2022 Subaru BRZ Auto S Review

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Now and then, a vehicle comes along that’s unique, left of centre, not quite fitting the mould and perhaps a bit special. A vehicle that doesn’t follow the mundane convention of form and function. A vehicle whose essence reflects a philosophy of simplicity and purity, void of any unnecessary pomp or garnishes that may inhibit the unerring balance between raw performance and handling, that delivers an exhilarating and engaging drive for the most important person in the car, the driver.

Rather than radically moving the goalposts, Subaru has astutely avoided tampering with the driver-focused virtues of the original BRZ, thankfully keeping to the philosophy of less is more. Yet they have rewarded owners with refined driving and handling dynamics.

My test vehicle was the alluring 2022 BRZ Coupe S automatic finished in a striking Sapphire Blue Pearl. Crisp white C-shaped daytime running lights cut back into the alloy bonnet and front fenders, encasing directional LED headlamps set against a black facia to accentuate their Viper-styled appearance, which complement the lower large black three-blade air intake grille and recessed outer tear drop air ducts, giving this new BRZ a compelling appearance.

Side on, emphatic front and rear fenders highlight the aggressive 15mm lower stance and 10mm wider rear track. Add a swooping alloy roof line, with boldly pronounced side skirts that reduce body lift at speed, and functional wicked looking shark gills on the front quarter guards.

Plus imposing 10 spoke 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low-profile 215/40R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. The BRZ’s aerodynamic and chic new styling leave no doubt about its performance pedigree.

Subaru paid attention to feedback and drivers will appreciate the better rearward vision from the newly shaped wing mirrors and the fact they have taken the high mount stop light out of the rear window and mounted it in the boot lid—clever!

All too often, rear end styling is the weak link in the chain with tail-end aesthetics more of an afterthought than placing the finishing touches on an otherwise striking design. But Subaru has done a stellar job of achieving a stylish look comprising complex angles and seductive curves with a boot lid integrating a duck bill style spoiler rather than having it bolted on top. They’ve added bright chrome badge work, sassy LED taillights designed to create small vortices in the airflow for improved stability, and brutish dual exhausts mounted in a crisp black lower bumper cover that also houses the rear fog and reversing lights.

All of which works in perfect harmony with the rest of the vehicle’s beguiling good looks, generating admiring glances and nods of approval from onlookers at any angle.

Yes, it has an interior—and I say those few words with admiration, as it’s what the BRZ omits that makes it so damn good. You get exactly what’s needed and nothing that is not. The BRZ is comfortable; the front seats are snug without being restrictive, offering good hip and back support with plenty of adjustment at your fingertips to find that perfect position.

There’s no over the top piano black plastics or satin and chrome highlights splashed about this frugal cabin–this is a jet fighter cockpit; focused on giving the driver exactly what they need, pure and simple.

However, no one expects to forgo all the modern creature comforts just because they own a flirtatious sports car! Subaru has provided the usual niceties—Apple Car Play, Android Auto, digital radio (DAB+) as well as Bluetooth wireless technology, sat nav and vehicle settings, on an unpretentious, easy to use 8-inch central touchscreen.

Directly below the screen is the dual climate control with a cool factor of 10—because nothing screams performance more than large bright red LED rotary dials for fan and temp settings, plus a row of big, chunky function buttons across the bottom begging to be pushed… guaranteed to incite the inner kid in all of us. For a touch of class, there’s a leather clad steering wheel, handbrake and gear lever with the sporty highlights of red stitching, and heated front seats.

New to the BRZ is a 7-inch, customisable digital instrument cluster utilising a black-on-white theme for high visibility, boldly placing the tacho front and centre, with a speedo neatly in its middle. Dual side screens provide all relevant vehicle information at a glance, requiring minimal twisting of the head or eyes to reduce driver distraction. The driver can configure additional information, including a G-force monitor, lap timer, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) or a trick-looking graph showing power and torque outputs.

Let’s eliminate the practicality question. Yes, you can take a front passenger along to enjoy the ride. There’s room for drink bottles in the doors and small bits and bobs inside the neat bi-fold lid console which contains 2 USB and an AUX port for phone or audio connectivity. There’s also a standard 12v socket in the reasonably sized glovebox.

