The original BRZ was a story of unrealized potential. This time round, Subaru has nailed the brief. Say hello to the winner of MOTOR’s inaugural Sports Car of the Year competition for 2022 – the Subaru BRZ
Breakout success can be a double-edged sword, raising questions on how to produce a convincing follow-up.
Some become a slave to a winning formula, while others dare to experiment at the risk of alienating their core fans. The best artists, however, retain the elements – and the fans – that made them successful in the first place while subtly elevating the entire canon of work.
The 2022 Subaru BRZ treads the path of the latter. Subaru and Toyota’s original pair of compact sports coupes represented a bold commitment to pure driving and impressed the PCOTY panel back in 2012, but not quite enough to take the win. It was also bested by the defending VW Polo GTI champ in that year’s Bang For Your Bucks competition, SCOTY‘s spiritual predecessor. A few well-documented flaws curtailed its ambitions, but the new and improved car is belatedly back with answers.
The biggest chink in the original car’s armor was the infamous low-end torque hole. “The old car was good but it just needed more engine,” says Enright.
The new BRZ gives us exactly that, now powered by a bigger 2.4-liter flat-four producing 174kW / 250Nm, providing the very welcome bump in outputs. Subaru hasn’t resorted to a simple bore and stroke job, however, as the newly denoted FA24 engine utilizes a different engine block, revised internals and a new induction system with both port and direct injection.
From the first press of the throttle, improvements to power and torque are instantly clear. It lacks the hurried rush of some of the turbocharged competitors, but it’s a far more flexible unit with newfound levels of low-end tractability. In effect, you no longer need to wring its neck to make meaningful progress and it builds pace with a beautiful linearity and the same slightly oversized feeling as the 2.0-liter MX-5‘s powerplant.
“It’s so much more than just a new engine,” notes Trent, and he’s right. Framing the second-gen BRZ as a restyle with a bigger engine undersells its talents. Indeed, in many regards, the major headlines surrounding the new Subaru BRZ don’t tell the full story. There’s a real depth to the development of this new car. A revised version of the existing chassis sees torsional stiffness boosted by 50 per cent and lateral rigidity up 60 per cent.
Steering and clutch action also feel more MX-5-like, with a marginally slower ratio (13.5: 1 versus 13.1: 1 in the original BRZ) and less inherent weight. I, for one, miss the slight heft in the hands of the original car, but the resounding takeaway among the judging panel is an overarching feeling of nimbleness and agility.
Slower steering sounds counter-intuitive as a dynamic plus, but it’s barely noticeable and requires just a bit more input for the nose to react. In practice, rapid direction changes are a more fluid affair, with oversteer corrections feeling more natural and intuitive.
Yet chassis developments and output increases are only as good as the contact patches to the road. In that respect, the 2022 BRZ’s vastly improved Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires are transformative in comparison to the notorious old Michelin Primacy rubber.
The result is increased confidence to push harder and harder, while supported by ample mid-corner traction. Indeed, Luffy’s apex speed at the high-commitment Turn One was quicker than rivals like the GR Yaris Rallye and the i30 Sedan N. The braking system feels noticeably less servo-assisted than the prior generation, requiring stronger pedal effort to realize full braking power . Given the increased pace, those very familiar with the original car may be caught off guard. In practice, though, the pedal is ultra-progressive and very forgiving to those who are still practicing left-foot braking.
Prosaic improvements alone, however, aren’t enough to win at SCOTY. Contrasted with the PCOTY proceedings, the more affordable field was even more closely fought.
With heavily published improvements to pace, power and mechanical grip, there was cause for concern that the anticipated new coupe had lost the playful side of its character. The road component was all it took for us to lay any such concerns to rest. Even with all systems on, the BRZ gives frequent hints of neutrality. There’s a fluid playfulness to the car that only the MX-5 and Focus ST could rival. And yet the BRZ, more than any other car at SCOTY this year, was the one that judges most wanted to return to in order to keep peeling back its dynamic layers.
It just has an unburstable appetite to be driven. It feels robust, as if it will never let you down and is an even more engaging and involving car to drive faster than the original. Even Subaru’s ‘Active Sound Design’ is more successful than you might imagine. The way the in-cabin soundtrack extends from about 6500rpm sounds more reminiscent of Honda’s howling and highly strung inline-fours of the past than the typically rather industrial bass tones of Subaru’s boxer powerplants.
