2017 Subaru BRZ Second Drive: Once more, with feeling
– Granada, Spain
Standing in the pit lane at the Circuito de Guadix, I’m convinced the 2017 Subaru BRZ with its optional Performance Package is the stuff of automotive miracles. They just don’t build ‘em like this anymore. So often, great dynamics are overshadowed by way too much super-turbo-hella-charged horsepower; perfection should be measured in mid-corner smiles and controllable bits of oversteer, not ludicrous 0-60 times. This nicely balanced, low-power, low-weight formula is what causes enthusiasts’ knees to wobble every time a new Miata is introduced. And it’s what made all of us fall in love with the BRZ in the first place.
Yet my adoration of the updated BRZ comes without having completed a single lap on the Guadix track. Rather, the long drive from Granada’s city center, through the mountains, and out to the Spanish countryside has already validated the coupe’s sporting credentials. For track rats and gentleman cruisers alike, this 2017 BRZ is really quite charming, and the optional Performance Package is $1,195 well spent.
The goodness of this rear-drive sports coupe isn’t limited to models fitted with the Performance Package.
Of course, all versions of the new BRZ has been revised with painstaking attention to detail. Every single nip and tuck and tweak only serves to make the Subaru ever so incrementally better than before. My buddy Seyth detailed a lot of these changes in his initial test of the revised BRZ on a damp, foggy day in Japan, but it’s worth noting that the goodness of this rear-drive sports coupe isn’t limited to models fitted with the Performance Package.
All BRZs get new suspension components for 2017, including stiffer front and softer rear springs, a slightly thicker rear stabilizer bar, and new dampers. Performance Package cars up the ante with fancy-shmancy Sachs dampers that work a treat during track-attack mode, but don’t cause my fillings to fall out on the cobblestone streets of inner Granada. PP cars also get larger Brembo brakes at all four corners – with the same rotor diameter and thickness as the stoppers found on the heavier and more powerful WRX STI – as well as unique 17-inch wheels with an extra half-inch of width, simply to clear the larger brakes. All in, the Performance Package adds 20 pounds compared to a loaded BRZ Limited, yet still only tips the scales at a scant 2,813 pounds.
But if there’s one single standout part of the updated BRZ package, it’s the revised stability control system. Left to its own devices, the default setting allows for a bit more tomfoolery than before, and the new Track mode – a renamed, retuned version of the Sport mode on previous models – raises the threshold of driver control before the electronic referees step in. Even then, when the system does make itself known, it never feels restrictive. The VSC is less aggressive at the point of intervention; the driver feels every bit as in-control. Think of it as good, constructive criticism, rather than a shouting match about how you’ve gone and screwed everything up.
No fancy gadgets or gizmos in your way, no variable-power-whatever managing the available thrust. It’s you, the chassis, the steering wheel, and the road. Harmony.
On the slightly damp, unseasonably cool roads east of Granada, the BRZ is a fine tool for an eager driver – happy to play and play, each new corner its own reward of car-and-driver involvement. With the VSC left on, the BRZ happily side-steps a bit around a tight bend, the outstanding Sachs dampers providing plenty of stability and allowing for great feedback through the chassis. The revised damping of the Performance Package-equipped car gives both an extra bit of confidence on great roads, but keeps things copacetic on the highway or around town. But up and down the mountains, through second, third, and fourth gears, the BRZ shines, making quick work of back-and-forth esses. The direct, light steering constantly communicates with your palms. The whole experience feels analog in its nature – no fancy gadgets or gizmos in your way, no variable-power-whatever managing the available thrust. It’s you, the chassis, the steering wheel, and the road. Harmony.