But the term “rear-seat” is a stretch of the imagination. Oh, it has one—best suited to a brief drive with a small child and their teddy bear. My wife’s petite friend attempted to get in and out of the back and looked like the Incredible Hulk trying to squeeze into a filing cabinet.

Open the boot and you’ll be spoilt for choice about where to place your lunch box. OK, there is 201L of space, but most of it is inside the horizontally mounted spare wheel, which is the perfect place to hold a soccer ball or small pot plant.

Never fear, you can plan a fun weekend away with your partner. Pull the release strap from inside the boot and “presto” the entire rear seat back rest drops forward to make an ironing board flat floor! Now I’m happy as I can imagine loading a couple of overnight bags, two warm jackets and taking off in the ultimate weekend escape machine for a blast down south to enjoy carving my way through picturesque winding back roads, visiting wineries and enjoying delicious food from the best restaurants. You can bet that I’m looking at B&Bs on my other screen while writing this!

Under that sleek tapered hood line sits a larger 2.4L natural aspirated flat boxer 4 cylinder, based on Subaru’s FA20 cylinder block. They achieved the increased capacity from the previous model by scalloping out the original bore diameters from 86mm to 94mm.

Leveraging both direct and port injection, it produces a judicious 174kW of urge and a prudent 250Nm of determination. That equates to an increase of 27kWs and 45Nms ready for application in our Auto-S variant. Not overly impressive numbers, I hear you say. Well, therein lies the magic of power to weight ratio.

To quote Lord Acton from the late 1800s in his letter to Bishop Mandell; or if you prefer Michael Douglas in the 1987 movie Wall Street… “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Or if you’re distracted thinking about fine food down south, let’s stick with the food analogy.

Skilled chefs respect it is the delicate blending and balance of flavours and textures, which creates a truly memorable dish. The BRZ doesn’t intimidate or scare the driver with brute force, neither is it ungainly like a heavy sword in the hands of a novice knight. The BRZ responds eagerly to every driver’s request. It’s not ostentatious or aggressive, but respectful and will reward good driver skills. It’s a vehicle that will happily doddle around in traffic all day, but engage playfully when you so desire.

Those subtle increases in power and torque haven’t changed the personality of the BRZ, but they have lifted and refined the nuances of this vehicle. Mid-range feels stronger, further extending the usable rpm range in a responsive and predictable delivery, meaning there’s no requirement to ring the beast’s neck to get usable power down to the ground, a common trait of peaky high rpm engines.

Purists will question the validity of an auto in what is traditionally the domain of the manual. It’s true, stirring the cogs yourself is one of life’s genuine pleasures for motoring enthusiasts. But not everyone wants that, and why shouldn’t we all have the choice on how we want to enjoy driving our BRZ?

Fitted with a performance-oriented six-speed automatic transmission and a floor mounted shifter mimicking a manual gear lever. With a joyful short throw in manual mode, it makes the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters redundant—I tried them once but was having too much fun with the tactile sensation of using a floor shift to rotate the ratios. Subaru has added extra clutch plates in the torque converter assembly, effectively harnessing the increase in engine power and torque to provide a more responsive reaction between throttle application and lift, achieving greater driver feedback and even faster gear shifts. Smart adaptive programming sensors monitor acceleration, braking input, and vehicle cornering, then calculate intended driver actions and road conditions to select the best ratio to extract maximum performance. Hooked up to a torque-sensing rear limited-slip differential (Torsen LSD) to reduce traction loss; you can feel the BRZ puts every available kW to good use.

Our Auto-S had three addition selectable drive modes: ‘SPORT’ enabling faster downshifting for improved engine braking and raising the trans RPM shift points for a sportier feel (my favourite!). Plus, a SNOW mode initiating second gear for take-off, to limit wheel slip on slippery surfaces and a Track mode which changed the driver instrumentation layout to a bar graph configuration making the gear indicator prominent and slowing the response of big brother’s vehicle control intervention, for a little more excitement.

