OPINION: Which is best? The Subaru BRZ or the Toyota 86? Who cares? says Rob Maetzig after a few days behind the wheel of the Subaru.
Poor old Sam our video man soon regretted his suggestion. As we climbed into our shiny blue example of the new Subaru BRZ sports car, he suggested we find a bit of racer road in the countryside, where I would drive with enthusiasm and he would film it all happening.
Then, Sam enthused, he would package it all up in a video that we would post on our New Zealand motoring websites.
So we did. With Sam viewing the action through the lens of his video camera, we took off up a personal favourite section of road, rowed through the BRZ's six-speed manual gearbox in an effort to keep the car's boxer engine revs high, scooted around corners and bends, and generally had a ball in this lovely little rear-wheel-driven coupe.
Well, I had a ball. And Sam? By the time we had finished the run, he had what appeared to be a sheen of sweat across his top lip, was sighing a bit and was asking if we could just do some straight-line, low-speed cruising for a while.
He's a tough nut, our Sam the video man. Of course, he was going to end up feeling ill after travelling at pace along a winding section of road, all the time peering through the lens of a camera, but he did it and the resulting video looks pretty good too.
However, the star of the occasion was the Subaru BRZ. It's a wonderful car. The result of a collaborative effort between Subaru and Toyota that also resulted in the Toyota 86, it was engineered by Subaru staff on an Impreza platform, and the engine is a development of Subaru's latest boxer engine.
Both vehicles are built at Subaru's Gunma plant near Tokyo.
Toyota's involvement in the project was to supply the transmissions for the car and, more significantly, the direct fuel-injection system that has been of major assistance in making the engine such a great unit.
Toyota also provided the larger portion of the finance for the project.
The two vehicles are almost identical. The only exterior differences are that the BRZ has Subaru badgework, on the inside the car has a Subaru steering wheel and, while the 86 has a space-saver spare tyre, the BRZ has a full-sized one.
I'm also told that the BRZ's suspension system has been tuned so that it is more aggressive and harder riding than that the 86's.
It might be, but it's been a while since I've driven an 86 and, frankly, during my recent few days behind the wheel of the BRZ, I spent too much time concentrating on having fun to notice any difference between their respective wheels.
Fun is the point of the BRZ. In several ways, this Subaru is an uncompromising and impractical motor vehicle. In typical two-door-coupe fashion, it is difficult to get in and out of, particularly in a parking space that is in any way cramped, and while the front seats are comfortable and form-fitting, you can forget about using the rear seats for anything other than carrying spare clothes or other such paraphernalia.
The boot isn't too bad for a two-door sports car, offering 218 litres of cargo space even with the full-sized spare intruding above the load floor.
But it will never carry anything other than overnight bags, rather than golf clubs.
So overall, the BRZ is impractical, but what it loses out in practicality, it more than makes up for in character and sheer driving fun.
Its horizontally opposed engine isn't called a flat four for nothing, and its design means it has been able to be is mounted as low as possible in the engine bay, which contributes to a nimble, and entertaining drive.
The engine offers 147 kilowatts of power and 205 newton metres of torque, and power is fed to the rear wheels via a Torsen limited-slip differential.
This means that the manual version that we drove is capable of accelerating to 100kmh in 7.6 seconds which, while not that quick, is certainly fast enough to be thoroughly entertaining, particularly considering those in the car are sitting closer to the ground than usual.
This engine is flexible, though, able to be driven quietly and economically if required.
The overall fuel consumption is 7.8 litres per 100km for the manual, but I don't think I would ever achieve those figures, for the car is just too much fun to drive. I found myself constantly flicking up and down the gears just for the fun of it, and to listen to the rorty note of that boxer engine up in the higher revolutions.
The BRZ comes with ABS brakes backed with brake-force distribution and brake assist, stability control and seven airbags, and it meets the NCAP five-star crash test rating.
In the cabin, there are alloy pedals, leather covering of the steering wheel, gear lever and handbrake lever, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone air-conditioning, remote central locking with smart key, push-button start, a steering column adjustable for height and reach, and front seats with leather and alcantara upholstery.
It all adds up to something special. Just like the Mazda MX5, this car is memorable for its simplicity.
It's a rear-wheel-driven, front-engined two-door sports car that has been developed to provide those in it with a sensation of pace and performance, even when the vehicle isn't moving particularly fast.
Not that it's slow, mind you. When that boxer engine is at 7000rpm or more and roaring out that distinctive note, the BRZ can be moving quickly. For that reason, it can be quite a tiring car to drive.
I'd love one, but I fear I wouldn't be driving it for long, mainly because I don't think I'd be keeping my driver's licence.
POWER PLANT: 2.0-litre direct-injected flat four-cylinder boxer engine, 147kW at 7000rpm, 205Nm at 6600rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Rear-wheel-drive. Six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Electric power-assisted steering. MacPherson-strut front suspension, double wishbone setup at the rear.
HOW BIG: Length 4240mm, width 1775mm, height 1285mm, wheelbase 2570mm.
HOW MUCH: $48,990. WHAT'S GOOD: Good looks, lovely handling, punchy engine.
WHAT'S NOT: It's a two-door coupe, so there's not much room in the back seats or boot.
OUR VERDICT: It's a brilliant little car. Just ask Sam!
- © Fairfax NZ News