Subaru BRZ review: ‘A front-engined sportscar that handles like nothing else on the road’

The engine in Subaru’s updated BRZ sports coupé sounds way more sexy than anything else on the road, confesses our lovestruck motoring correspondent.

An update was all the excuse I needed to try (on your behalf, dear reader) this back-to-basics sportscar from my favourite surrealist car maker, Subaru. Its pleasingly geeky BRZ nomenclature stands for Boxer, Rear-Wheel-Drive, Zenith. Fair enough. The B and the R are factual and the Z is a claim that, after spending a week with the car on the back roads of Dorset, I couldn’t disagree with, not even for a minute. BRZ could also stand for the noise it makes as you zip the boxer engine towards its high altitude redline at 7,000rpm. Brrzzzzzzzz!

I love boxer engines and I’ll try to explain why you should too. The most ubiquitous engine layout is a ‘straight-four’ – four upright cylinders in a row. Easy to build and easy to build around – crosswise, head on, front or back – straight fours power most of the cars on the road. However, straight fours are dull. They ooze competence, yet lack the eccentricity that gives a car character. With a boxer engine, the cylinder bank is split and folded flat, so the pistons punch back and forth.

Boxers are technically more fiddly—trickier to lubricate, feed air to or take exhaust from, they’re harder to design a car around, too. That’s why hardly any of the cars on the road are powered by boxer engines. In the past, there were Alfas and the original VW Beetle combi, but, nowadays, only Porsches and Subarus.

They’re all motors that ooze character out of every bolt hole and rivet, because, in spite of the complexity, the boxer engine has an intriguing mix of perfect balance and a zonky offbeat burble. A boxer fizzes up through the revs and sounds way more sexy than almost any other engine layout, except a V-twin Ducati. The boxer is the Tom Jones of the engine world – Tom Jones gargling swigs from a bottle of Blanc de Noirs.

So funky is the boxer engine, I’ve long dreamt of shoe-horning one into a Lotus Elise. Then, I read about the BRZ and realised I might not have to bother.

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The idea was hatched in the brain of the former Toyota boss, Katsuaki Watanabe, but, with the company’s factories working flat out, he passed it over to a Subaru development team lead by Yoshio Hirakawa and zany magic was guaranteed. With a competent Toyota power plant, Watanabe’s brainchild might have been just another accessible Japanese sportscar: good, almost certainly; great, quite possibly. With the Scooby-Doo boxer on-board, however, the BRZ has managed to touch the sublime.

The boxer engine has been set (because it has to be) behind the front axle and (because it can be) lower than a limbo champion’s pole: with a basement-level centre of gravity, the BRZ has the benign handling traits of a front-engined car, the balance of a mid-engined car and the side-to-side inertia of a go-kart.

Aesthetically, Toyota’s nailed it, too – although, with the winglet and trying-too-hard lines around the tail lights, my test car looked like a junior Ferrari. It drew admiring looks and even a ‘nice car, mate’ bellowed across a playing field.

Inside, the BRZ is as spartan as a no-frills sports coupé should be, but it’s high-end spartan. Perfect dash layout, comfy but cosseting sports seats, gear stick in just the right place. Even a classy sound system for those times you’re not teasing the red line. My only gripe was the decision to have a boot rather than a hatch, rendering the tiny rear seats almost as useless for storage as they are for seating.

Never mind that. The Boxer Rear-Wheel-Drive Zenith isn’t about practicality. Nor is it actually about raw speed – any one of a dozen oven-ready hot hatches would do for it in a drag race. The BRZ is all about a delicious combination of pliant, predictable, almost zero inertia handling and a fizzy, characterful engine that’s all lolling tongue and rolling eyes, tirelessly hungry for the horizon. It’s a front-engined sportscar that sounds and handles like nothing else on the road.

On the road

  • Subaru BRZ: From £26,495
  • Annual road fund licence: £140
  • Combined fuel consumption: 36.2mpg
  • Power: 200bhp
  • 0–60mph: 7.6 seconds
  • Top speed: 140mph

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