The Subaru BRZ is the result of one of the auto industry’s oddest joint ventures since Alfa Romeo and Nissan hooked up in the 1980s to produce the ARNA, a car that spectacularly combined the worst features of both: It had Alfa Romeo’s suspect reliability and Nissan’s boring styling and sloppy handling. This time, though, everyone looks like a winner. Subaru gets a great sports car it couldn’t afford to build, and Toyota gets a great sports car, to be badged as a Scion here in the United States, that it couldn’t find room to build.
Toyota did the planning and design. Subaru did the engineering, and will build both versions at its Gunma plant in Japan. Both cars will initially be identical, apart from front and rear bumper fascias, badging, and detail equipment levels. We haven’t sat in the Scion yet, but we’ve driven the BRZ, albeit a heavily camouflaged prototype. First impressions are good. Very good.
The key to the BRZ’s appeal is the unique hardware under its relatively conventional skin. This is the world’s only front-engine, rear-drive sports car powered by a boxer engine. The Subaru 2.0-liter four is an all-new engine with a different block from that used in the 2012 Impreza, and features Toyota-sourced direct injection. It gets a unique FA designation within the Subaru engine family (the closely related 2012 Impreza engine is known as the FB, while the 2011 Impreza is the EJ), and though Subaru engineers were tight-lipped about the engine’s output, they didn’t disagree with our guess of about 200 hp and 170 lb-ft. The engine drives the rear wheels through a choice of two Aisin six-speed transmissions, one a manual, the other a conventional planetary automatic with manual actuation via steering wheel-mounted paddles. The transmission is the same one used in the Lexus IS 350, among others. Front suspension is MacPherson strut, while the rear gets a complex multilink setup. Brakes are disc all around.
Keeping the center of gravity as low as possible — always a good thing for a sports car — was one of the BRZ’s key design goals, and Subaru’s engineers have made the most of the flat-four engine’s obvious advantage in this area. Compared with the 2012 Impreza’s engine, the BRZ’s boxer sits almost 4.8 inches lower and just over 8 inches farther back in the chassis. What that means is this: The top of the engine is roughly knee height, and the center line of the front axle is aligned with the bore center of the rear pair of cylinders.
When you slide in behind the wheel it’s apparent just how low the cowl height is, even though you’re sitting low in the car. Once on the road, the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center you notice how rapidly and accurately the BRZ responds to driver inputs. The weight distribution is not quite 50/50; Subaru engineers will only admit that less than 60 percent of the car’s mass is over the front axle, and the chassis has been set up for mild understeer. But there’s no mistaking the agility borne of low mass, slung low.
The ride is firm, but not harsh. Tellingly, the BRZ was developed on 16- and 17-inch wheels, defying the fashionable trend toward factory-fitted dubs rimmed with rubber-band-thin tires. The benefit of smaller wheels, of course, is reduced unsprung mass, and therefore better, more precise wheel control. Our tester rolled on 17s fitted with 215/45 tires that delivered good grip and gave plenty of notice approaching the limits of adhesion.
The BRZ has the same sweet-natured nimbleness as a Mazda Miata or a Porsche Boxster. That sensation is helped by the fact that, like the Miata and the original Boxster, the BRZ’s engine simply cannot outdrive the chassis. It only takes a few miles along your favorite canyon road to start wishing you had 100 more horses to play with. The car stays flat through the turns, and when pushed very hard it will oversteer, but the onset is smooth and progressive. The low mass–Subaru says production cars will weigh a feathery 2500 pounds–means you can brake later for turns, carry lots of speed through them, and still nail apexes like a sharpshooter. The BRZ rewards neatness: Get it right and we bet you can hang with the more-powerful AWD WRX through the twisties.
The 2.0-liter boxer delivers healthy mid-range punch, though a little more top-end bite would be welcome. The tach is redlined at 7400 rpm, but there’s little point hanging on much past 7000 as the power delivery goes flat. The engine idles quietly, but develops a pleasing muted throb, like an STI wrapped in cotton wool, when you get active with the gas pedal. Our prototype was fitted with the automatic transmission. It felt crisp and clean in regular driving, and responsive in manual mode, matching revs on the downshifts when you fanned the left-hand paddle.
