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2018 Subaru BRZ Review

2018 Subaru BRZ Review
The 2018 Subaru BRZ is a lightweight prizefighter that punches out of its class in handling, but not power.

Whether it’s winding through back roads or open track days, the small two-door 2018 Subaru BRZ taps all its power and tires to bring drivers closer to the automotive nirvana. Few cars do as much with as little—and we’re not even talking about the cramped cabin.

This year, Subaru has added a sharper version—the BRZ tS— that was tuned by its in-house performance division, but not fully adopted into the marque’s STI fold.

We give the BRZ a 6.3 thanks to its performance and style. Fuel efficiency and safety aren’t in its wheelhouse, however—are they ever in sports cars?

The BRZ benefits from attractive proportions first. It’s job was to keep it simple, which it does very well. Take a look at the long hood, small cabin, and shapely glass and its point is made quickly.

The interior is relatively simple, too. Although a 6.2-inch touchscreen (or 7.0-inch in upper trims) is planted in the dash, it doesn’t disturb the drive.

The 2.0-liter flat-4 is a willing participant for the drive, if not overpowering. Just 205 horses live under the hood, hardly overpowering but not too ambitious either.

A 6-speed manual is our pick, but a 6-speed automatic is available if you must.

Regardless of transmission, the BRZ’s best attribute is what it does at the wheels with the power that’s available. It’s sharp, tight, and composed when wringing out every rev from the compliant engine.

The BRZ prefers an intimate party of two, its back seats are for insurance purposes, really. Fold down the rear seats to add space to the small trunk, we say.

Unlike other Subarus, the BRZ offers neither all-wheel drive nor advanced safety equipment. It’s not missed beyond crash-safety scorecards.

The BRZ is well-equipped at the base trim level, and its price doesn’t climb much higher from there.

It tops out with the new tS trim level, which adds aerodynamic pieces—not creature comforts—such as a rear wing and underbody aero.

The Subaru BRZ’s classic proportions aren’t spoiled at all.

It’s hard to go wrong with the 2018 Subaru BRZ’s sports car proportions.

Its long hood, small cockpit, and sporty stance left sheet metal with little to do. The interior has even less work to do and it succeeds.

The 2018 BRZ doesn’t ruin its classic shape—inside or out. It gets a point above average for both because it’s the opposite of an anonymous crossover. We give it a 7 out of 10 for style.

The BRZ takes cues from sports cars of the past, with a modern spin. Its profile is sharp and nose-first, with sculpted flanks, an elegant roofline, and flared fenders that may well be a greatest hits compilation. Last year, a new front bumper cap and LED lights all around helped finish what the BRZ started several years ago.

Inside, the BRZ doesn’t clutter the driver’s view with much beyond the road ahead and that’s a good thing. It offers a small nod to industrial design: nuts-and-bolts touches on the climate controls look good without going over the top. Some of the materials are hard, and plasticky, but the large 6.2- or 7.0-inch touchscreen helps bring the dash up to par by dominating attention.

A new Subaru BRZ tS further sharpens the sports car’s exceptional handling and responsiveness, but more power isn’t in its program.

The 2018 Subaru BRZ is a lightweight nimble sports car. Or, in other words, the opposite of a crossover.

It prioritizes an analog feel from its powertrain and steering, and asks drivers to tune in rather than zone out. We like that. This year’s addition of a sharper, lighter, and more responsive trim level adds to that feeling—we only wish it added power too.  

Starting from an average score of 5, we give the BRZ points for its steering, handling, and its 6-speed manual. In terms of smiles-for-miles-for-money, the BRZ is among the best in business. It gets an 8 for performance.

Its free-revving 2.0-liter flat-4 engine prefers to live high in the rev range, where the power builds predictably (albeit not that overwhelmingly) between 4,500 and 6,500 rpm. The BRZ won’t impress many at the drag strips with just 205 horsepower (200 hp with the automatic) but straight lines aren’t its forte anyhow.

The flat-4’s horizontally opposed cylinders afford the BRZ an uncommonly low center for its 2,800-pound mass that shimmies the sports car around corners with a flat attitude backed by quick steering. Coils over struts in the front with a double wishbone in the back prioritize weight over the front two tires. Power gingerly shifts toward the rear when the throttle is pinned. Nail it and the tail slides predictably, if not readily.

The BRZ (like the 86) is low on the raw power required to slide everywhere, all the time. When it does waggle, it’s predictable and fun—it should be. A Torsen limited-slip differential helps it mind its manners, even when we don’t.

The BRZ’s engine hooks up to a crisply tuned 6-speed with short throws and less room between the gears than the BRZ’s abbreviated back seat. If necessary, the optional 6-speed automatic isn’t a bad pick—paddle-shifters and rev-matching downshift make the autobox entertaining—but we think it might be missing the point.

