Living With A Subaru BRZ
What's it like to live with this car every day? How does it work in the real world?
Originally posted on Oppositelock: oppositelock.kinja.com/living-with-a-subaru-brz-1677386148
There have already been eleventy zillion reviews of the Toyobaru twins, all saying that it's the second coming of the affordable lightweight sports coupe. We know how it does on the track, and in the hands of a Jalopnik editor for a day trip, but what's it like to live with this car every day? How does it work in the real world?
It's a sports car, not a minivan, so I'm going to cut it a lot of slack here. If I needed a practical sporty car in this price range, a Fiesta ST or Mini Cooper S would've been a better choice. But I decided I could live with the BRZ's limited space on a daily basis. After all, with the back seat folded down, my 70" Hoyt Pro Medalist recurve bow fits entirely behind the front seats at a bit of an angle, along with my quiver, feast gear basket, a cloak in case it gets cold, and a change of modern clothes so I don't need to wear my medieval garb out to dinner after the SCA archery tournament. Hey, these things matter to me. In fact, as long as I don't have to bring my canvas wall tent, I can pack two people and gear for a weekend getaway if I'm careful. (Other people, packing for more traditional vacations than medieval re-enactment events, should have enough space for a comparable amount of luggage and equipment.) This, more than anything, is why I can no longer have a Miata as my only car. I've owned three of them, but I've always had access to another car if I needed more practicality. I don't need a lot of cargo space, but I need more than a Miata has. I know it's sacrilege, but Miata is no longer the answer for me.
Fold up the back seat, and the trunk is still a reasonable size for this type of car. My grocery shopping fits with no problem. The biggest problem is that the trunk is not very tall. Full paper grocery bags won't fit, forcing you to repack everything after the helpful Trader Joe's checkout clerk bagged it all efficiently for you, just to make it fit. You'll have to use the back seat, with its own limited access, save the world with reusable bags, or destroy the planet with plastic bags to avoid this inconvenience.
It's not the world's best grocery getter.
Speaking of the back seat, it's best to think of it as a package shelf that you can legally place a small human being across, rather than an actual seat. I'm six feet tall, and though the driver's seat isn't quite as far back as it can go – we know that at least a 6'3" driver can fit – there isn't enough room for even my snow brush between the seats, never mind a passenger's legs. I have fit two other people in the car with me, but even my girlfriend's seven year old son couldn't sit properly behind her without sitting sideways, which isn't comfortable with the deep contours of the back seat. The only alternative would be to cut off his legs just above the knee, which would probably annoy my girlfriend and stain my upholstery. It's best to just think of the BRZ as a two seater, despite the existence of seat belts in the back.
Comfort and visibility
The front seats, however, are excellent. They're not as bolstered as the Fiesta ST's Recaros, but they're better than most cars, and strike a good compromise between support and comfort. They could use some adjustable lumbar support, but I've driven all day in them on various types of roads and felt fine afterward. There isn't a ton of space in the front - there are knee pads available for the center console and door speaker enclosures for wider people who find themselves rubbing them - but I get in and out of a BRZ like a regular car, rather than like putting on a tight glove as I do in a Miata.
Ride quality is a bit rough on the pothole filled roads of Massachusetts. The trade-off is the excellent handling that the stiff suspension provides. On a smooth twisty road, it's a dream. Unfortunately, the town I live in has been demolishing literally every road to my house this year and patching them poorly, so I find myself bouncing and cursing every time I come and go from home. This isn't the BRZ's fault in particular. Any car I'm interested in would have a fairly firm, sporty suspension, and would have exactly the same problem.
As far as visibility is concerned, you can see ahead and to the sides quite well, though there is one curve on my daily commute where I have to lean toward the center of the car to look around the thick A-pillar. I absolutely love the front fender bulges, which not only look cool but also tell me exactly where the front wheels are. The BRZ comes with standard HID headlights, which light up the road quite well at night. When I was shopping for the car, the salesman told me that I wouldn't need the fog lights included in the Limited package because the standard headlights were just that good. I wasn't sure I believed him. Most cars I've owned have needed upgrades in the lighting department. But in this case, I think he was absolutely right.
To the rear, the mirrors work OK, but the C-pillars are very thick. Backing up is tricky, because I can't see where the back of the car is. The car could really use a backup camera, but it isn't available with one from the factory, not even as an option. This is strange, because the infotainment system is already set up to support one. I bought a plug and play camera and wiring harness from BeatSonic, and now the screen automatically displays the view behind me when I shift into reverse.
The aftermarket backup camera integrates perfectly with the stock head unit.
The BRZ handles my daily grind rather well. I take mostly back roads through the Metrowest Boston area. Traffic is the primary challenge for me. Normally I'm stuck in traffic going at or below the speed limit, ruining my fun. A Chevy Aveo could sit in traffic as well as this car. (Yes, I drove an Aveo recently. Please don't hold that against me.)