I soon arrive at Circuito de Guadix, a technical, two-mile road course laid out on a plateau 3,000 feet above sea level. It’s a perfect track for a car like the BRZ – a lot of second- and third-gear corners, with only the occasional change up to fourth on the long front straight. Here, it’s more bliss. The great thing about a car like the BRZ is that there isn’t too much of any one thing. It never feels hard to handle, and allows me to learn the best line through each of Guadix’ corners. I needn’t worry about having too much speed coming into a corner, reassured by the huge Brembo brakes’ ability to scrub it all off with a quickness. With VSC set to Track, the BRZ allows me to choose my own adventure, willingly throwing the car into short oversteer situations with no arguing from the stability control, but silently keeping me in check the whole time. And because there’s so much communication and feedback happening through the chassis, your butt senses that initial moment of oversteer the same time the car starts to step out. None of the BRZ’s antics are surprising, and they’re all on my terms.
If you opt for the automatic transmission, you get the older, less-powerful engine, and you can’t add on the Performance Package. Serves you right.
Serious racers will likely swap out the stock Michelin Primacy HP summer tires for something a bit sticker, but I’ve got no qualms with this rubber, lap after lap at Guadix. There’s plenty of grip when you need it, but enough give that sliding the rump around is easy as pie – the car really rotates around you, and it’s endlessly fun. You could lap this car all day and never feel like it’s trying to get the best of you, and then drive home through the mountains, bouncing from apex to apex with joy.
Subaru made a number of improvements to the BRZ’s boxer four-cylinder powertrain for 2017, the highlight of which is the lower final drive ratio for manual transmission cars – now 4.3:1, versus 4.1:1 in last year’s model. The difference is improved acceleration – more low-end grunt, even if total output numbers are only 5 horsepower and 5 pound-feet of torque stronger than the 2016 model, at 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. That said, if you opt for the six-speed automatic transmission, you get the older, less-powerful engine, and you can’t add on the Performance Package. Serves you right.
Everything inside the Performance Package car is carryover from the BRZ Limited, with Alcantara and leather trim on the doors and seats, push-button start, heated seats, and more. That also includes all of the updates that came with the 2017 BRZ, like the redesigned steering wheel with redundant audio controls (something customers specifically asked for), multifunction display in the gauge cluster, and some new stitching and trim throughout the cabin. Every BRZ gets the full Starlink infotainment display, with new apps like Magellan navigation and – wait for it – eBird, for the bird-watchers among us. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, however, are still nowhere to be found.
I could have never lapped Guadix and still had the time of my life.
The only way to tell a Performance Package car from a standard BRZ are at the wheel-and-brake level. You get the full-LED lights from the Limited model, the rear wing that’s affixed to all new BRZs, and all of the other small visual tweaks that are part of the 2017 model year update. But if you insist on standing out, hurry up and grab one of the 500 Series.Yellow special editions, painted in a unique shade of Charlesite Yellow with matching accents inside the cabin, as well as some blacked-out exterior trim and a frameless rear-view mirror (I’m not sure why all BRZs don’t have this, but whatever).
The $29,660 (including destination) sticker price for a BRZ Limited with Performance Package might seem like a lot to spend on a small coupe, but you’ll be hard pressed to find another car at this same price point that delivers a similar driving experience. The upcoming Mazda MX-5 Miata RF will be its closest competitor, though without driving them back to back, I’m willing to bet the Subaru is the sharper-handling car of the pair. (I really want to drive them back-to-back.) But if you’re going BRZ, splurge for the Performance Package – it’s only $1,195 more than the Limited, and that’s the spec you really want, anyway. It doesn’t ruin the already great BRZ experience, and its added bit of handling and stopping prowess makes it ever so slightly more engaging when the roads get twisty, or you decide to finally sign up for that local open track day.
Still, the Performance Package only heightens the already fantastic package offered by Subaru’s charming BRZ. It’s a precise track tool when it needs to be, and won’t try to kill you if you push it too hard. But you don’t need a closed circuit to enjoy every ounce of BRZ pleasure. I could have never lapped Guadix and still had the time of my life.
Photos: Michael Shaffer / Subaru