The fact that a second generation Subaru BRZ even exists seems like a small miracle. But during an era that’s seen the public largely abandon cars in favor of crossovers and SUVs, Subaru’s affordable, lightweight, rear-drive sports coupe (co-developed with Toyota) has been an unlikely success story, and nearly 43,000 examples of the outgoing Boxer engine Rear-drive Zenith – yes, that’s really what the acronym stands for – have been produced to date.
Although Subaru moves three times as many Foresters every single year, the BRZ has regularly exceeded the company’s sales targets, and interest still remains high today: Despite the anticipation for this second-gen car, the outgoing 2021 model has been sold out for the past two months.
With that in mind, one might forgive Subaru for resting on its laurels this time around. Instead, the automaker sought out ways to improve the sports coupe from stem to stern for its second act while sticking to the original mission – delivering a balanced and thoroughly entertaining driving experience without losing sight of affordability and practicality. To find out if it’s hit the mark, we headed out to put the reworked machine through its paces on the street and around Lime Rock Park’s famed road course.
Toned And Honed
While people praised the original BRZ for its engagement and balance straight out of the gate, the near-unanimous sentiment among enthusiasts was that it was a bit lacking when it came to power.
Subaru has finally addressed the issue with the second generation car. Bucking a trend we’ve seen throughout the industry in recent years, Subaru decided to swap out the 2.0-liter flat-four engine for a larger 2.4-liter naturally aspirated mill that’s derived from the Ascent in order to get the extra oomph. It’s an ideal solution for a vehicle like the BRZ, as turbocharging or supercharging would have added weight, complexity, and cost while also sacrificing the linear power delivery of an NA motor, the latter of which contributes heavily to the car’s intuitive track manners and at-limit poise.
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Gains of 23 horsepower and 28 pound-feet of torque raise maximum output to 228 hp and 184 lb-ft, but the peak numbers don’t tell the whole story. The important factor is where that power is made in the rev range. While the old car needed to be wound out to 6,400 rpm to reach its peak torque figure, the 2.4-liter does so at just 3,700 rpm, bestowing the BRZ with more low-end grunt while also eliminating the 2.0-liter’s infamous mid-range torque dip.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox and optional six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles carry over from the previous generation, as does the standard Torsen limited-slip differential. The new combination yields 0-60 times of six seconds flat with the manual gearbox and 6.5 seconds with the automatic, improvements of a second and a second and a half, respectively, using Subaru’s conservative testing methods.
A number of chassis enhancements are also on hand to complement the additional grunt with sharper handling. Thanks to structural adhesive bonding techniques gleaned from the development of the Subaru Global Platform and improvements made to the suspension mounting designs, the second generation BRZ benefits from 60 percent more lateral rigidity and 50 percent more torsional rigidity, while the coupe’s center of gravity has been lowered to 18.0 inches by the slightly reducing the actual height of the roof and using aluminum for the roof panel.
Speaking of aluminum – along with the roof, front fenders, and hood, a number of suspension bits that were formerly made from steel are now made from the lighter material as well. With additional safety components as well as drivetrain and chassis reinforcements made to support the additional power, Subaru added about 165 pounds of weight to the car but also managed to offset that with a 143-pound savings, mostly in the form of unsprung weight.
The changes to the interior are less obvious, but in terms of what matters most to the BRZ’s younger enthusiast buyers, Subaru made these updates count.
The upshot is that, at 2,835 pounds in Limited trim with the manual gearbox or 2,881 pounds with the automatic, the BRZ is still a relative featherweight by contemporary standards, and in fact the lightest two-plus-two rear-drive coupe you can buy in the U.S. today.
The changes to the interior are less obvious, but in terms of what matters most to the BRZ’s younger enthusiast buyers, Subaru made these updates count. There’s a new customizable 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster along with a new 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s sourced from Subaru’s parts bin rather than Toyota’s. And in accordance with the performance-focused theme, Subaru redesigned the front seats to be lighter, more concave, and more aggressively bolstered in order to keep occupants firmly planted during lateral maneuvers.
On The Street
Setting off from Amenia, New York, we pointed the nose of our manual-equipped BRZ Limited toward Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut. The additional power from the 2.4-liter engine is immediately evident and particularly handy lower in the rev range, where the BRZ pulls with newfound authority.