The BRZ — really, could Subaru have come up with a less evocative name for a sport coupe? — is on some levels the most conventional car Japan’s quirkiest automaker has ever built. But it opens up some intriguing possibilities for the company, especially as Subaru and Toyota are free to develop the BRZ hardware any way they like from here on in. Subaru engineers quietly concede there’s more power to come from the boxer four, though they won’t confirm whether a turbo is in the works. They admit the BRZ structure has been engineered from the get-go to allow for a convertible version, so you can bet we’ll see a softtop model within the next few years. And, most intriguing of all, they say the platform is flexible enough to allow for a significant wheelbase stretch. A BRZ-based four-door sport sedan? Now that’s an interesting idea…
How the BRZ came to be
The teaming up of Toyota and Subaru is intriguing, but not unprecedented. Back in 2008, both shared a desire to brighten their somewhat dim sports car portfolios. Toyota would take the lead in planning, designing, and bankrolling the new two-door, dubbed AS1, while Subaru offered its proven high-performance engineering and production capabilities. The companies would split sales and marketing duties.
Automotive history buffs will enjoy learning the BRZ isn’t Subaru’s first rear-drive vehicle. That title belongs to the 1953-’54 Fuji Heavy Industries Prototype 1 sedan, later known as the Subaru 1500. P-1 employed the first Japanese-made monocoque body and paved the way for brand icons such as the Subaru 360 and 1000. – Nate Martinez
Once the Toyota/Subaru deal was sealed, engineers from both automakers made sure to agree on basic expectations. There weren’t many, but each was critical in crafting the coupe you see here.
First, it had to be lightweight and fuel-efficient. Second, handling prowess, rather than all-out speed and horsepower, needed to be emphasized, with a low center of gravity. Third, there had to be enough room for four passengers and luggage space for a pair of golf bags.
Engineering a mid-engine layout would negate the 2+2 seating requirement, while an AWD system would add weight and reduce fuel economy. A twin-clutch gearbox would also add unwanted mass, plus increase cost. According to Subaru’s engineers, a front-engine/rear-drive configuration with a boxer engine and a traditional gearbox duo was “ideal for [the BRZ’s] vision.”
Engineers were tight-lipped about exact production numbers, but they nodded in agreement when we coughed up a 3000-unit-per-year guess. That would put the BRZ in current WRX STI production territory, making it a low-volume niche car. – Nate Martinez
|2013 Subaru BRZ prototype|
|BASE PRICE||$25,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass,2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||2.0L/200-hp (est)/170-lb-ft (est) DOHC 16-valve flat-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual,6-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||2500 lb (mfr est)|
|WHEELBASE||93.5 in (est)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||148.8 x 70.0 x 46.8 (est)|
|0-60 MPH||6.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||25-27/30-32 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||125-135/105-112 kW-hrs/100 mi (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.67-0.72 lb/mi (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Spring 2012|
Motor Trend First look 2012 Subaru Impreza Video – Mid Hudson Subaru
Subaru has never been afraid to “zig” when the competition “zags.” Many things about Subaru are, well, different. With their “boxer” horizontally-opposed engines, standard all-wheel drive, and lineup of station wagons, they don’t have a history of just copying the competition. This is why it was not such a shock when Subaru first announced their new and improved Impreza with a smaller and less powerful engine, while most manufacturers boast about having more power with each redesign.
That’s right. The new Impreza dropped from 170 to 148 hp for 2012. Fortunately, you may never miss those 22 ponies due to other changes that Subaru made. First, while not any smaller, the new car is lighter. Second, and more importantly, the Impreza finally ditched the old four-speed automatic transmission in favor of a CVT. The greater assortment of gear ratios helps both performance and fuel economy. (See our Impreza preview.)
Another place where Subaru has bucked current trends is actually making the new car better. Sounds strange, but as we’ve seen lately from Honda and Volkswagen, some new models don’t quite measure up to the outgoing designs in terms of fit and finish or handling. Compared to the 2011 Impreza, the 2012 has a nicer interior with soft-touch padding on the dashboard and doors. And while the new model is roomier and boasts better fuel economy, handling actually feels more responsive than the outgoing model. Plus, the excellent ride has been retained.
