2018 Subaru BRZ tS: A sharper sports coupe reserved for 500 people
Chassis and aero upgrades make the tS the most capable and fun BRZ to date.
Jon WongFormer editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
As brilliant as the Subaru BRZ was when it arrived for 2013, enthusiasts couldn't help but salivate over the idea of a more potent STI model with a turbocharged engine and even better handling. Sadly, five model years later, no such car has surfaced. But that's not to say Subaru is leaving fans of its rear-wheel-drive sports coupe completely out in the cold. Enter the 2018 BRZ tS.
The tS, which means "tuned by STI," can be looked at as an STI Lite. There are plenty of handling improvements, but the tS is void of drivetrain enhancements. Peek under the hood and you'll find the same 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine as in every other BRZ, pushing out 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available, and the tS is said to return 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
Compared to other BRZ models, the tS gets unique, 15-spoke wheels, a honkin' two-position carbon fiber wing, STI lip spoiler, new side rockers and Cherry Blossom Red accents on the front grille and rear bumper. The coupe's foglights also get deleted in favor of a mesh-pattern cover. And of course, there are tS badges.
Inside, red accents adorn the bolsters on the leather and Alcantara seats. There's a tS logo embroidered in the front seat backs, and contrasting red seat belts are a nice touch. The biggest change inside the decidedly spartan cabin is Subaru's updated Starlink infotainment unit featuring a responsive 7.0-inch touchscreen, with navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Everything else is unchanged, which means you get relatively nice materials throughout the cabin, a tight backseat best left for small children and a cozy trunk with 6.9 cubic-feet of space.
Not that people really buy BRZs for practical reasons or anything. Like its WRX STI sibling, the BRZ is a pure and simple sports car targeting people who enjoy enthusiastic driving. On mountain roads outside of Palm Springs, California, the tS a riot. It hangs on tight around bends with hardly any body roll and changes direction instantly. The steering quickly responds to inputs and offers excellent feedback, keeping the driver thoroughly engaged.
Playing at the top end of the naturally aspirated engine's rev range is necessary, and remains an integral part of the BRZ experience. An easy-to-modulate clutch, crisp-shifting gearbox and snappy throttle response make it fun to wring out every drop of power from the boxer engine. But the engine's soundtrack at wide-open-throttle leaves a lot to be desired.
Chassis rigidity benefits from additional front and rear bulkhead reinforcements and underbody stiffeners connecting the front suspension crossmember and subframe. In the engine compartment, there's a flexible v-shaped brace with pillow ball bushings that tighten things up without transmitting unwanted vibrations into the cabin to maintain some comfort.
2018 Subaru BRZ tS: Same power, but better handling
The suspension features Sachs shock absorbers and uprated springs that Subaru says reduces roll by 18 percent and pitch by 15 percent. Wheels and tires also change with tS-specific 15-spoke, 18-inch wheels -- the largest ever offered from the factory on a BRZ -- wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires in place of the not-so-sticky Primacy HPs. Rounding out the handling goodies is a Brembo brake package with four-piston front and two-piston rear calipers, which is the same setup that was introduced on the optional Performance Package last year.
Thankfully, the chassis upgrades don't trash daily driving manners. Commuting along busy city streets and expressways offers livable ride comfort with the suspension softening blows from most road imperfections.
Time on The Thermal Club's 1.4-mile Desert Circuit offers a controlled environment to really push the tS. Great steering response and impressive composure is once again on display through high-speed sweepers. Tight hairpins make it easy to rotate the rear end using the throttle with stability control in Track mode, which allows for slip angle before the nannies cut in and kill the party. Down long straightaways, more power would be welcome but isn't super necessary. Much like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the BRZ doesn't produce lap times with horsepower. Instead it's a momentum car that's fun on the race track because it requires more driver involvement.
Braking has long been a weak spot with all BRZ models, the brakes usually losing bite and pedal firmness after a single track session. With the upgraded Brembos, that isn't an issue -- the stopping power stays muscular throughout an afternoon of lapping.
If a sharper handling BRZ is on your wish list, you'll want to visit the Subaru dealer soon. Only 500 examples of the 2018 Subaru BRZ tS will be available in the US, all painted WR Blue Pearl, Crystal Black Silica or Crystal White Pearl. Pricing starts at $34,355 and includes $860 for destination charges, which doesn't seem too crazy considering a BRZ Limited with the optional Performance Package already costs $30,500.
Or you can always continue to wait for the mythical BRZ STI to arrive.