2013 Subaru BRZ first drive
You've never seen — or driven — a Subaru like this before
Grass Valley, Ore. — Kevin Costner built his baseball field in Iowa corn country. Around the remote Oregon hamlet of Grass Valley, wheat is the primary crop, but the Field of Dreams parallel is hard to avoid.
Grass Valley is the closest town to Oregon Raceway Park, a demonic little road circuit in the exact middle of nowhere, which is where Subaru brought us to drive the new BRZ sports car. The improbable track in the unlikely location immediately invokes thoughts of the famous movie misquote, "if you build it they will come.*" So too does the BRZ.
If you know Subaru at all, you probably picture earnest, sturdy four-door sedans and (mostly) wagons — unless you're a gearhead, in which case Subaru is Japanese for rabidly rapid turbocharged sedans and hatchbacks with a track record in the World Rally Championship. Either way, the common threads between these two species of Subaru have almost always been: four doors, and all-wheel drive.
And now this. Suddenly, Subaru is building a two-door, rear-wheel drive sports car. Where did that come from?
We'll get to the "why" later, but first let's deal with the "how." A small manufacturer like Subaru could never have done this alone. Subaru is part-owned by Toyota, and these two poster companies for left-brain earnestness pooled their resources to develop and build a frivolous, just-for-the-heck-of-it sports car for which neither could have made a business case on its own.
Toyota's version (Scion FR-S, as it's branded in North America), is an unashamed strategy to inject some passion into the brand. It's not hard to understand where that's coming from. But Subaru? The way Ted Lalka, Subaru Canada VP marketing and product planning, tells it, "One of Subaru's challenges is getting noticed. The BRZ is creating an amazing amount of buzz for us."
Finesse versus force
Lalka also sees a market for something different than the STI, which is all about brute force. The BRZ is the epitome of finesse — a soccer player, he says, versus the STI as footballer. Plus, he adds, "it's a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate all the advantages we have in our Boxer engine layout."
Said layout underpins the mandate to build the BRZ light, agile and balanced. By its nature a Boxer (aka flat-four) engine is low and short, which both enables a low centre gravity, and allows the engine to be mounted well back, for balanced front/rear weight distribution and a low polar moment of inertia.
Yet Subaru still found room for a pair of rear seats. At 4,235 mm in length the BRZ is the world's smallest rear-drive coupe with 2+2 seating. Another interesting factoid: the BRZ weighs a staggering 450 kg less than a Chevrolet Camaro.
Along with the 2.0-litre engine, Subaru donated the loosely-STI-based suspension and the production facility to build the BRZ. Toyota shaped the body (though Subaru's version has its own distinct "face"), and installed its proprietary D-4S dual-injection system on the engine. The manual or automatic transmissions (six-speeds both) and the electric power steering come from third-party suppliers, though specced to Subaru's requirements.
*Actually, "if you build it he will come."