Road to heaven: Subaru's updated BRZ sports coupe hits the mark
The Subaru BRZ is a slick sub-£30k sports car that's won plaudits for its driving dynamics. Paul Connolly checks out the latest model
There's nothing quite like the joy of being behind the wheel of a proper sports car.
Coddled in a bucket seat, gearstick snug in left palm, the road flowing via the steering wheel to your fingertips, and a snarly soundtrack filling the air.
The Subaru BRZ plays the role perfectly - it's great driving car, and last year's upgrade saw some deft improvements, including a plusher cabin and improved driving dynamics.
Where Mazda's MX-5 is playful and loveable, the Subaru is a bit more serious about its role and purpose in this world.
In fact, pound for pound, it's probably the best sports car under £30k on the market today. Let's take a proper look at the refreshed model.
The 2017 revamp was more than just a cosmetic exercise or a box-ticking effort. It was a genuine bid to improve on the first generation car, excellent as it was.
The BRZ has been with us since 2012, and its particular fusion of 2+2 seating, front engine/rear wheel drive configuration, 2.0-litre Boxer engine and low centre of gravity have won favour widely.
The original model was very well received, particularly for the driving experience. If there was fair criticism to be had, it was of the quality of some of the components of the cabin. The good news is that Subaru has banished those concerns with last year's revamp.
Quality leather stitched seats with Alcantara inserts, soft-touch plastics, and a new leather multi-function steering wheel are just some of the interior enhancements.
Some people might desire more sophisticated technology, but this isn't key to me in a sports car. If you want good driving plus the latest gizmos, look at a hot hatch.
If it's an authentic sports car experience you're after, you need a genuine sports car - and the BRZ will tick all the boxes in the sub-£30k market.
Plus, it's a usable, everyday car with enough storage and practicalities to get you through a working week and a weekend.
The set-up is pretty straight forward: the BRZ comes in in SE Lux trim only with either a manual or automatic transmission. The auto version includes paddle shifters. A range of optional extras like sat-nav and rear parking sensors is available.
Looks and design
From the outside, my silver-coloured review car, courtesy of Eastwood Motors in Lisburn, looks every inch a sports car.
The coupe shape - probably more correctly a 'fastback coupe' - remains, but is enhanced with a wider, lower stance at the front end that assists in making the car look firmly planted to the tarmac.
Full-LED headlights, a Subaru first, add to the updated look. As do new-design rear lamps and an aerodynamic pedestal spoiler at the rear.
The 17-inch alloy wheels are now a 10 spoke aluminium design.
A range of startling colours sets off the overall effect: WR Blue Mica, Sterling Silver Metallic, Lightning Red, Dark Grey Metallic, Satin White and Crystal Black Silica.
Under the bonnet
Engine changes have been rather more subtle - basically because there wasn't much wrong to fix, to be honest.
You still get a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre, 200PS Boxer petrol engine, mounted front and low, with the crankshaft directly in line with the driveshaft for best power delivery to the rear wheels. (The 'Boxer' moniker, by the way, is to do with the configuration of the cylinders to give a 'flat' engine.)
Given the engine size, there's plenty of power available, with a lovely soundtrack and a 7,500rpm redline. That's enough power to make the BRZ very enjoyable.
Performance has been improved thanks to some engine refinements that have increased both power and efficiency.
Inside the engine, the strength of the cylinder blocks has been increased. The valve stems have been buffed and polished, the camshaft is lower friction and the weight of the rocker arms has been reduced.
The refreshed model's driving dynamic have been further improved. The dampers were redesigned to reduce body roll, increase precision whilst cornering, as well as damping vibration.
You'll appreciate the car's ability not just in straight-line acceleration but in cornering, with the MacPherson-type front struts and Torsen limited-slip differential (petrol-heads will recognise this from the Subaru WRX STI) helping to deliver sophisticated driving dynamics in a range of situations and roads.
For sporty drivers, the new TRACK mode further improves stability and allows for more refined accelerator inputs when driving on race circuits.
Urban drivers will welcome a new type of Hill Start Assist to help with uphill starts or downhill reversing.
Inside the cabin
It's the cabin that sees the biggest - and most welcome - changes. With quality stitched leather and Alcantara (a suede-like material) used in all the right places, you now feel you're sitting in a premium product.
A 4.2-inch colour LCD multi-information display has been added into the instrument panel.
To emphasis its sporting character, this display features key performance indicators: a G force meter, steering angle gauge, brake force gauge, lap timer and torque/power curves.
The steering wheel redesign makes it a smaller package with different leather that serves to increase the driver's grip for a more engaging experience. Audio control switches are amongst the additions.
Safety and storage
On the safety front, there is a new next-generation advanced airbag system which uses upgraded sensors for a greater level of driver/passenger safety.
This is on top of an existing raft of safety features that include front, front-side and curtain airbags, plus a driver's knee airbag.
On storage, banish from your mind all thoughts of a tiny boot and no additional storage.
We were able to take a hockey goalie's kit bag to a match - kit in the boot and the huge bag on the rear seats (we beat Inst 2-0, if you're interested).
The rear seats fold flat, opening up a very decent storage space for this class of car.
You wouldn't want to be an adult crammed into the two rear seats, but the BRZ is a vehicle that is surprisingly flexible as an everyday car given its sports car ethos.
Who would buy one?
This is not, or course, a family car, but it does have more use cases than you might imagine.
For anyone who cares about driving dynamics, who relishes the feel of the road and the joy of the engine, and who wants a true sports car experience starting from £26.5k, the Subaru BRZ should be top of your list.
The Subaru BRZ is available from Eastwood Motors, Lisburn (www.eastwoodmotors.com) and other Subaru dealers