Early stints in slow-moving morning traffic provided us with a chance to check out the new infotainment system in greater detail. It’s a big step forward in terms of responsiveness and screen real estate, but utilitarian visuals and a limited feature set mean that this system will likely spend the vast majority of its time screen mirroring mobile phones through its wired support of Apple CarPay and Android Auto. The stereo sounds pretty good, too, which is particularly important since Subaru uses it to pipe in synthesized engine sounds to address the lack of auditory drama from the exhaust system.
Once we got the chance to let the BRZ properly stretch its legs, it was clear the on-road driving experience isn’t a dramatic departure from the outgoing car (not that it needed changing). Lightness remains the overall theme here – the approach yields a sports car which is eager to change directions but doesn’t require a punishingly stiff suspension in order to corral body motions. And like its predecessor, the second-generation BRZ is easy to acclimate to thanks to excellent outward visibility, a light clutch, and precise steering that provides a meaningful amount of feedback.
And there’s a genuine sense of balance that’s tied to the amount of power on tap – while 500 horsepower has become commonplace on today’s roads, our traditional perception of performance isn’t necessarily the top priority here.
“We want the BRZ to dance.”
That design philosophy came into sharper focus at dinner the night before our drive, when we seized the opportunity to press Subaru’s Car Line Planning Manager Michael Redic about the use of a Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rather than the Pilot Sport 4S as the high performance summer tire for BRZ Limited models, the latter being a grippier dry handling tire that would likely deliver quicker times in instrumented testing. He considered the question for a moment before responding.
“We want the BRZ to dance.”
At The Track
Considering where Subaru focused most of its latest development efforts, it should come as no surprise that the new BRZ shines brightest on a closed course. We split our time between Lime Rock’s main circuit and a purpose-built autocross throughout the day, and the two tracks reveal a lot about the new coupe’s character at its dynamic limits.
Consisting of seven turns over a 1.5-mile layout, Lime Rock’s road course has a natural flow that plays to the BRZ’s strengths. Overpowered cars would be easy to unsettle coming off the crest of the hill at Turn 5 or when getting back on the throttle out of Turn 7, but the BRZ doesn’t punish you for ham-fisted inputs.
This two-door will rotate if you ask, but it’s easy to collect and oversteer rarely shows up unannounced.
A long press of the Track Mode button in the same manually-shifted BRZ Limited that we drove to Lime Rock brought the tachometer and G meter front and center while also loosening the reins of the traction and stability control systems. In many performance cars those less-restrictive electronic nannies can be cause for heightened concern, particularly when it comes to throttle inputs coming out of a corner, but the second generation BRZ is an obedient steed even when driven in anger. This two-door will rotate if you ask, but it’s easy to collect and oversteer rarely shows up unannounced.
The suspension tuning yields some body roll in faster corners and a bit of dive under braking, but unlike the current Mazda MX-5 Miata, it’s not soft enough to become a distraction. Repeated attempts to slow the car from 115 mph while approaching turn one eventually exposed the limitations of the stock brake setup, though. If your plan is to cane this thing on a fast track, we’d recommend swapping over to a more track-focused brake pad before pulling out of pit lane.
While the BRZ provides plenty of entertainment on the road course, Lime Rock’s autocross really brought out its inner hooligan. The tight, technical layout begs you to hang the back end out, and the car is happy to oblige when called upon to do so in Track mode. That setting will eventually intervene with a measured approach to correct your unruly behavior before things get out of hand, but full-bore drifts from corner to corner were also readily available by simply disabling traction control altogether.
Before heading back to the hotel, we hopped in a BRZ Limited with an automatic transmission for a few more laps on the road course. This configuration adds a Sport mode to the mix, which is designed to keep the transmission on boil through the corners while also enabling automatic rev-matched downshifts, a feature which the manual-equipped car unfortunately still lacks.
Although generally competent, manually shifting with the paddles still yields a better experience than leaving the gearbox to its own devices. What’s more, the ratios used in automatic transmission cars are noticeably less aggressive than the manual’s, which means the pull isn’t as urgent on the straights and out of corners, and there’s less necessity to actually shift gears throughout a given lap. In short, get the manual.
The debut of any new purpose-built sports car is cause for celebration right now, but the second generation BRZ has proven to be worthwhile as more than just an industry anomaly.
Although the changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Subaru has addressed nearly every major criticism of the BRZ here. In effect, they’ve delivered the car that we’ve collectively pined for since the original coupe landed on US shores back in 2012.
Hey – better late than never.
Gallery: 2022 Subaru BRZ: First Drive
2022 Subaru BRZ Limited