Obvious who’s the daddy
Argue all you like, there’s no doubt which company puts most DNA into the Toyota Gt86/subaru BRZ joint venture, writes Dave Moore.
To say that Toyota and Subaru took different tacks with marketing their cloned sports coupes would be to utter the understatement of the decade. While Toyota has plastered the media with references to its half of the bargain Subaru New Zealand has quietly gone its own way, launching its car as an internet-only prospect at first before exposing its BZ fans, customers and journalists – in that order. This was about six months after its jointventure partner Toyota allowed selected media a drive of its GT86. The first of Subaru’s BRZs in New Zealand found owners in mid-December, with most of them enjoying a track day at Hampton downs, courtesy of the importers. Who did what with the development of the car is fairly clear. Subaru did most of the engineering and builds the car, along with the Toyota and North American Scion versions at its plant in Gunma, Japan. Toyota did the car’s interior and exterior styling and other design work while providing components like the direct-injection system. But for all that, anyone with a skerrick of automotive knowledge will note the inline mounted flat-four engine and realise that the mechanical ‘‘daddy’’ in this delightfully simple car is Subaru, though Toyota must take plaudits for driving the project. Simplicity is a key element in the car. It has been done before by Mazda when the similarly spare and nicely crafted MX-5 arrived in 1989, becoming the poster child for a new generation of drivers for whom a relatively cheap, light, rearwheel-drive car would accurately hit the mixed metaphors of the funny bone and seat of the pants simultaneously. Since then, the Germans have tried it with the Z3 and SLK, missing by a mile through combining too much complexity and weight, asking too much money and providing too little talent. So in 24 years the realm of relatively inexpensive, fundriving cars was only added to by Honda’s S2000 and ironically General Motors’ all too short-lived Pontiac Soltice roader – destined to become with the death of Pontiac the most revered fourcylinder American car since the Model T. The BRZ/GT86 clones don’t have a softtop of course – though it’s expected that such an option will be offered in a couple of years – but they do have that inherent evenly-balanced poise of the MX-5, and like the wee Mazda an eminently achievable price tag. There are drawbacks. Unlike the MX-5 which even in folding hardtop form doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a two-seater, the BRZ has a vestigial rear seat into which even quite small people would have to be surgically implanted or removed. For a laptop or shopping however, the BRZ’s a champ! Oh, apart from all that, the BRZ is an absolute joy to drive, with every curve and corner welcomed with gusto. It’s that seat-of-the-pants thing again, where its light eminently biddable chassis chimes in to cash every cheque its powertrain writes. It doesn’t take long to start savouring the predictable, well-sorted cornering feel of the BRZ. Using heavily-braced low-slung MacPherson struts up front and STi Impreza inspired double-wishbones at the rear this rear-driven Subaru is contrived to allow a subtle transfer of weight from the front to rear wheels during the cornering process when pressing on. The car’s steering is quick and accurate and offers a delightfully lucid conduit for information streaming from the road surface to the driver’s hands. There are few if any affordable cars that allow such quick and accurate reactions from its user: if the tail feels a little ragged, you’ll correct it without over compensating. It’ll come back into line and that’s it. That solid confidence is reinforced by the car’s remarkably low centre of gravity. It’s evident from the first time you turn the car, and Subaru says it’s the lowest of any production car, at just 46 centimetres. On the car’s standard 17-inch rims, I found the ride was firm but not rawboned in any way. It does not crash and thump over bumps but road noise is harsh when traversing course chip surfaces. Another key to the BRZ’s chassis strengths is that the horsepower story is not an overwhelming one, which is quite right as Mazda found out with its own sports car. No MX-5 owner ever really wanted or wished for more power, but Mazda couldn’t resist doing a turbocharged version of the final series two MX-5 and simply ruined it, and Mazda has said more than once that it was an embarrassing mistake. If ever Subaru decides to turbocharge the BRZ/GT86 they have a lot of knowledge to tap into, but I fear too much power could corrupt this nigh perfectlybalanced car and I hope they leave well enough alone. As it stands, the BRZ’s 147kW/205Nm flat four is no slug, and with so little weight (1216 to 130kg) to drag about, the arbitrary 100kmh number can be clocked in the mid to late seven-second bracket with the six speed manual, with an extra half second needed if you opt for the automatic. If you keep the engine on the boil, the car will scythe through apexes and set itself up for a sprint from one corner to the next with surprising alacrity. With the paddle-shift override on the automatic, a ‘‘Sport’’ setting allows the transmission to sharpen and delay its upshifts, while when coming down of the power and downshifting, it’s absolutely brilliant at matching the selected incoming ratio with exactly the right revolutions, emitting a pleasing ‘‘blip’’ of the throttle at the same time. The BRZ starts at $48,990 in New Zealand, asking another thousand for the automatic. It does cost a little more than the base version of its more common Toyota sibling, but there’s more equipment and better-looking wheels for a start. The BRZ’s specification includes a VDC/ VSC system with electronic traction and stability control, ABS brakes and with electronic brake distribution and brake assist. It also gets bi-xenon headlights; seven airbags; and meets the NCAP fivestar crash testing rating. Inside alloy pedals, leather-covered steering wheel rim, gear lever and hand brake lever add a bit of tactility while there’s a six-speaker stereo with iPod and Bluetooth compatibility; dual zone air conditioning; remote central locking with engine immobiliser and smart key; cruise control; height and reach adjustable steering; push button start and sports front seats with leather and Alcantara upholstery. Add in daytime running lights; front and rear fog lights, a rear subtly designed rear diffuser and twin exhausts plus a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, it’s a pretty compelling package. For those wishing to be more individual about their BRZ, the company offers a lot of ways to personalise the car. Not only is the car quite a neat looker, it’s what it does that counts and bearing in mind the number of BRZs being imported, you’re unlikely to come across another in your travels. Subaru is only importing limited numbers again this year and while you might see one of two Toyota GT86s, which are just as desirable and delightful to drive, it’s the BRZ that’s the daddy, that’s plain. Front in-line mounted RWD DOHC direct injected 1998cc 16 valve flat four, with a six-speed manual or paddle-shift automatic. Max 147kW at 7000rpm, 205Nm at 6600rpm, 226-210kmh (MT/AT), 0-100kmh 7.6 to 8.2 seconds, 7.8-7.1L/100km, 181-164g/km CO2. Front MacPherson struts; rear double wishbones; electric rack and pinion power steering; 17x7 alloy rims; 215/45R17 tyres. Vented disc brakes; ABS, VDC/VSC system with electronic traction and stability control, LSD; seven airbags; 5-star ANCAP rating. L 4240mm, H 1245mm, W 1775mm, W/base 2570mm, F/track 1520mm, R/track 1540mm, Fuel 50L; Weight 1216-1230kg (MT/AT). BRZ six-speed manual $48,990, BRZ sixspeed paddle-shift automatic. Elegantly sufficient engine; supreme chassis balance; neat restrained looks; great driving position; surprisingly practical layout. Everyone knows what it is and wants to tell to you about it; tight rear seat; engine note neither here or there; more expensive than 86. Rarity factor will make it more desirable than the 86. A terrifically well-sorted Japanese car, the best since the MX-5 nearly 25 years ago.