The car doesn't come to life on slow, traffic filled back roads like I commute on. I mean, it works perfectly, and doesn't do anything wrong, but it isn't particularly fun to drive at 2/10ths, merely competent. I find a Miata with the top down fun to drive at any speed. But the standard infotainment system works well to keep me, well, infotained by a wide variety of sources (AM/FM/XM, CD, and anything connected to auxiliary, USB, or Bluetooth), while waiting for the long line of cars ahead of me to force their way into the endless line of cars on the main drag that aren't letting them in.
Pretty colors at an overlook in Harvard, MA.
When it's my turn to force myself into that line, I don't find the BRZ underpowered at all. It gets itself from a stop to the 35mph speed limit (or the 27mph speed of traffic) very quickly, but only if I turn off traction control first. Otherwise, if the car detects even the slightest bit of wheelspin, it applies the brakes and kills the power, leaving me stopped in the middle of the busy intersection I was trying to scoot across. Fortunately, I know where all of these intersections are, so I can hold down the traction control button for five seconds as I approach them, go through, and turn traction control back on again after achieving orbital insertion. I'm running snow tires for winter right now, but the stock Michelin Primacy HP "Prius tires" had just as bad wet and dry pavement traction. I'm looking forward to putting some decently grippy tires on in the spring and seeing if that helps.
I've done a few weekend getaways with my girlfriend in the BRZ, and for two people it works great. When you need to put a bunch of miles behind you, it does quite well on the highway. It's stable at speeds well beyond the posted limits, not affected by wind gusts, and sixth gear keeps the gas mileage reasonable. It's rated up to 34mpg on the highway, but my lead foot can't seem to do better than 28. The best range I've gotten on a tank is around 250 miles. Edmunds has done much better in their long term test car.
Parked at the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts.
A couple of my weekend trips last year were trips that I'd planned to do on my motorcycle, but due to mechanical problems with the bike we punted to the BRZ instead. One of the aspects of traveling outside the People's Republik of Massachusetts I enjoy most is getting to the quiet back roads of Vermont or upstate New York, where the speed limits are civilized enough to let me really enjoy the roads at legal speeds that would earn me a hefty ticket on a similar road back home. I'd hoped to take my bike on these trips, but the BRZ was still lots of fun. I wasn't left feeling unsatisfied as I would have in my ex-cop Crown Victoria. It's also much more convenient to hop in a car and go than put on a helmet and all that riding gear, or to just chuck a suitcase in the trunk instead of trying to Tetris everything you need for a weekend into your saddlebags.
Some people think of a lightweight rear wheel drive sports car as the absolute worst car you can drive in slippery conditions. They're wrong. A set of decent snow tires is absolutely necessary, if nothing else than to rid the BRZ of its summer "performance" tires (and I use that word loosely). Once you do that, the qualities that make it such a fun, awesomely handling car carry right over to snow covered roads. I wrote a separate article on this specific topic at oppositelock.jalopnik.com/how-is-a-brz-in-the-snow-1677323903 , but suffice it to say that with a clue, the proper tires and traction control turned off, you can dependably get where you're going, pretend to be Ryan Tuerck, or both, as much as you want.
It's certainly not Doug DeMuro's Ferrari, but the BRZ does get a fair bit of attention wherever you go. My girlfriend often tells me when she notices people in passing cars staring at it. Since I have a World Rally Blue BRZ rather than an FR-S, I'm apparently part of the Subaru gang. I get frequent waves, thumbs up, or nods of approval from WRX and STi drivers. This amuses me greatly, because an STi costs whole lot more than my BRZ, and will absolutely trounce me in every performance contest you can think of except possibly handling. But it doesn't matter. They think the car is cool, and they tell me so.
The attention doesn't stop when you stop, either. It doesn't happen all the time, but from time to time someone in a parking lot will compliment the car, or start talking to me about how much they love their Outback. At gas stations, these conversations can go on for a while, but the somewhat small 13.2 gallon gas tank can help you cut them short if you want. People who don't know the BRZ always seem to think it's more powerful than it is because it looks fast, and that it has all wheel drive because it's a Subaru. I doubt my FR-S cousins get that, though they're probably mistaken for front wheel drive because of the tC.
Identical twins at an 86 Owners of New England meet.
All in all, it's actually a rather nice amount of attention for me. The car gets noticed, appreciated, and talked about, even by non-enthusiasts, which is kind of fun. But unlike a Ferrari, it doesn't happen constantly, so it's still a bit of a novelty when someone thinks my affordable sports car is pretty darn cool.
In their long term BRZ wrap-up, Road & Track found that when they had access to more than one car, they often ended up not choosing the BRZ, and honestly, I can see why. My daily commute would be easier in an econobubble of some kind with an automatic. I still have a soft spot for Miatas, and the older ones are even simpler and more basic than the BRZ, not to mention convertibles. Last year, my girlfriend and I left my BRZ at home and loaded up her Jeep Liberty with all of our SCA gear to go to Pennsic.
Seeing what it can do at a Cumberland Motor Club autocross.
If you don't need to carry a lot of people or cargo, you can definitely live with a BRZ every day as your only car. It does all the jobs I need – daily driver, errand runner, limited cargo hauler – as well as the jobs I want, like back road carver, occasional autocross toy, and, eventually, occasional track car. It's one car to rule them all.