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2018 Subaru BRZ tS review: A better BRZ, mostly

Sure, the tS sticks like a barnacle to the road, but the improved handling only emphasizes its power shortcomings.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read

The Subaru BRZ -- and its twin, the Toyota 86 (née Scion FR-S) -- zoomed onto the scene in 2013, giving budget-minded enthusiasts a simple, rear-wheel-drive sport coupe. With excellent handling and aggressive good looks, the BRZ is a regular at weekend autocross events and track days across America. It's one of our favorite little sports cars.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS

2018 Subaru BRZ tS

The Good

Exceptional handling at a bargain price.

The Bad

No power upgrades means speed demons will be left unsatisfied.

The Bottom Line

The Subaru BRZ tS is a rip-roaring good time, as long as you keep your velocity expectations in check.

In addition to its mainstream Premium and Limited trims, the BRZ has seen a number of special edition models over its lifespan, the most recent of which is the uber-limited-production BRZ tS. It's not quite the full-on STI version some enthusiasts have been asking for, but it's definitely the most hardcore BRZ yet.

'Tuned by STI'

This isn't just a trim-and-tape job. The chassis is stiffer, thanks to the use of high-tensile steel, and two flexible V-braces are added to the engine bay, ostensibly to mitigate overall levels of powertrain vibration and harshness. Sachs dampers are fitted at all four corners, which lessens overall levels of pitch and body roll. The car's springs are 15 percent stiffer at the front and 3 percent stiffer out back, and stopping duty is handled by a set of Brembo brakes, with rotors measuring 12.8 inches up front and 12.4 inches out back. Sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires wrap each 18-inch wheel, and aerodynamics are improved. owing to aero spoilers up front and that huge, two-stage, adjustable carbon-fiber wing out back.

Does it all work? You'd better believe it.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS
Enlarge Image
2018 Subaru BRZ tS

In addition to all its aero goodies, the BRZ tS gets red accents throughout. Because, red = sporty. 

Emme Hall/Roadshow

On an afternoon drive through the back hills of Northern California, the BRZ tS proves its mettle by never, ever getting out of sorts. Even with the traction and stability control systems turned to Track mode, I'm only able to get the rear end to step out ever so slightly, and only once. The BRZ tS is planted, and the tires offer a ton of grip without any chirps.

With no track at my disposal, I can't tell you how this car drives at its absolute limit. Thankfully, fellow editor Jon Wong was able to complete a few hot laps of The Thermal Club's track earlier this year.

But here's the thing: the BRZ has always been a great-handling car, even in base form. With all this added poise, it only reminds me that this car could really benefit from some extra power.

The BRZ tS makes 205 horsepower from its 2.0-liter flat-4 engine, as well as 156 pound-feet of torque. And though it's always more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, a bit more torque would really be nice. Accelerating up to about 4,000 rpm, I can feel the BRZ wanting to give me... something. But because the torque doesn't fully come on until 6,400 rpm, there's a narrow band in which to use it before you have to upshift.

On spirited runs through the canyons, this means you're downshifting into second gear and listening to the engine howl, or just leaving it in third and not having a lot of power upon exit. At least the six-speed manual transmission is a joy to use, with tight gearbox action and pedals perfectly placed for heel-and-toe shifting, even with my dainty lady feet. The BRZ tS is only available with a manual transmission, as it should be.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS: Upgraded for the track

See all photos

None of the chassis upgrades prove so harsh that you couldn't live with a BRZ tS every day. It's stiff, sure, but not jarring over broken pavement; it's similar to the road feel of a MX-5 Miata Club, not nearly as rough as the Mini JCW Cooper I recently tested.

The EPA says the BRZ tS can achieve 20 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. That's a little less than other BRZ trims, though even with all my back road driving, I'm still able to achieve 24.7 mpg during a week of testing.

Spartan cabin, useful tech

The BRZ's interior is about as comfortable as you'd expect for a 2+2 sport coupe. The seats are firm and nicely bolstered, but the shoulder area is fairly wide, making it semi-difficult to twist around to reach the cup holders. Fortunately, there's a bottle holder in the door that's perfect for a 20-ounce soda. There's technically a back seat, but let's be honest -- it'd be difficult to get a 10-year-old back there, let alone a full-size adult. The trunk offers 6.9 cubic feet of space, and the rear seats fold down should you need a bit more room.

Subaru's simple and effective Starlink infotainment system is housed on a 7-inch touchscreen. It includes navigation with pinch-to-zoom functionality, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The very Subaru-appropriate eBird spotting app, however, is nowhere to be found. Save that for the Outback crowd.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS
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2018 Subaru BRZ tS

The cabin is small with heavily bolstered seats, but it's still comfortable enough for daily driving. 

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Instead, BRZ tS owners have access to more performance-based information, housed on a 4.2-inch LCD screen next to the tachometer. Here, different screens display cornering G-forces, oil and water temperatures, battery voltage and real-time horsepower and torque output levels. There's even a stopwatch to record your lap times.

Given the spartan nature of the hardcore BRZ tS, don't expect to find any advanced driver's aids. Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist aren't available.

How I'd spec it

Given its super-limited status, you can imagine there aren't too many ways to spec a BRZ tS. Only 500 examples will be sold in the US, with pricing set at $34,355, including $800 for destination.

If the wing and aero kit aren't your thing, you can always spring for a BRZ Limited when the $1,195 Performance Package, which adds the Brembo brakes and Sachs dampers. That brings the total to a more reasonable $30,500 -- consider it an option for when the US allocation of tS models runs out.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS
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2018 Subaru BRZ tS

Subaru put the tachometer front and center. Why? With a momentum car like the BRZ tS, speed isn't nearly as important as revs. 

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Poise over power

The BRZ competes in a pretty small segment. In addition to its brother from another mother, the Toyota 86, you've pretty much only got the Mazda MX-5 Miata (and its Fiat 124 Spider twin) for small, rear-wheel-drive fun. You could consider a Ford Mustang EcoBoost or the new Chevy Camaro Turbo 1LE, too, if you want more power.

The tS stands out with its improved handling -- it's one of the most fun-to-drive cars you can buy for under $35,000. And with only 500 coming to our market, I'm sure plenty of Subie fans will scoop them up in no time. If you value handling over power, the tS is an enticing option.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS

2018 Subaru BRZ tS

Score Breakdown

Performance 9Features 8Design 8.5Media 7