By Derek Price
Sports-car lovers, it’s time to celebrate. Subaru just made one of the best handling cars in the world even better.
I’ve long loved the Subaru BRZ — along with its close cousin, the Toyota 86 — for offering something very few car companies are willing to try these days: an affordable sports car for purists.
Yes, the BRZ still has a token back seat, but that’s one of the few nods to practicality in a vehicle that otherwise is designed solely for grins. With an extremely low center of gravity, sufficient power driving the rear wheels and a firm but livable suspension tuned for precisely slicing corners, it’s set up to make all your winding-road dreams come true.
While sports cars have a tendency to get bloated as time marches on, the changes to the BRZ are, fortunately, not about things like elbow room and cushy seats. If you want those things, please, look elsewhere and don’t push Subaru to ruin a perfectly good thing.
Instead, the changes are all about handling and performance, exactly as they should be.
A bigger rear stabilizer bar, along with updated coil springs and dampers, make it feel slightly more stable and responsive to driver input. Subaru also beefed up the vehicle’s rigidity with stronger strut tower braces, transmission cross-member plate and rear wheel housings.
You can feel the changes over bumps and in turns, where the BRZ seems ever so slightly more composed and solid.
You also feel a bump in power from the BRZ’s brilliant 2.0-liter, horizontally-opposed boxer engine, which now makes 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. Both those numbers are an increase of 5 over the outgoing 2016 model.
A high-flow exhaust along with numerous internal changes to reduce friction in the engine account for the change. New valves, camshafts and a revised cylinder block are all part of the upgrade.
It looks a bit snazzier under the hood, too, now that its new aluminum intake manifold is coated with red, heat-dissipating paint.
If you suffer from “hill anxiety” when using a manual transmission — the fear of rolling backwards when starting up an incline, something that terrifies most first-time stick-shift drivers — then worry no more. The BRZ comes standard with Incline Start Assist that prevents the vehicle from rolling back until you engage the clutch.
While Subaru offers a six-speed automatic transmission in this car, please don’t order it because that makes you a bad human being.
If you want a true sports-car experience — the whole reason to buy this car — you need a manual transmission. And when you order the six-speed manual Limited model, you’ll also make available the new Performance Package that I think is a must-buy for this car. It gives you wheels that are a half-inch wider, something that noticeably improves the BRZ’s lateral grip, along with SACHS Performance shock absorbers and an upgraded braking system with Brembo rotors.
At a cost of just $1,195 from the factory, the Performance Package is far less expensive than buying those upgrades in the aftermarket.
While it’s hard to improve on the previous BRZ’s classic GT coupe proportions with a long hood, sleek roofline and wheels pushed to the outer reaches of the corners, Subaru did make some styling changes to make it look bolder.
A new front bumper cover looks wider and is placed lower for better aerodynamics. The headlights and taillights are now fully LED, including the turn signals, daytime running lights and fog lights.
A standard aluminum rear spoiler even looks tasteful, as far as spoilers go, with body color on the sides and black paint on the horizontal surfaces.
The interior gets a few upgrades, my favorite of which is a 4.2-inch LCD display behind the steering wheel on Limited models. It can show you details about vehicle performance, including a stopwatch for tracking lap times, lateral Gs, steering angle, oil and water temperature, braking force and the accelerator pedal position.
Pricing starts at $25,495 for the base model, optimistically named Premium. The Limited trim is the one with more niceties, including Alcantara leather, keyless access with push-button start and a dual-zone climate system, for $27,645.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Subaru BRZ Limited ($27,645). Options: Performance package ($1,195). Price as tested (including $820 destination charge): $29,660
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 166.7 in.
Width: 69.9 in.
Height: 50.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (205 hp, 156 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 21 city, 29 highway
Why buy it?
It makes the perfect improvements to a purist’s sports car, all about upgrading its performance and handling. It makes one of the world’s most affordable, best-handling vehicles even better.