Riders will prefer glassy roads; the BRZ tends to bound over rough pavement and its quick steering can become tiring on long trips despite a generous soft spot in the middle.

Last year a performance package upgrade added bigger, stouter Brembo brakes, Sachs dampers, and wider summer tires. It’s worth considering if the BRZ isn’t your daily driver, but it’s overshadowed this year by a new trim level that comes temptingly close to fulfilling our wishes.

Subaru BRZ tS
The Subaru BRZ tS is tuned by Subaru’s in-house performance division, STI, although the automaker stopped short of calling it a full-blooded STI variant. The BRZ tS adds additional bits such as a carbon fiber wing; front, rear, and side underspoilers; and 18-inch wheels; but what’s under the hood didn’t change.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Subaru BRZ begs you to bring a friend, but just one please.

The 2018 Subaru BRZ pays dividends in handling and drivability, its price is comfort and spaciousness.

Nominally a four seater (2+2), the BRZ should only be considered for two—and maybe a handful of bags.

According to us, it’s comfortable for front-seat riders and that’s it. We give one point above average for those seats, but take one back for not seating as advertised.
The front seats are upright, but adequately padded for daily detail. Opt for the Limited’s Alcantara-shod buckets and the bolstering and support grow, enough to hug any passenger while the BRZ hustles through hills.

The downside to the deeper, premium buckets is a compromise in entry and exit in the BRZ that, combined with a low ride, means that passengers may have to check their dignity at the door handles to climb aboard.

Once inside, the cockpit is spacious—even for tall drivers. The scalloped headliner means that track-day warriors should be able to wear a helmet and drive, doubly important for the new tS version.

Insurance companies will like the BRZ’s back seat but people will not. At best, it’s suited for small children but only on occasional detail. The back seat is best when folded down, and in concert with the trunk, occupied by spare tires and tools for the track. Notably, the BRZ was designed so that it could carry a full set of track wheels and tires inside with the rear seat folded flat. Try that in a 911.

Although the raked glass and sleek profile may hit at a hatchback, the BRZ is just a coupe—a small decklid opens to a small with just 6.9 cubic feet of space.

The 2018 Subaru BRZ’s best safety feature may be its light weight and maneuverability.

The 2018 Subaru BRZ lacks a complete set of safety data, but what’s in is mixed.

Federal testers haven’t completed their full battery yet, but gave the BRZ four stars out of five for front crash safety. The IIHS hasn’t yet rated the 2018 version, but last year’s version—which should be mechanically identical—earned an “Acceptable” rating in the agency’s front overlap crash test.

The scores for this year aren’t likely to change and we give the BRZ a 5, which is average for new cars, on our safety scale.

Critically, the BRZ lacks forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking at any trim level.

Thankfully, the BRZ is equipped with a standard rearview camera, and a full set of airbags, traction and safety control programs, and automatic headlights.

Predictably for a small car, the BRZ is maneuverable and nimble on the road. Its long hood is complemented with two small arches near the wheel wells, which helps drivers accurately place the front tires. The small car has relatively good outward vision thanks to small roof pillars and plenty of windows.

The Subaru BRZ’s best feature is the road ahead.

Despite its no-frills approach to performance, the 2018 Subaru BRZ comes well-equipped and features a new touchscreen for a reasonable price.

Starting at $26,455, the base BRZ boasts 17-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 6.2-inch touchscreen for infotainment.

Starting from a base score of 5, the BRZ gets points above average for its base features and a generously sized touchscreen.

The BRZ is offered in Premium—which is the base model—Limited, and tS trim levels. The tS trim level is new for this year and doesn’t offer more creature comforts, it’s geared more toward track-day drivers with its tightened suspension, bigger brakes, and carbon fiber spoiler.

The Limited trim level adds a bigger 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. They also add synthetic suede upholstery with heated front seats, fog lights, and keyless ignition. An automatic transmission is available only for the BRZ Limited.

A performance package is available for Limited and Premium trim levels that adds gray wheels, Brembo performance brakes, and stiffer shock absorbers.

The new tS version goes further with the fun stuff: a performance suspension tune with stiffer shocks, 18-inch wheels with stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, a rear wing, and upgraded aero bits.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Subaru BRZ needs premium fuel, but it’s a small investment for fun.

Good news: The 2018 Subaru BRZ is a fuel-efficient sports car. Bad news: It’s not particularly frugal for a two-seater, two-door—and it drinks the expensive stuff.

The EPA rates the BRZ with a manual transmission at 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined.

Opt for an automatic (follow-up question: Why?) and those numbers improve to 24/33/27 mpg.

New for 2018, the Subaru BRZ tS is rated separately by the EPA and returns 20/27/23 mpg that's due to stickier tires.

The Subaru’s main competitor is the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which manages 26/33/29 mpg according to the EPA. The Toyota 86 is mechanically identical to the BRZ and is rated nearly the same.

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