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.

Central Otago Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - Subaru BRZ Driv­e­train: Out­puts: Chas­sis: Safety: Di­men­sions: Pric­ing: HOT: NOT: VER­DICT:

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.

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