As for the turbocharged WRX and WRX STi, they will remain on the older platform for a few more years.
First impressions are positive, but we will have to wait until the Impreza goes on sale in November to purchase one for our test program. I have a feeling that is will be a favorite around our Connecticut test facility when the snow comes!
Subaru officials said fuel economy and looks were customers’ two biggest complaints about the last generation car, which despite the gripes was the best-selling Impreza ever, so engineers and designers went all out to make the new 2012 Impreza more fuel efficient and attractive than the outgoing model.
One of the keys to increasing fuel efficiency is the old maxim of adding lightness, and the top-of-the-line, fully loaded, CVT-equipped 2.0i Limited sedan we tested was 63 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, while the five-speed manual 2.0i Premium five-door we also tested was an even more impressive 211 pounds lighter. The lighter weight helped the Impreza five-door manual score an EPA rating of 25/34 mpg city/highway, while the CVT-equipped four-door netted 27/36 mpg city/highway. Our real-world driving reflected those ratings. (By comparison, the last Impreza was rated at 20/26-27 mpg, depending on whether you opted for the four-speed slushbox or five-speed manual.) It all adds up to the most fuel efficient all-wheel drive vehicle in America.
While reducing heft certainly helped boost mpg, the Impreza’s new 2.0-liter F-4 was the linchpin to improving the car’s overall efficiency. Codenamed FB20, the new engine is not only down 500cc from the outgoing 2.5-liter EJ-series engine, but it’s down on power, too. The updated boxer four produces 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque compared to the outgoing engine’s 170 hp and 170 lb-ft. Don’t turn on your caps lock to express your E-anger just yet. Yes, the new engine is down on power, but the new Impreza is actually quicker than the outgoing car in all measurements.
The last Impreza we tested back in 2007 was a four-speed automatic. That Subie took 9.5 seconds to hit 60 mph from a standstill and 17.2 seconds to complete the quarter mile at 81.1 mph. The 2012 Impreza 2.0i Limited did 0-60 mph in 9.4 seconds and the quarter mile in 17.2 seconds at 81.9 mph. OK, if the Limited was only a tenth of a second quicker to 60 mph, and tied the old model at the strip, what about the hatch? It was a lot quicker. The five-door was a second-and-a-half faster to 60 mph, taking just 8.0 seconds for the feat. It crossed the quarter mile earlier as well; our manual 2012 tester took 16.2 seconds at 84.0 mph.
Handling is also improved. The five-door Impreza 2.0i Premium took 28.3 seconds at 0.59 g to round our figure eight, while its four-door sibling surprisingly did the same feat faster, taking 28.1 seconds at 0.59 g. The last Impreza we tested did the figure eight in 28.6 seconds at 0.58 g. Our test team reported the 2012 Imprezas had a tendency to understeer, but the steering feel made for great fun when really pushed — much to the chagrin of the eco-minded tires.
While it’s quicker, the new Impreza didn’t exactly record blistering numbers. That said, it’s got a sort-of X-factor not directly expressed by those figures — it’s a blast to drive. “Push it,” a Subaru rep told us. “It can take it.” He was absolutely right. No, the Impreza isn’t fast, but it feels fast. After pushing the Impreza on the canyon roads of Los Angeles and the backwoods of Connecticut, I couldn’t help but walk away with a big, stupid grin on my face. This is the type of car that’s just as at home in the crowded streets of New York as it is on the unpaved, rutted-out two-tracks of rural Massachusetts.
One of the main contributors to the fun is Subaru’s aforementioned new boxer engine. This four-banger really likes to rev when paired with the manual. Oblige, and you’ll be repaid with Subaru’s signature boxer growl as you snip crisply and easily through the gears. The 148-hp engine is enough to get you going – it could use more torque (what engine couldn’t?) — but that and much more will no doubt be addressed with the WRX and STI versions.
