2018 Subaru BRZ tS– Where Handbrake Turns Can Still Reign - Review By Martha Hindes
By Martha Hindes
The Auto Channel
For those whose passage to adulthood was first getting a driver's license or sneaking a chance to drive while yet underage, there really are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who can drive a stick shift. And those who can't.
With all the ongoing guz about future vehicles that won't even have steering wheels, much less gear shifts, it's time to stake a claim for the opposing side.
Enter the Subaru BRZ tS. For those who Love (with a capital L) a sexy, heady, real world affordable sports car, here's one that can launch driving beyond the fun category and into in-your-face. And if appearances can tell all, the BRZ tS does that flat out. Sitting there, ignition off, it's just itching to take off with a squeal of tires, a roar of authority and a distinctive track attitude announcing its intent.
Subaru's BRZ tS definitely is designed to make sure those with rally intentions can launch into the pack, rip through gears with short-throw manual trans authority, and leave the less agile behind.
We had the shock white, black-trimmed BRZ delivered on a bright, sunny day with enough neighbors around to become a magnet as it pulled up. That was only the first step. Behind the wheel it had a delicious sounding throb that promised this would be an exhilarating time for testing. We gave a little teasing punch on the throttle just to make sure. It delivered.
A first intent was to gauge reactions. Those came almost immediately. The sultry body lines that have mostly carried over since its inception are only augmented in this grown up version. Blacked out 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport tires, larger than previous years, have bright red Brembo brake calipers peeking through both front and rear. Enhanced aerodynamic design with a nose so low it should scoop up pavement, are aided in intent by underspoilers on all sides to improve airflow and stability. The intimidating black carbon fiber wing spoiler standing high above the rear deck is manually adjustable for maximum down force during racing.
Our first hint of its impact was from a biker dude who had parked his Harley nearby. “I bet you drive it like you stole it,” he said with a face-wide grin of approval.
A chance encounter with a road “cruise” that's part of warm weather fare in my Detroit area neighborhood, gave the same kind of results. People lining the streets a half-dozen deep to view streams of collector and buff autos go by added their thumbs up and whistles of approval. And in the “don't even think of doing this” category, a boy, maybe 11 or 12, in a car in the next lane, leaned out of the rear window toward us from the waist while flailing his arms in approval.
That's what we call getting your attention. But for real driving enthusiasts that's just the appetizer. After all, good, sexy looks can only get you so far if you don't have the credentials to prove it.
Like Subarus for decades, the BRZ tS has the expected 4-cylinder compact “Boxer” engine, with pistons running horizontally – like two sparring boxers trading punches back and forth rather than up and down vertically – which helps lower the center of gravity. That six-speed stick-shift, front-loaded 2.0-liter power plant pumps out 205 horsepower (at 7,000 rpm) and generates 156 lb-ft. of torque (at 6,400-6,800 rpm), tuned for maximum performance by STI, Subaru's motorsports division.
Those specially tuned suspension and chassis reinforcements added to this rear-drive BRZ tS model (unusual for Subaru that's been synonymous with all-wheel drive for years) have adjustable track mode. That's the traction control that allows more rear drift during performance driving. The 2018 changes are built on last year's performance upgrades that included exclusive coil springs and dampers plus a larger rear stabilizer bar, various chassis reinforcements and higher stability control system thresholds.
From our perspective maybe it sets a new definition of agility along the way.
We had no complaint about the BRZ's ability to stick in tight, fast turning while staying amazingly level throughout, each time. What's missing – sadly for enthusiasts – is a long begged-for turbo charger to give it the performance edge of a true sports car with the ability to blast off from a stop or leave competitors in its dust. And no hint of if or when.
BRZ never was meant as an average road car, although in all of its six years of existence it has been completely street legal. It's DNA when first executed back in 2013 was for rally road driving, on the kinds of courses that demand the flexibility for turn-on-a dime changes of direction and maneuverability.
It was jointly created by Japanese auto giants Subaru and Toyota, on a Subaru developed platform, when both companies needed an affordable, rear drive sports car in their stables for enthusiasts. It shared its birth rights and youth with Toyota's Scion FR-S, wearing the Scion name until that division's demise in 2016, now renamed the Toyota 86.
Inside what Subaru calls a “2+2 sports coupe” are the non-driving features one would expect in a vehicle of this caliber with an expected take rate from younger drivers lusting over the ability to have something awesome looking and performance oriented for a base (non tS) in the $28 K price range. Requisite electronics on the two top models (tS and Limited) include new multimedia 7.0-inch Subaru
STARLINK Multimedia Navigation with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The “plus 2” in the designation is debatable. Sure, if your passenger is a scant five-foot-one, it probably would meet the need. But only if someone in front is short as well. Leg room in back totally disappears when the front seat track is fully extended. There is, however, a set of pass-through child seat anchors suggesting a place for rally drivers in the making in a few years. A rather minuscule trunk expands with fold down rear seating into the rear area enough for – say – golf clubs. (Do performance drivers ever really play golf?)
Cost conscious luxury on the tS wasn't forgotten inside. In addition to leather-wrapped steering and shift lever, there's butter soft, dark gray Alcantara seating, including faux suede trim one would need to examine carefully to determine it wasn't once on hoofs. Red stitching on seating adds that visual punch.
On the safety side in addition to what Subaru calls its “ring-shaped reinforcement design” on all models, airbag systems include pelvis/torso and side curtains. New for the tS is Incline Start Assist. For road warriors, there's 24-hour roadside assistance.
If you doubt the intent of the BRZ tS, and its ability to move with jackrabbit flexibility, just look at the gauges. Centered directly behind the steering wheel is the large, round tachometer that, rather than speedometer, is used in racing. The smaller speedometer to the side, is augmented with a digital readout incorporated into the right side of the tach that also shows the manual gear one is in. So what exactly is a handbrake turn?
I had learned on a bone dry dirt track in the middle of Florida. (There was a drought that year.) It was behind the helm of an Impreza, same maker, different wheels, but the principle was the same. Clad head to toe in fire retardant racing gear, including helmet, I must have looked like a Danica Patrick wannabe or a visitor who had just landed at Roswell, New Mexico.
Then there were the obligatory safety and performance instructions, before strapping in behind the wheel.
You blast down a dirt road toward a tight corner or other impediment, punch down on the clutch pedal, pop into neutral, immediately pulling up on the handbrake then turning a hard left (or right). The rear wheels lock up briefly while they slide around in a circle, sending up a major cloud of dust. Then, as the nose points as much as 180 degrees from the entry point, you release the handbrake, slam it into gear and floor it. Just what would be second nature to the BRZ tS, but definitely not the kind of thing to try at home.
Okay, so what about fuel economy with all this talk about racing and adrenaline? EPA ratings are 20 city, 27 highway and 23 mixed. That is on premium-only fuel. But not bad for a vehicle not designed to be driven with delicacy. But there's no indication of what the numbers would be for handbrake turns. (And yes it's available with a six-speed automatic.)
For those who might have missed an opportunity to buy one of the 2018 BRZ tS models with a $5K premium for a $34,495 total price, with production limited to only 500, there might be another option.
Depending on one's willingness to shift brand names, a similarly boosted “ultimate performance” Toyota 86 is expected in their showrooms for 2019. And remember, it's Subaru that actually builds the 86 as well.
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