2022 Subaru BRZ first drive review: Three cheers for cheap thrills
The Subaru BRZ is a sports car that instantly clicks. Approachable, forgiving and a hoot and a half to drive, the BRZ's inherent friendliness is definitely its best attribute and it's what makes this new version so gosh darn easy to like.
Overall, the formula hasn't changed: engine up front, rear-wheel drive and a focus on lightness and agility above all. Dimensionally speaking, the new BRZ is 1.2 inches longer than its predecessor and 0.4 inches shorter in height. It's only 17 pounds heavier, too -- a scant 2,815 pounds in its lightest spec -- despite having a larger engine and more creature comforts onboard.
Subaru led the engineering development for the new BRZ and Toyota GR 86 coupes, which explains why the fraternal twins' new engine is actually quite familiar. The 2.4-liter flat-4 is a turbo-less version of the engine Subaru uses in the Ascent , Legacy and Outback , making 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Those are gains of 23 hp and 28 lb-ft over the outgoing BRZ's 2.0-liter engine, but crucially, peak torque is delivered much lower in the rev range: 3,700 rpm instead of 6,400.
Now, before you run to the comments section and complain about the continued lack of a turbocharger, do yourself a favor and actually drive the BRZ. I love the linear, predictable power delivery that you only get with a naturally aspirated engine and being able to keep the engine steadily humming at high revs is a quintessential part of the BRZ experience. Besides, with the 2.4's better torque curve, low-end power is less of an issue now.
The BRZ's new engine is best paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission, though Subaru offers an optional six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The automatic is... fine, going about its business with no fuss and no muss. But the manual really is where it's at, with a tactile, notchy shift gate and perfectly weighted clutch. I wouldn't buy a BRZ any other way, and apparently, I'm far from alone. Subaru says the BRZ has a 75% take rate for the manual transmission, which actually might be one of if not the highest in the US auto industry (for cars that offer both gearbox types, natch). Interestingly, with the Toyota 86 , the take rate is only 46%, and with the Mazda MX-5 Miata , it's 58%. Heck, even the Porsche 911 GT3 falls behind with a 70% manual mix.
While I'm talking percentages, the 2022 BRZ has a 50% increase in torsional rigidity, 7% stiffer front springs and 11% softer rear springs, all of which helps keep this car nicely balanced. The base BRZ Premium rides on 17-inch wheels with 215/45-series Michelin Primacy summer tires while the uplevel BRZ Limited gets 18-inch wheels with 215/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber. The latter wheel/tire setup offers enough grip to let the BRZ hang on during high-speed cornering, but not so much to kill your buzz should you feel like having some fun. Dig into the throttle while coming out of a turn and the BRZ will happily slide a skosh, giving you ample time to correct the oversteer (or not) before the traction control snaps you back in line. Want to show off your drifting chops? Turn the traction control off in Track mode; the BRZ has no trouble holding long sides out of corners with a wispy plume of smoke in its wake.
This playful precision and flickable nature makes the BRZ a champ around an autocross circuit, but the mechanical upgrades pay dividends at higher speeds, too. On the 1.5-mile track at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, the BRZ simply rocks. The retuned steering is a little lighter than before but no less responsive and the chassis has just enough lean built in to keep you clearly abreast of the traction level at each corner. Come into a turn too hot and the BRZ will let you make quick mid-corner corrections without killing the vibe, which really helps build driver confidence, making this a great circuit car for amateurs and skilled track rats alike.
Strong low-end power reduces the need to downshift, meaning you don't have to call up second gear to climb Lime Rock's steep back hill. Great sight lines ensure you'll never miss an apex, either, the sheetmetal bulges above the headlamps acting as markers making it easy to place your front wheels.
Off the track, the BRZ is an absolute peach. It's a car you can exploit at legal speeds on public roads without the fear of losing your license or oversteering into a ditch. It's a car that begs you to hustle it but never requires you exceed your personal limits. The tail never wags the dog here; the BRZ is a car that's just plain fun at any speed.
It's easier to live with, too, thanks to a few meaningful updates to the interior and onboard tech. Comfy, supportive seats keep your butt firmly in place and all of the BRZ's controls are easy to find and reach while driving. A new 7-inch digital instrument cluster can be customized to your liking and the 8-inch central screen has a rudimentary version of Subaru's Starlink infotainment tech, with standard (wired) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Subaru's EyeSight driver-assistance suite makes its way to the BRZ for 2022, as well, offering adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-departure warning, though these features are only available with the optional automatic transmission. Manual cars aren't totally tech-free, however, with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert standard on the higher-grade BRZ Limited.
You'll still be able to snag a 2022 BRZ for less than $30,000, making it a relative bargain among sports cars. The entry-level BRZ Premium costs $28,955 including $960 for destination and adding the automatic transmission and EyeSight tech ups the price to $30,555. Springing for the Limited will set you back a very reasonable $31,455 with the manual or $33,255 with the automatic. Those prices line up favorably with key competitors like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and, of course, the Toyota GR 86.
Speaking of the GR 86, while the two coupes are mostly identical, there are a few differences worth mentioning. Subaru says the BRZ has a unique steering tune, as well as specific damper settings and stabilizer bars, though without driving the Toyobaru twins back to back, it's hard to say if these variables make a noticeable difference on the road. Similarly, while the BRZ and GR 86 look a lot alike, the Toyota has a larger grille while the Subaru has an extended LED running light. Both cars are handsome, with clean body surfacing and excellent overall proportions. Me? I think the GR 86 is prettier by a nose. (Literally.)
When it goes on sale this fall, the new BRZ will continue to offer big fun for a small price. The 2022 model year updates don't change the coupe's overall ethos, but that's hardly a bad thing. Why fix what isn't broken? With a pure driver's car like the BRZ, bolstering that greatness is key.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.