As for the rest of the package, Subaru stiffened the chassis on the new Impreza for a sportier feel, and it paid off in spades. Combine that with a sharp handling feel and all-wheel drive and you’ve got yourself a pretty tossable car. After I took a sharp U-shaped corner during testing, one photographer came up to me and said, “You were hauling ass!” I hadn’t even realized it. The little Subie was just so composed that I didn’t notice I had taken the corner 20-mph faster than the other cars. I consistently found myself pushing the Impreza harder and harder into the corners. With all that grip and a sporty chassis it was endless fun. The Subaru’s sole weak point was its eco-themed tires; during hard cornering they groaned and squealed like a scolded child. Nothing some stickier rubber couldn’t fix.
Subaru’s second generation Lineartronic CVT is arguably one of the best in the business. It does a remarkable job of not feeling like a lifeless elastic rubber band, as many other CVTs do. Half of that has to do with the engine it’s mated to, and the other half to how the transmission was engineered. Unlike in many CVTs, Subaru engineers decided to forgo the rubber belt, instead replacing it with a metal one. The result is a transmission that feels less elastic and more linear, like a traditional automatic.
Remember the second thing Subaru needed to improve upon? Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it doesn’t take someone with a modern art degree to determine the 2012 Impreza looks pretty good in both four and five-door form. Compared to the dopey-looking last-gen Impreza, the new car is downright handsome.
The interior is also a vast improvement, even though the cheap-looking digital trip computer on top of the center stack survived the update. Aside from the easily washed-out GPS screen, the interior is functional and somewhat stylish. It’s a nice place to be, especially in the leather-bathed 2.0i Limited trim. During the Impreza’s New York introduction, Subaru made sure to note that unlike some of its competitors, it didn’t reduce the use of soft plastics in the car. Were there hard plastics? Sure, but most important, the pieces that needed to be soft touch were.
The only real interior letdown in our pre-production five-door 2.0i Premium tester was the shift knob and steering wheel. Both were made out of cheap-looking (and feeling) black rubber that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the last-gen Impreza. The CVT-equipped 2.0i Premium sedan we drove at the Impreza’s official press introduction didn’t suffer from the cheap-feeling (and looking) rubber, so for all we know the “issue” may be resolved by the time they hit Subaru showrooms in November.
So the 2012 Subaru Impreza is faster, more efficient, and better looking – surely it’s more expensive to boot? Well, it’s not (and don’t call me Shirley). Subaru made it a point to keep the pricing at exactly the same levels as the old model. That means a new 2012 Impreza will set buyers back anywhere from $18,245 for a four-door, five-speed 2.0i to $23,645 for a CVT-equipped 2.0i Sport Limited PZEV. Our Impreza 2.0i Premium tester had one option (the all-weather package) and came in at $20,545. Our four-door Impreza 2.0i Limited, on the other hand, came equipped with the Moonroof and Navigation System option, and rang the register at $24,345. Not bad for a fun-to-drive all-wheel-drive ride.
At the end of the day, the new Impreza brings a lot to the crowded compact segment. Is it a game-changer? Probably not, but, without a doubt, the new Impreza is a more attractive, fuel efficient, fun-to-drive, and versatile car that should finally stand out for more than just having all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Subaru Impreza is lighter than its predecessor. It’s better looking and its fuel economy is vastly improved. It’s also faster and the exhaust pipe emits only ice cream.
The ice cream is magic and if you eat it, you won’t get fat and everyone will think you’re sexy. Impreza? This car will influence so many people, they should’ve called it the Influenza.
There’s no doubt that the 2012 Impreza is, in fact, better looking and stingier with a gallon of gas. But I’m not completely buying Subaru’s assertion that it’s also quicker. The revised car lost a maximum of 165 pounds. Meanwhile, the new 2.0-liter flat-four is down 22 horsepower and 25 lb-ft of torque compared to the old 2.5-liter. To the naked eyeball, it wouldn’t seem that 165 pounds would cancel out that kind of power loss, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. Subaru is careful to apply the “quicker” designation to cars equipped with an automatic transmission, and that transmission has morphed from a prehistoric four-speed automatic to a very nice CVT. So combine the diet with the new transmission, and you get a car that sneaks under the 10-second mark on 0-60 runs, a few tenths faster than its predecessor. But when you ask about the five-speed car, Subaru people suddenly go all Oliver North and can’t really remember much about the numbers. Well, here they are: The lightest version of the old Impreza had a power to weight ratio of 17.96 pounds per horsepower. The new car is dragging 19.66 pounds per horsepower. That’s a significant difference, and despite some tinkering with the ratios in the five-speed, I’d put my money on the 2011 model in a drag race.