“When you’re really driving it hard, it genuinely feels like there’s some sort of private party going on in the cabin,” Bernie said. While the BRZ was expected to ace the road route, some judges had voiced concerns that the normally aspirated coupe could feel dwarfed by Phillip Island’s sheer size and speed.
In straight-line testing, the BRZ performed strongly, stopping the clock at 6.21sec from 0-100km / h, besting the Focus ST (6.44sec) and matching Volkswagen’s Mk8 Golf GTI. That’s a marked improvement on the original car which ENGINE never tested below seven seconds. The quarter-mile time of 14.24sec is mightily respectable and yields just tenths of a second to the far more powerful Hyundai i30 Sedan N.
While the 1: 54.41 time around Phillip Island didn’t threaten any lap records, what Racelogic’s telemetry doesn’t show is the grin factor. The BRZ is playful and tremendously involving, but it’s also predictable and approachable. Luffy calls it “a very easy car to drive on the limit”, with Trent saying: “it wants to work with you to get the most out of it”. It’s telling that, on separate occasions, more than one judge exclaimed there was more than a hint of Porsche to the tactility and consistency of control weights of the BRZ.
A soft brake pedal after more circuit laps than any other car here was the only criticism, and is virtually the only dynamic shortcoming carried over from the original breakout. In all other respects, there’s an immersive feeling of durability and eagerness to the BRZ – it just wants to keep going.
So what separates it from the rest? In a technical sense, the Subaru does little to break new ground and many of its dynamic highlights – movement on corner entry, mid-corner purchase, steering fidelity etc. – can be found in isolation elsewhere in the SCOTY field. The Focus ST comes close to delivering the BRZ’s low-speed playfulness and involvement, snagging one first place vote, and the i20 N, while fizzy and infectious, misses that final few per cent of overall adjustability and engagement. The BRZ always felt as if it offered the keen driver more in the way of limit-handling options.
As a package, the second generation of Subaru’s BRZ emerges as far more than the sum of its parts and addresses previous criticisms with a rare and direct focus while losing none of what made it great in the first place. That in itself is no small achievement.
Hyundai’s N Division rightly gets a lot of praise for its five-year track warranty, but one glance at the BRZ’s easily accessible oil filter, almost as if it’s on display, speaks to a rare level of consideration by engineers for the at-home enthusiast mechanic. The cabin’s had a welcome sprucing and the driving position never feels misaligned, cramped or compromised. That consideration in and of itself is important, and one that certain SCOTY contenders neglect.
There are still utility issues such as the token rear seats and the small boot that seems to act merely as a receptacle for the full-sized spare wheel. Given the payoff from the driver’s seat, however, much of that will probably be of peripheral concern.
Bernie summarized it best when pondering what PCOTY is all about. According to our guest judge, it’s finding out “what does the car give back to the buyer? The Subaru BRZ is going to give you a hell of a lot back ”enthuses Bernie. “It’s going to feel like your best mate.”
After five days of testing and a lengthy judge’s discussion, it was Subaru’s back-to-basics sports coupe that stood above all. It’s masterfully executed and a worthy winner of the inaugural Sports Car of the Year competition, marking Subaru’s first invite to MOTOR’s very top table.
It was a decade ago that Subaru and Toyota’s joint venture first hit our shores. The new BRZ doesn’t just rectify the weaknesses of its predecessor, it makes good on its untapped promise, the narrative arc of the project finally complete. The result? A pure, fresh and total testament to the joy of driving.
The judges’ comments
“This BRZ represents a truly significant update. The dynamics are elevated in virtually every area”
“I’m still stunned that a sports coupe this much fun and this capable is so affordable. Buy one ”
“The interior’s has been vastly improved in terms of quality and functionality. The BRZ needed that ”
“The FA24 has enough about it that you’re no longer searching for torque every time you change gear”
“A riot! I was blown away considering how dissatisfied I was with the previous generation of this car ”
“The BRZ is amazing. It’s all driver focus. An easy car to drive on the limit but it’s one that rewards good driving ”
|0-100km / h||6.21sec|
|0-400m||14.24sec @ 164.91km / h|
|Lap time||1: 54.41|