Cresting 100 mph down the back straight at the top of fourth gear, it’s clear the former Formula 1 driver isn’t exactly challenged by the speed of the new 2022 Subaru BRZ. Just before he breathes off the throttle and slides the car through a fast right-hand kink, which is followed by a hard braking zone for a tight left-hander, Scott Speed casually removes his right hand from the wheel, points to the sports car’s new digital gauge cluster, and says, “I really like the g-meter. It’s fun to watch it move around as I drive around the track.”
The winner of four straight American Rallycross Championships, Speed may not be sweating the pace of the redesigned rear-drive four-seat coupe, but he is enjoying its dynamics, drifting it around most corners and relishing its balance and response. “There’s more traction than before,” he says. “But biggest difference between this and the old car is the additional horsepower. It gives you so much more control over the car’s attitude. I can pitch it in and drift it out just like the old car, but now I can do it more precisely and I can keep it sliding longer.”
Our brief racetrack ridealong with Speed lasts just a lap and a half, but the new BRZ’s additional grip and grunt are apparent from the passenger seat. The car is still small, light, low, and tossable, just like the original, but it also feels tighter and considerably more powerful.
Stiffer Chassis and Suspension
Like the original, which has been around since 2012, the second generation of the BRZ is a collaboration between Subaru and Toyota, which will again sell its own version called the 86. Toyota once again handled the design, while engineering and construction are Subaru’s end of the deal. The sports car’s chassis carried over, but some new materials and adhesives taken from Subaru’s Global Platform have increased the rigidity of its front end by 60 percent. “The stiffer chassis allowed us to stiffen the suspension mounting points, as well as the suspension tuning itself but still with a focus on improving its ride quality,” said Michael Redic, Subaru’s car-line planning manager for the BRZ, WRX, and Forester.
Subaru’s engineers also made a slight increase to the rear track. The geometry of its strut front suspension is unchanged. There’s still some body roll but less than before, and the compliance of the suspension feels right as Speed bounces the car off the track’s tall curbs and runs it out over the rumble strips.
When it goes on sale early fall 2021, two models will be available, and the biggest performance difference between the two will be the tires. The Premium will ride on an as-yet-undisclosed set of 17-inch all-seasons sized 215/45R-17. Speed is driving a BRZ Limited, which rides on Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires wrapped around attractive 18-inch 10-spoke alloys. That’s the same rubber you now get on the STI-tuned BRZ tS.
If you don’t think a tire can make a big difference, take the current BRZ’s skidpad result of 0.90 g and compare it to the BRZ tS’s 0.98 g. With its curb weight remaining below 2900 pounds, those numbers won’t get worse.
Subaru has also retuned the stability-control system, which has five settings, to allow more driver input before the nannies step in. The system can still be turned off completely. The current BRZ is available with a Performance Package that includes Brembo brakes and other performance upgrades. A similar package for the 2022 model won’t be available at launch, but one is coming.
More Power, but Still No Turbo
If you’ve been waiting for a turbo—many BRZ fans have been—you’re about to be disappointed. There isn’t one. “Everyone wants to know why no turbo,” said Dominick Infante, Subaru’s director of corporate communications. “Naturally aspirated keeps it affordable.”
Instead, Subaru replaced the BRZ’s current 2.0-liter flat-four with its 2.4-liter of the same configuration. It features Toyota’s D-4S port and direct fuel-injection system, 13.5:1 compression ratio, and chain-driven double overhead cams with variable timing. “It’s basically an Ascent engine without the turbo,” Infante said.
The 100-hp bump many have been hoping for isn’t happening, but the 2.4-liter’s 228 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 184 pound-feet of torque at 3700 rpm is a considerable improvement over the 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of its predecessor. That’s 18 percent more torque, and it hits at a much lower rpm—the old car’s torque peak was at 6400 rpm—which certainly explains the BRZ’s stronger pull out of those second-gear corners. Redline has dipped slightly, from 7700 rpm to 7500 rpm.
Two years ago, the BRZ tS shot to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. It’ll be interesting to see if this additional power can get the coupe down into the five-second zone. Both a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic will be offered, and the automatic gets a new Sport mode with quicker response, rev matching, and more aggressive gear selection during hard driving. A limited-slip differential will be standard across the board.
More Muscular Design
By now you’ve checked out the photos, so you know the BRZ will also get much better looking. Toyota’s design team put in some overtime this time around, improving its proportions, stance, and muscularity without adding size. The car sits a bit lower than before, and overall length increases by less than an inch.
The roof, hood, and front fenders are aluminum to keep weight down, and all the ducts are functional. Those big front scoops cool the brakes, and the large front fender vents, which remind us of the Lexus RC F, allow hot air to escape from the engine compartment. The BRZ’s subtle double-bubble roof remains, but its greenhouse was narrowed by about three-quarters of an inch, giving its curvaceous hips more visual pop. Though the same width as before, the car looks considerably wider, especially from the rear, which features two big chrome exhaust pipes and a cleanly integrated ducktail spoiler. Squint, and it kinda looks like an Aston Martin Vantage. Maybe. A little. From some angles. Keep squinting.
If you’ve been waiting for Subaru to chop the BRZ’s top, give up the dream. “We have no plans for a convertible,” Infante said. “It’s not our thing.”
Inside, the occupants sit slightly closer together but not enough to matter. The interior design is evolutionary, but it’s also a significant improvement. The dash is still a sea of hard plastic, but it doesn’t look as cheap. The secondary controls look and function better, and the new digital gauge cluster has two configurations, both of which keep the tach front and center, where it should be.
The front seats are new, but they look and feel about the same as before. Still useless for human passengers, the back seats fold to expand the trunk. On the tech side, EyeSight will be available, and the BRZ infotainment system gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Subaru has sold just more than 41,000 BRZs since 2012, which isn’t much, but its average buyers are youngsters in their early 30s. Only the WRX brings younger buyers to the brand. In an effort to keep that small but desirable crowd of enthusiasts coming back, Subaru kept the BRZ small and desirable, thoughtfully resisting the temptation to add steamroller tires and a boosted engine to one of our favorite back-road bombers.
“We kept to the original formula of a lightweight, compact, rear-drive sports car,” said Infante. “If we grew the car too much, that would have changed the overall character of the car, and it took a lot of work to keep the car this small, light, fun, and affordable.”
We’ll know more about just how fun it is when we actually get behind the wheel sometime in 2021.
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