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Can a BIG Guy Enjoy Driving a Quick, Cool 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited?

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2013 Subaru BRZ

Yes; although the BRZ is small to be sure, this oversize reporter fit nicely into the well-bolstered driver's seat...

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

On the fun-to-drive grading scale the rear-wheel drive Subaru BRZ, like its cousin the Scion FR-S, gets a good solid A-. Co-designed by the worlds largest car maker and the maker of boutique all-wheel drive cars - Toyota and Subaru respectively - it get’s substantial DNA from both. The latter contributed the sweet 2-liter boxer engine and sporty six-speed manual transmission, and the former the rear-wheel-drive platform and much of the rest of the car. By the way, this is the only Subaru since 1997 without all-wheel drive.

We first drove the Scion version of this little sport coupe at the Spring Mountain Raceway in Pahrump, Nevada with seemingly unlimited hot laps on a modified section of the course. Initial impressions were of a modestly powered car with performance and handling characteristics that make it competent on both racecourse and open road. Leaving the racetrack that day we charged off through the desert toward Death Valley taking advantage of nearly deserted desert roads. Unless we had them side-by-side I don't think we could tell them apart in feel, though we understand there are some differences in suspension tuning and a few other details.

The BRZ is small, to be sure, but this oversize reporter fit nicely into the well-bolstered Alcantara (faux-suede) driver’s seat. I bumped my head on first entry until I realized I had a few inches of vertical travel on the manual seat adjustment. Because it is a two-door with the shoulder belt anchored well behind the seat back the belt cuts uncomfortably across my neck. A leather strap atop the seatback attempts to hold it down and away a bit but not enough to be unobtrusive and the strap tends to easily come unsnapped as well.

The interior of the BRZ is simple and inelegant, but sporty and of decent quality. A tachometer takes center position in the instrument cluster implying its data is more important than the usual speedometer’s. I agree. The stubby shifter sticks out of the center console right where my hand likes it. The stubby, leather-wrapped device has a gratifyingly mechanical feel, though I expect it actually does its work via a sophisticated cable. The back seat is essentially an afterthought as it is just big enough for small children or perhaps a medium-size dog. I wouldn’t attempt to get back there nor should any adult.

On the downside, and the reason for the A minus, instead of an A, is the most dismal touch screen navigation and audio control system ever. The small screen features crowded small icons difficult to access particularly at speed. Touch too softly and nothing happens. Touch to hard and nothing happens. Touch it just right and nothing happens. Touch it again and . . . there it goes. Not only that, but the rocker switches below the screen that control HVAC often need to be bumped repeatedly to accomplish their functions. By the end of our test week it seemed we might be getting used to the touch of those controls, but it was pretty annoying.

The normally-aspirated 2.0-liter Subaru boxer (horizontally-opposed) four-cylinder engine is a charmer and enough to get it under motion quickly to provide an energetic driving experience. The whole car weighs a lithe 2,700 pounds so the modest-for-a-performance-car 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque is enough to make it fun. We understand the direct injection is from Toyota which indicates just how integrated the design and engineering partnership was on this car. With the standard 6-speed manual transmission it achieves a zero to 60 mph time of about 6.8 seconds and with the optional 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters and rev matching is a bit slower, somewhere in the high 7 seconds. Fuel economy is about the same rated by the EPA at 30 mpg on the highway, 22 in the city and 25 combined.

Our experience with the BRZ this week I’ll characterize as gratifying and spirited. We managed just about 28 mpg on mostly highway and country roads. We had the manual transmission and we were not surprised that we needed to keep the rpms up to experience the fun quotient – and we did! Handling is quick and precise and that is attributable to the light weight, very low center of gravity, rear-wheel drive and an inspired, sporty chassis. It’s not particularly quiet going down the road but not terribly noisy either. We’re getting used to such quiet cars these days we might not appreciate the road sounds as much as we ought. I did not find it inappropriately noisy.

The price on our loaded Limited DZE test car is around 33 grand. That seems a bit high but the price isn’t far off its few competitors. Base price for the entry car is just over 26 grand and two trim levels – Premium and Limited – provide slightly different basic content. This one high-line car comes with 17-inch summer performance tires, HID headlights, integrated audio/navigation with small imprecise screen, automatic climate control, keyless access and start, and all the safety stuff you would expect.

The Subaru new car warranty covers the BRZ for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

The experience of this sporty Sube reminds me of the only new car I ever purchased, a 1970 BMW 2002. It was a great looking, sporty coupe without a lot of power but with handling and ambiance that made it something special to own and drive. So it is with this little BRZ. We hope you get a chance to take one for a spirited drive sometime.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.