Timing is everything - or not.
Just a few days after Toyota's 86 sports car was named New Zealand Car of the Year, Subaru has launched its identical car, the BRZ.
As everyone probably knows, the 86/BRZ is the result of a collaborative effort between Toyota and Subaru.
POWER PLANT: 2.0-litre direct injected flat four- cylinder boxer engine, 147 kW at 7000 rpm, 205 Nm at 6600 rpm.
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: Manual $48,990, automatic $49,990.
WHAT'S GOOD: Good looks, lovely handling capability, punchy engine.
WHAT'S NOT: It's a two- door coupe, so not much room in the back seats or boot.
OUR VERDICT: This Subaru BRZ offers all the motoring excellence that made its sibling, the Toyota 86, the New Zealand Car of the Year.
The car was engineered by Subaru staff on an Impreza platform, and the engine under the bonnet is a development of Subaru's latest boxer engine. And both vehicles are built at Subaru's Gunma plant near Tokyo.
Toyota provided the transmissions for the car, and it also provided the direct fuel-injection system that has been of major assistance in making the engine such a great unit. And the motoring giant also provided the larger portion of the finance for the project.
Overall, it has obviously been a very good joint project. But the trouble with such initiatives is that one marque has to launch its car before the other - and in the case of this great little rear-driven sports car, it was the Toyota 86.
Toyota New Zealand was able to launch the vehicle in substantial numbers, too. In fact, there were enough around to sell a lot to waiting customers, plus get supplies out quick-smart for all the motoring press to drive in time for them to vote it this year's Car of the Year.
And Subaru New Zealand? It had to sit and watch as the 86 grabbed all the initial limelight, then had to accept the fact that its first shipment of cars for sale this month comprised just 12 cars and that only another 17 will be coming by April next year.
Such is the limited supply of the BRZ, that the company expects to receive no more than 40 of the cars over the whole of 2013.
At a media event in Auckland last week, Subaru NZ managing director Wally Dumper said he was initially annoyed about it all, but then decided to simply get over it.
"We had to accept we'd be the second car off the rank. And anyway, as far as the numbers of BRZs we get, I've always been a person who would rather have one car too few than one car too many," he said.
"So from my point of view, if we get 50 BRZs to sell next year, amazing. But we need to keep things in perspective. For instance, we're launching a new Forester next year and are aiming to sell 500 or more."
Subaru NZ is even having a bit of fun over the late arrival of the BRZ. It's started running a newspaper advertisement congratulating the Toyota 86 on winning the Car of the Year - and suggesting it'll do alternate weeks with the trophy.
But is there any difference between the two cars? Apart from the fact the BRZ is badged a Subaru and that it has a different steering wheel, Wally Dumper has no idea if there are any other differences.
"We have heard of critics overseas say the suspension is different, but we don't know because we haven't driven the Toyota 86. Actually, we haven't bothered trying to drive the Toyota - we're just trying to sell the BRZ.
"How about you journos try to spot the difference? Why don't you hop into one and then the other, and then tell me."
The BRZ is being introduced as one model, which is selling for $48,990 for a six-speed manual and $49,990 for a six-speed automatic with paddle shift.
Next year, a kit car will also be introduced with various STi- related parts, including an uprated suspension and wheels, and engine performance components and performance accessories, and it will retail for $69,990.
All this means that spec-for-spec the standard BRZ can be compared to Toyota's GT86, while the STi version will compare to the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) version.
This new sports car represents a dramatic departure from the rest of the Subaru fleet because it is rear-wheel drive whereas every other Subaru in the Kiwi new vehicle market is all-wheel drive.
But there is a lot that remains very much Subaru.
The floor pan and suspension are the same design as the latest model Impreza, but tuned specifically for the BRZ, and the design of the horizontally opposed boxer engine means it has been able to be mounted as low as possible in the engine bay, which is a major reason why the BRZ/86 offers such a nimble and entertaining drive.
Journalists attending last week's launch had already spent a number of hours behind the wheel of various version of the Toyota 86, so it was a case of climbing into a familiar cockpit when it became time to drive the BRZ from Auckland to Raglan and back via some of the great racer roads that are such a feature of the Waikato countryside.
As we belted along these roads, we tried our hardest to notice any difference between the two models.
Someone suggested that maybe there's slightly more of a Subaru exhaust note with the BRZ. Someone else suggested that the tyre noise might be less.
Apparently there's also a slight difference in the BRZ's suspension settings compared to the 86 - the Subaru has stiffer front springs and there have been alterations to the damper valves to complement that.
The BRZ also gets a full-sized spare wheel while the 86 has a space-saver. And everyone thought that an STi-ised model that Subaru NZ had prepared for the day looked really nice - especially because it was resplendent in an exclusive World Rally Blue Mica.
But in reality, there is little difference between the two, which means that buyers of the BRZ will most likely purchase the car because it is a Subaru.
That explains why two of the first 12 cars to arrive went to a husband and wife because they could not agree which colour was best - so she purchased a blue one and he purchased a white one.
And another of the vehicles went to an 82-year-old man who has owned Subarus for years.
Just like with the 86, this BRZ has an outstanding ability to offer an almost visceral motoring experience without having to be driven particularly fast.
The low-slung behind-the-wheel driver position, snug sports seats, quick-change manual transmission or fast-acting auto, and the rorty noise that comes out of the exhaust system, all combine to make it tremendous fun to drive.
Of course, it can be driven fast if you want.
The 2.0-litre boxer 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 is capable of accelerating to 100 kmh in 7.6 seconds, while the manual's time is 8.2 seconds.
And yet the engine is also flexible enough to be driven quietly and economically if required. Overall fuel consumption is 7.1 L/100km for the auto and 7.8 L/100km for the manual.
I don't think I'd ever achieve those figures though. The car's just too much fun to drive - particularly the manual, in which I found myself constantly flicking up and down the gears just for the hell of it.
The BRZ comes with ABS brakes backed up with brake-force distribution and brake assist, stability control, 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.
And on the outside - well, just as with the 86, the BRZ's exterior look is sensational.
That sleek bonnet design, muscular front and rear fenders and 17-inch alloys all combine to make this car one of the most striking-looking new vehicles on the market.
And this time it's a Subaru.
The badging on the car tells you so. Even though it's also a Toyota.
But it is the result of one of the most successful joint-venture motoring developments I can think of, and that's what makes this car something special.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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