Posted by Armin H. Ausejo
Since the joint venture between Toyota and Subaru was announced last year, few cars have received as much hype, excitement, and naysayers as the upcoming Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ. The spiritual successor to Toyota’s AE86 of Initial D anime and drifting fame, both the FR-S and BRZ have swooned automotive journalists around the world with its handling prowess, low weight and center of gravity, and above all, low projected MSRP. We’ve definitely had our eyes on both of these models here at NWMotiv, even coming up with a concept composite of what our future BRZ might look like. However, despite all the peer pressure, Facebook polls, and constant research, nothing could possibly mean more than actually seeing, feeling, and ultimately driving the car in person. While we weren’t able to get any driving impressions this time around, we were at least given the opportunity to closely examine a new Subaru BRZ on the showroom floor of Carter Subaru in Shoreline, WA as this dealer demo vehicle continues its tour across the country.
Story and Photos by Armin H. Ausejo
Carter Subaru cleared out its main area just for the BRZ, putting the Lightning Red coupe front and center at their dealership. You can easily see the BRZ from the street and seeing it up close and personal instantly leaves an impression. The car’s body lines are truly sexy: from the fender bulges, to the shape of the roof, to the mean tough-guy stare of the headlamps, the BRZ just looks like you’re ready to kick it into ludicrous speed just sitting there. It’s definitely a small car, being about 3 inches shorter in length than the first generation 350Z and 2 inches shorter in length than the FC RX-7. Once you open the hood, you see what all of the low center of gravity hubbub is all about. The motor is completely and literally below the hips, and you pretty much have to give a very honorable bow just to touch the motor (more on the motor and engine bay later). The HID and LED headlamps truly differentiate it from its Scion brethren, although the clear reflectors in front were easily mistaken for fog lights. The wheels are – well, they’re very stock-looking wheels, and the 5×100 bolt pattern is a bit disappointing for the sake of aftermarket wheel options, much less possible future wheel bearing issues. Thankfully, there is quite a bit of space in the wheel wells and reports from the FR-S camp have said that fitting 10-inch wide wheels on the rear is as easy as destroying your 2002 WRX’s transmission with an AWD burnout. The stock tires are laughable Toyota Prius tires, which means you’ll be able to get your dori-dori on with little effort, but we’re already dreading the future forum posts complaining about the tires and 12 mph spool on wet roads.
Opening the door to the interior, our suspicions were indeed correct about the backseat. Both Subaru and Scion list their respective versions as a “2+2,” but the only 2 things you might be able to fit in the back seat are half of your 17-inch track/auto-x wheels and tires. Unless you’re a very vertically challenged individual, there’s absolutely no way you can even fit a toddler in the back seat, much less a child or small adult. One would believe they left in a couple back seats in for insurance purposes, but they truly are useless, so you might as well just keep them folded down the whole time. On the other hand, the front seats are quite comfortable and while they don’t have a name like Recaro or Sparco stitched onto them, they could easily pass as one of their models. If anything, the design of the front seats is similar to a Bride seat. The interior plastics and other materials have a nice feel to them, very similar to that of Subaru’s 2008+ STI. Even the gauges glow red like the STI, and the interior stitching also has an STI look to them. Visibility out front and to the sides is excellent, almost bubble canopy-like, however the blind spots offer a pretty thick C-pillar that doesn’t give a very good rearward view for quick lane changes.
Stepping out once again, we next take a look at where Subaru and Toyota decided to save weight. One of the main draws of this new model is the fact that the curb weight is going to be in the 2700-2800 lbs range, depending on your options and choice of transmission. Subaru lists its most basic version of the BRZ with a manual transmission weighing in at a mere 2762 lbs and upon further examination, you can really tell where they decided to skimp or go cheap to save weight. One glaring example was the fender liners, which were simply exposed rubber pieces in the engine bay. You could press up on the fender liner from the wheel well and the exact same piece would be popping up in the engine bay. On the contrary, the hood is extremely light, easily lighter than an STI’s aluminum hood, thus Subaru decided to spend a little extra for weight savings in this case. Overall, the car didn’t feel cheap in any way, but making sacrifices such as the fender liner does give off an air of cutting corners, even if that could potentially lead to a better driving experience.
Ultimately, driving experience is all that really matters for this car in the end. With a 200 horsepower, naturally aspirated motor under the hood, many people will easily scoff at the idea that this car will be any better than a Hyundai Genesis Coupe or even an RSX Type-S. “Needs more power” was the phrase heard the most when standing around the car with fellow enthusiasts and unfortunately this car was not available for any test drives. We were at least able to hear the motor, which definitely had a nice boxer rumble to it. We have no doubt that an aftermarket exhaust will make this motor really roar. Nevertheless, there is definitely some room in the engine bay for additions. The motor is quite pushed back toward the firewall, so any aftermarket turbo system would most likely need to be mounted in front of the motor, much like the current generation Subaru Legacy GT and opposite of the WRX and STI. However, rumor has it that this motor uses the same motor mounts as the WRX and STI, which of course begs the question of why not throw in an STI motor from beginning if that’s the case? As completely valid as that question might be, one has to remember while Subaru did the vast majority of the design and manufacturing of this vehicle, the original idea and concept is Toyota’s, and as the spiritual success to the AE86, keeping it a lightweight, naturally aspirated car just made sense. Nevertheless, perhaps Subaru’s H6 3.6L motor from their Legacy 3.6R might prove to be an interesting swap in the future.
This finally leaves us at pricing. It was recently leaked that the Scion FR-S will have an MSRP close to $25,000, and it was always rumored that the Subaru BRZ would be priced at least $1500-2000 more than the FR-S due to the added frills, such as the HID headlamps and higher quality interior materials. Thus, if the rumors are true, we’ll all be looking at about $27,000 or more for a base BRZ, and close to $29,000 for a fully optioned version out the door. That’s going to be a pretty tough sell for Subaru, especially when considering that the WRX has a base MSRP just shy of $26,000. Then again, it’s easy to dismiss cars based on mere numbers and statistics alone. Indeed, the WRX is AWD and has a turbo, but it’s also infamous for understeer and often requires a decent amount of money invested into suspension to get it on par handling-wise with other 2WD vehicles that are similarly priced. The turbo also has some lag (although it’s definitely better in recent years compared to the older 2.0L motor), whereas a high revving naturally aspirated motor typically has better throttle response and control. The BRZ won’t beat a WRX in a straight line by any means, but it could easily have its way on an auto-x course or on some downhill mountain twisties. These are the areas where Subaru will really have to push its marketing: the BRZ is meant to be a driver’s car and a return to a more pure, barebones driving experience, and not meant for straight-line, highway racing wannabes.
Of course, we can’t comment on that driving experience yet until we can experience it for ourselves. Other automotive journalists have praised the car, with very few of them saying it needs more power. We certainly hope we’ll eventually share that opinion, but is that driving experience worth $28,000-29,000? Clearly it is for those who’ve already placed their $500 refundable deposits, but we didn’t write any checks or charged any cards during our visit. Until any final pricing is released and we can get a full test drive in the car, we’re going to hold onto our money. We do encourage those interested to make the trip out to Carter Subaru before Friday or to Chaplin’s Subaru in Bellevue this weekend to check it out and form your own opinions, and please do share yours here once you have.