Yes, I’ve devoted probably too much energy to thinking about power to weight ratios in naturally aspirated Imprezas. My official prediction is that the automatic car will be a little quicker, the manual car will be a little slower and in any case no one who buys a non-WRX Impreza will care. The librarians of Vermont don’t race for pink slips.
But they do care about mileage, and in that respect the new Impreza embarrasses its predecessor. The CVT-equipped car actually gets better city mileage (27 mpg) than the four-speed automatic model could manage on the highway. With a combined economy rating of 28 mpg for the manual and 30 mpg for the automatic, Subaru says the automatic Impreza is the most fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive car you can buy in the U.S. And that newfound thrift carries benefits into other areas, too — for instance, a smaller gas tank allows a flat load floor in the five-door, which is one of the ways that Subaru increased interior volume while maintaining the same footprint as the 2011 model.
That interior is also a much finer habitat than before. The dashboard is covered in soft-touch materials and leather is an option for the first time on a non-turbocharged Impreza. On cars with a navigation system, the route planner dispenses an amazing amount of detail. Want to know how many kilograms of CO2 you’ll emit on the way to the Sierra Club meeting? The Impreza will tell you exactly how guilty to feel.
After spending a day attacking the low mountains of the Berkshires in both five-speed and automatic Imprezas, I’d say that this car absolutely owns the title for “chassis that could handle significantly more horsepower.” On one long on-ramp, I kept feeding in power on the expectation that the tires would start howling and the front end would wash out. But by the time the rubber began to voice any protest, I was far exceeding the speed limit on the highway ahead and my driving partner was looking faintly concerned about his choice of companionship for the day. With all-wheel-drive, the boxer engine’s low center of gravity and double wishbones out back — what we around here refer to as “classy rear suspension” — the base Impreza is a lot of fun in the corners. Which makes sense, since it’s basically a WRX without the power.
The new 2.0-liter is smoother than growly old 2.5-liter, but you’re regularly aware that the torque peak is north of 4,000 rpm, especially with the CVT. Normally CVTs cause me to make a face like someone who smelled a fart, but this one features shift paddles on the steering wheel that allow you to hold one of six preset ratios if, say, you’re terrorizing an on-ramp in rural Connecticut. I’d still go for the five-speed, but if you bought the automatic, I’d understand.
The base Impreza 2.0i with a five-speed goes for $18,245, making it one of the nicest all-wheel-drive cars for under 20 grand, as well as one of the only all-wheel-drive cars for under 20 grand.In other words, Subaru probably could’ve cheapened it out and hit their sales targets anyway, so it’s admirable that they went in the other direction. In particular, dropping weight costs money, and the new Impreza’s diet included the increased use of pricier high-strength steel. The improved interior materials aren’t free, either, so it’s impressive that Subaru carried over the old base price.
However, when I don my green-tinted visor and take a gimlet-eyed look at the numbers, I spy an unlikely all-wheel-drive competitor for the newly suave Impreza: the Legacy. Depending on which trim level you choose, the Legacy can be cheaper than the Impreza. An Impreza 2.0i Limited costs $22,345, while a Legacy 2.5i Premium with the all-weather package goes for $22,220. And the Legacy is a bigger (but not much heavier) car, with 170 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission. Granted, a $22,000 Legacy wouldn’t have leather or a 36-mpg highway rating, but the price overlap will surely cause more than a few moments of introspection on Subaru lots across the land.
But if you’re reading this article, your Impreza thought process is probably off in another direction entirely. You’re thinking something that occurred to me more than once during my day in the Berkshires: This thing is going to make a hell of a WRX.