Something Different from Subaru

2013 Subaru BRZ.

When you hear the name Subaru, several different kinds of cars may come to mind. Sensible sedans, outdoors-y wagons, and rally-inspired high-tech sport machines. The scrappy Japanese brand has had success in all those areas.

But now, Subaru is introducing a high performance sport coupe that’s like nothing else they’ve offered before. The 2013 BRZ is a lightweight, well balanced car that comes in at a base price of under $26,000. For the level of performance it offers, it’s a heck of a bargain.

The car had been in development for some time, a joint project between Subaru and Toyota. Subaru gets a bit of a jump to the showroom, with the BRZ arriving right about now. The Scion FR-S twin (other markets get the car with Toyota badges) arrives about a month later.

It’s an unusual collaboration, but one that really worked out. Toyota has years of experience building rear-drive sporty coupes (think of the original Celica, and then the Supra, which evolved into a serious performance car in the nearly 20 years it was built). What Subaru brought to the party was its legendary horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine.

The shape of the engine is key. With its four cylinders arranged horizontally instead of sticking up from the bottom, it can be placed low in the car’s body. That not only leaves room for a sleek hood design, but results in the car having a low center of gravity, which in turn results in very good balance.

Essentially, this is a true sports car in the classic sense. The relatively powerful (200 horsepower) engine connects to the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission or an available 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The BRZ will be right at home on a race track.

I didn’t get my test car to a track, but I was able to feel its great balance on some curving freeway onramps and a few canyon roads. The steering, suspension, throttle response and shift linkage all combine to make it feel as though this car is an extension of your own limbs as you guide it around corners.

The engine isn’t a total powerhouse by today’s standards. You can jump into any number of new mainstream family vehicles and find 200 horsepower or more. But the BRZ feels plenty powerful in most situations because of its light weight. Extensive use of high-strength steel for the body, as well as aluminum for the hood, result in a curb weight of just over 2,700 pounds in the base car. With today’s mandated safety equipment on board, that’s impressive.

There is a back seat, but I wouldn’t really call this a “four seater.” It’s mainly there to satisfy insurance companies as well as offer a dose of practicality in that it could carry a couple of kids in a pinch. Essentially, the BRZ was made for two people.

And it’s a somewhat comfortable car as well. The ride is definitely stiff, but that’s because the suspension is tuned for performance driving. A navigation system is among the standard features, and if you opt for the Limited trim package you even get dual-zone automatic climate control.

So this could be an everyday commuter, then taken out to a race track on weekends. (Willow Springs Raceway just north of Lancaster offers track day experiences for pretty much any type of car.) Subaru even points out that the car’s ceiling has indentations above the driver and passenger seats so there’s room to be in the BRZ wearing a helmet. Further, with the rear seat folded down, there’s just enough room to carry a set of spare wheels and race tires, a jack, and a helmet.

Subaru isn’t giving up on sensible cars by any means. Their redesigned 2012 Impreza sedan is a wonderful compact. But with the BRZ, the brand is now onto something really different. Different … as in good.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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