Review: 2017 Subaru BRZ
– Montreal, Quebec
The 2017 Subaru BRZ has been given the mildest of refreshes in a bid to keep the brand's only rear-wheel drive sports car competitive. Engine output from the boxer 4-cylinder stays almost identical (there's a negligible 5 horsepower increase for manual transmission cars), styling is casually reworked to include a new rear wing, resculpted tail lamps, and more aggressive headlights that incorporate LED daytime running lights, and the interior gains fresh gauges and a few revamped control surfaces.
Tweaking the Subaru BRZ formula means keeping its current audience happy, but it's likely done little to broaden the appeal of the fun-to-drive, relatively lightweight, and modestly-powered two-door sports coupe (that we happen to like very much). If you get it, you get it, but if you're more turned on by the performance promise embodied by the current crop of pony cars and turbocharged all-wheel drive hatchbacks, the new BRZ isn't going to change your mind.
- Subaru has replaced the 4.10:1 rear gear in the manual transmission 2017 BRZ with a shorter 4.30:1 unit that does a pretty decent job of making the car feel more lively at low speeds. We never had an issue puttering around town in the previous version of the coupe, but there's no question that the gear swap has given the vehicle's power delivery a bit of a positive makeover (automatic cars remain status quo).
- The 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of twist from the car's 2.0-liter 4-cylinder are more than enough to have fun in the 2017 Subaru BRZ, and the company has decided to paint the intake red under the hood for manual cars that feature the ultra-modest power boost. Although number of engine upgrades have been made behind the scenes to round up the five extra ponies and five additional lb-ft of torque, including polishing the cams, you'll still have to rev the car to get the most out, with maximum potential being unleashed somewhere between 6,800 and 7,000 rpm.
- The interior of the car continues to feel very task-oriented, but the new steering wheel and softening of the BRZ's various cabin surfaces were small but appreciated touches. Truth be told, the car also looks sharper from the outside, too, as lighting is so important in determining the personality of modern vehicles.
- Is a turbo version of the Subaru BRZ on the way? That list of modifications made to the motor for 2017 include a stronger block, and parts of the chassis intended to interface with the drivetrain has also been upgraded, which indicates boost might be in the near future for the BRZ as it struggles to find an audience in a world where the Volkswagen GTI offers better than a 100 lb-ft torque advantage on the street.
- If drag racing is your thing, avoid the 2017 Subaru BRZ. You'll be much happier in nearly any other compact performance car, including base model V6 Mustangs and Camaros that will eat the Subaru alive from stoplight to stoplight. The BRZ is a driver's car, but you'll need to connect corners, not measure trap speeds, to benefit from its lithe platform.
- Likewise if you're seeking luxury. We drove the entry-level model, which retails for $28k, but even if you pony up an extra $2,000 for the Sport-tech trim the upgrades over the base model are limited to partial leather seats (with heaters), an extra gauge or two, push button start, dual automatic climate control, and LED fog lights. There's also no active safety to speak of in the car, which means a complete absence of blind spot monitoring, lane keeping, or collision warning systems. This stands in stark contrast to similarly-positioned coupes and hotted-up compacts from other manufacturers.
- If that turbo upgrade doesn't happen, the Subaru BRZ could be living on borrowed time. Already a very low volume car in Canada, the coupe has always been an outlier in the automaker's AWD-focused, family-oriented line-up. The lack of significant changes after four years on the market doesn't upset us from a driving perspective - this is still one of our favourite cars, period - but it does make us somewhat worried for the BRZ's future.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting