the sports car faithful who understood the mission: The 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine just didn’t have enough guts. Over the years, seemingly endless calls to increase the power went unanswered by the factory, leading many to seek out aftermarket options to add boost to mix in order to provide the BRZ with a bit more straight-line pull.
Many also thought the BRZ and Scion FR-S / Toyota 86 would be a single-generation act – a reasonable assumption given the motoring public’s recent by-and-large abandonment of coupes and sedans in favor SUVs and crossovers. But interest has remained admirably strong throughout the years; in fact, the outgoing BRZ has completely sold out for the past few months.
Given that, we’d probably would have cut Subaru some slack if they had decided to phone this one in. Fortunately for us, the BRZ has gone under the knife and emerged with an array of upgrades under its new sheet metal, among which includes an additional dose of horsepower. To see if the reworked coupe is all we’d hoped for, we headed out to Lakeville, Connecticut to put the new BRZ through its paces out on the street and around the road course at Lime Rock Park.
Inside And Out
While updates can be found throughout the new car, undoubtedly the biggest news is what’s under the hood. Rather than turbocharging or supercharging the existing 2.0-liter boxer four cylinder – which would have added weight, complexity, and cost while also potentially sacrificing the linear power delivery of an NA motor, the latter of which contributes heavily to the car’s intuitive track manners and at-limit poise – Subaru instead chose to just ditch the old mill in favor of an alternative that any hot rodder can get behind: Displacement.
Derived from the Subaru Ascent’s power plant, the new engine is a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter boxer four cylinder that makes 228hp and 184lb-ft. Gains of 23 horsepower and 28 pound-feet of torque might not sound game-changing, but the peak numbers don’t tell the whole story. What’s important here is where that torque is generated in the powerband: While the 2.0-liter in the first generation car had to be wound out to 6400 RPM in order to reach its peak torque figure, the 2.4-liter hit its mark at just 3700 RPM, bestowing the new BRZ with more low-end grunt while also eliminating the 2.0-liter’s infamous mid-range torque dip.
The other important factor is weight. Although Subaru added about 165 pounds of weight to the car with additional safety features as well as drivetrain and chassis upgrades to support the additional power, the automaker also removed 143 pounds from other areas – much of which was unsprung weight – by using aluminum for components like the roof panel and a number of suspension parts that were formerly made from steel. As a result the new car weights in at 2835 pounds in Limited trim with the manual gearbox or 2881 pounds when outfitted with the automatic – negligible increases over the outgoing car that are ostensibly canceled out by the substantial increase in engine output.
Speaking of transmissions, both the standard six-speed manual and optional six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters carry over from the previous generation, and both see a substantial improvement in straight-line performance. At six seconds flat, the manual-equipped car now hits 60 mph from a standstill a full second quicker than the outgoing car, while the automatic hits that speed in 6.5 seconds, a second and a half quicker than its predecessor.
Although the suspension configuration also carries over from the previous generation – struts up front and double wishbones in the rear – the chassis benefits from significant improvements. Thanks to structural bonding techniques learned from the development of the Subaru Global Platform, the second generation BRZ boasts 60 percent more lateral rigidity and 50 percent more torsional rigidity. And by using aluminum for the roof panel and physically lowering that section on the car, the car’s center of gravity has been lowered to 17.95 inches, too.
Subaru saw fit to massage the sheet metal a bit as well, upping the visual drama with a more aggressive fascia up front and an integrated ducktail spoiler at the rear, while the accentuated fender flares give the car a more athletic vibe overall.
The interior changes are less overt, but they do address some key issues from the previous generation. The front seats have been redesigned to make them lighter, more concave, and more aggressively bolstered in order to keep occupants firmly planted during performance driving. There’s also new customizable 7-inch digital gauge cluster with a bespoke Track mode layout, along with a new, Subaru-sourced 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system as well.
We started our day with the new BRZ on the rural roads of Amenia, New York with the nose pointed in Lime Rock’s direction. When on boil through stretches of open tarmac, the additional oomph provided by the 2.4-liter engine was immediately obvious and greatly appreciated, particularly when digging out of slower corners. It’s still not a ground-pounding monster by any stretch of the imagination, but new engine delivers tangible improvements in acceleration without screwing up the car’s poise and approachability. It’s the amount of power that this car should have had all along.
Still, it’s clear that lightness is still the core principle, and it yields a sports car which feels eager to change direction but doesn’t require a punishingly stiff suspension in order to keep body motions in check. And like its predecessor, the second generation BRZ is easy to acclimate to thanks to a light clutch, excellent outward visibility, and communicative steering.
As we made our way to the track, spells in commuter traffic gave us a chance to play around with the new infotainment system a bit more. It’s a big step up as far as screen real estate and overall responsiveness, and the standard stereo actually sounds pretty good. The utilitarian aesthetic and bare-bones feature set of the interface itself still leave something to be desired, though, and practically beg you to plug your phone in so you can capitalize on the wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. These concerns melted away in a haze of tire smoke not long after we arrived at Lime Rock Park, though.
A long-press of the Track Mode button in the same manually-shifted BRZ Limited that we drove to Lime Rock brought the tachometer and G meter front and center while also loosening the reins of the traction and stability control systems. With seven turns laid out over a 1.5 miles, Lime Rock’s road course has a natural flow that works in the BRZ’s favor. Overpowered cars would be easy to unsettle coming off the crest of the hill at Turn 5 or when getting back on the throttle out of Turn 7, for instance, but BRZ doesn’t punish you for ham-fisted inputs.
The car is happy to oblige if you want tail-happy antics while trail braking or coming out of slow corners, but it’s easy to collect and, thanks to the chatty 215/40R-18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires it wears in Limited trim (Premium models get Michelin Primacy all-seasons on 17-inch wheels), there’s plenty of warning before you truly exceed their limits of grip. Body roll and brake dive are present at pace, but unlike the ND Miata, the BRZ isn’t so softy tuned that it becomes a distraction when you’re really caning on the car.
There’s still some room for improvement, though: After a day of repeated lapping sessions, we discovered the limitations of the factory brake system when we tried to scrub off speed on the main straight for Turn 1 and, for a half-second, nothing happened. It’s probably nothing a good set of pads and fluid couldn’t fix, but certainly worth noting before heading out for your first track day with the car.
The exhaust is also surprisingly quiet – so much so that additional engine noise is piped in through the audio system. We personally prefer the real deal when it’s an option, and if you run with the windows down, the synthesized audio might not be enough to provide a proper auditory landmark for upshifts.
We also got a few sessions in a BRZ Limited that was outfitted with the six-speed automatic as well. A Sport mode is added here, which is designed to keep the gearbox in lower gears when it detects a certain amount of lateral force on the car, but it wasn’t long before we bumped the shifter over to manual mode to oversee the gear swaps ourselves with the paddles. The gear ratios are less aggressive with the automatic, too, which translates to less urgent pull both on the straights and out of the corners. We won’t mince words: The manual gearbox is definitely the way to go here. It’s better not only from an experiential standpoint, but also in terms of outright performance.
Considering the fact that the new BRZ starts at $27,995 (our fully-loaded tester came in at $31,455 with destination), the mere notion that an affordable, lightweight, purpose-built sports car lives on in this day and age is cause for celebration in and of itself. While the second generation car isn’t a total reinvention of the breed, it’s a meaningful step forward in a variety of ways that undeniably make it a better performance machine. Now more than ever, enthusiasts would be wise to smoke ‘em while we’ve got ‘em.
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