Pushing the BRZ through some delightfully tight and twisted back roads and the cliché of “riding like its on rails” is so close to being achieved you can almost taste it. The chassis dynamics, available grip, nice weighting and feedback through the very direct electrically assisted rack and pinion steering are exceptionally well tied together with the revised spring and damper characteristics that better control compression and rebound of the independent MacPherson strut font end and double rear wishbone setup at the back.

You don’t have to be a petrol head to appreciate how well this new BRZ has taken full advantage of weight savings, improved rigidity and additional engine power and torque to improve every aspect of ride comfort, body roll and stability, across all manner of driving conditions.

The 2.4 is a lovely smooth free revving engine. Subaru’s active sound control pumps synthesized engine sound inside the cabin via a speaker mounted in the dashboard to provide a more authentic engine sound. As good as it is for those who love to engage all their driving senses, I wish they’d done a little more work with the exhaust system to extract that wonderful boxer growl. Think classic MG and that immediately identifiable intoxicating rasp, or the voluptuous baritone rumblings of an original mint condition V8 Triumph Stag and you’ll get the idea.

But there’s still plenty of driving pleasure, especially with windows down, auto in manual shift mode, turning through a tight bend, sinking the pedal to the carpet on exit and short shifting with the stubby gear lever as the tacho pings 6,000rpm, well short of the 7,500rpm redline.

As you enjoy that richer mid-range torque, acoustics and the tactile feedback from the steering as it reads the road surface in front of you, snatch the next ratio, keeping the power on before upshifting again and then once more… and, look at that, you’ve only just reached the speed limit.

Slow? Not at all. Engaging, exciting and interactive? Hell, yes!

It’s the only Subaru with a dedicated rear-wheel-drive layout. The resulting front to rear weight distribution of 53:47 respectively is what makes this vehicle so pin sharp and delightfully responsive. It kind-a makes you feel sorry for supercar owners who bring their beast out once in a blue moon (if the weather is fine) then struggle to find anywhere secluded enough to stretch its legs beyond second gear before obliterating their license!

I guess good things do come in small packages—and paying mega bucks doesn’t mean exclusive rights to fun behind the wheel!

Even the simplistic, old school vacuum booster operated hydraulic brakes with twin pot callipers grabbing 294mm ventilated discs up front, and single-pot units torturing equally large 290mm discs on the rear provides positive braking for the BRZ’s tare weight of a mini-me sized 1,270kg. You get to feel exactly what’s going on underneath, providing you with complete control over braking finesse. But there’s also brake assist controls to manage braking performance should vacuum assistance get too low.

Speaking of safety, all BRZs have the usual list of tech enhancements such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic, lane change and auto rear braking. However, at this point in time only our Auto S variant allowed the inclusion of Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist system adding the additional features of Pre-Collision Braking, Pre-Collision Brake Assist, Pre-Collision Throttle Management and Adaptive Cruise Control—which would add complexity for a manual transmission, requiring additional intervention on clutch control for disengagement during operation to avoid an engine stall. Probably doable, but not without considerable R&D for operational integrity and repeatable reliability.

Which may or may not have influenced Subaru’s decision to not test the new 2022 version against ANCAP’s more stringent criteria for safety assist systems such as AEB. They tested the previous BRZ back in 2012, receiving a full 5-star rating up to 2021. But with the Australian Government mandating AEB for all new cars, SUV and utes from 2023 there lies interesting times ahead.

Conclusion:

The BRZ has stunning good looks and a funky, quirky interior where any short comings in storage and practicality are irrelevant. It’s simple. You don’t buy a BRZ for its form factor; you buy one for the totally self-indulgent, youthful, regenerative fun factor. This is a car you want to own because you love to drive. From the moment you press the start button to when you park your BRZ back in the garage, you won’t be able to get that dumb smirk off your face.

Fast Facts:

Model: BRZ Coupe S (Automatic)

Price: $43,990

Engine: 2.4 litre Horizontally Opposed, Naturally Aspirated 4 Cylinder Petrol

Output: 174kW/250Nm

Transmission: 6 Speed Performance Auto

Fuel: Indicated 8.8L/100

ANCAP Safety Rating (Not yet tested)

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