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A review of the 2013 Subaru BRZ Premium: no turbo or AWD needed for big fun

The 2013 Subaru BRZ departs from the company’s traditional recipe for success of combining turbocharging and all wheel drive so while it is a very different sort of fun than Subaru owners get out of vehicles like the WRX STI – the BRZ is one of the most exciting sports cars available in the US.


When Subaru announced that they would be building a non-turbocharged, rear wheel drive sports car in cooperation with Toyota, a great many Subaru loyalists questioned the legitimacy of the BRZ. When you think about a sport minded Subaru vehicle, all wheel drive and a turbocharged 4-cylinder instantly come to mind so the naturally aspirated, rear wheel drive BRZ was near-blasphemous to some. However, you only need to spend a few minutes behind the wheel of the 2013 Subaru BRZ to get a very clear message that you don’t need a turbo or all wheel drive to have an incredibly exciting sports car.

I have driven the Scion FR-S quite a bit and I loved every second behind the wheel of that version of the Toyota-Subaru joint venture so I expected that I would like the Subaru BRZ just as much. I was right. The BRZ offers every bit of the raw driving energy that you get from the Scion with a sporty exterior, a cockpit-like interior and a drivetrain that also delivers really impressive fuel economy.

Since the 2013 Subaru BRZ is so much like the Scion FR-S, my review of the BRZ will take a slightly different approach than usual – highlighting the few differences between the two in addition to looking at what makes the BRZ so much fun to drive. For comparison’s sake, you can click here to read my full review of the 2013 Scion FR-S.

The Exterior of the 2013 Subaru BRZ
The 2013 Subaru BRZ is identical in its basic form to the Scion FR-S but that isn’t a bad at all. Everything about the exterior design of the Subaru BRZ just screams sports car – from the long, low hood between the bulging front fenders to the short roofline, quick rear glass and the elevated rear end. The aspects of design that make the BRZ and the FR-S so sporty are the same but there are some sublte features here and there to allow them to stand out from each other.

BRZ front end

The most significant physical difference between the 2013 Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S is the front fascia, where the Subaru has a nose that looks a bit more subdued than the Scion. The BRZ has a large central grille flanked by a pair of ducts that carry the signal lights but unlike the Scion fascia that extends out away from the headlights, the BRZ fascia has more of a rounded, fluid design.

The large center section of the BRZ grille is a different shape than the FR-S grille with the upper portion filled in with a thick black bar that gives the rear drive Subbie a very different look from the Scion without hurting aerodynamics or cooling. Also, the “filler” of the grille and corner vents use horizontal bars in the Subaru where the FR-S has a mesh design. The front end design of the BRZ gives the car a wider, less aggressive look when parked next to the Scion FR-S but for someone who doesn’t prefer the vertical lines of the Scion – the BRZ front end is a nice change.

Looking at the sides of the 2013 Subaru BRZ, you see the same sleek lines that I loved on the Scion FR-S with the only difference being the horizontal grille on the trailing edge of the front fenders. This black vent on the BRZ is a body colored panel on the Scion with the Toyota GT86 “boxer” logo so as was the case with the front end – the changes between the two come down to personal preference. The side profile if the BRZ is possibly its most enticing angle for lovers of sports car design. The hulking fenders flanking both sides of the low, long hood flow back into a slippery roofline that peaks right over the front seats to allow for plenty of headroom for someone wearing a racing helmet. The roofline peaks for just an instant before sloping quickly back down in a fastback design that runs back to the short trunklid.

BRZ rear end

Out back, the 2013 Subaru BRZ is identical to the Scion FR-S with the exception of the badging. The BRZ wears a set of 3D taillights that extend out away from the body with a clear outer lens and colored interior lens in a similar fashion to the Scion - a design that looks terrific on both cars. Along the bottom of the rear fascia is a contrasting black diffuser that houses the standard dual exhaust tips along with the backup lights and a triangular red reflector. This black diffuser setup is the key feature to the BRZ’s rear end as it really gives the car a higher end, almost supercar-like look and in doing so – it cements the aggressive design of the Subaru sports coupe.

Subaru has never had a real contender in the 2-door sports coupe segment (no offense intended to Alcyone/XT owners) but that hasn’t stopped the company from offering a show-stopping coupe in the form of the 2013 Subaru BRZ. This joint venture with Toyota has proven to be a masterful decision for both companies and the BRZ offers the same great looks as the Scion model with a slightly less aggressive front end that may not love the angular nose of the FR-S. Most importantly, the BRZ offers these minor changes in a way that doesn’t take away from the basic good looks that has taken the world by storm…which is why the BRZ has shared so many awards around the world with the Scion FR-S.

The Interior
The 2013 Subaru BRZ interior takes a slightly more upscale form than the Scion FR-S and the centerpiece of the changes is the standard touchscreen infotainment screen mounted high on the dash. This screen controls the sound system and the navigation system in a compact package and while it does present a very clean layout to the infotainment controls – the fact that it is only touchscreen makes for difficult changing of the radio station while driving.

The only traditional controls are the buttons to choose between audio, Bluetooth phone or navigation along with a knob for the volume control and everything else is controlled via the touch screen. That inconvenience aside, the Subaru touchscreen system works very smoothly whether you are making a call, listening to the radio or programming a destination in the nav system…although I would recommend doing so while you are stopped if you don’t have a copilot to handle the infotainment controls for you.

The other key difference between the FR-S and the BRZ is the interior trim where the Subaru features a brushed metal look along the face of the dash where the Scion has a low gloss carbon fiber look. Overall, the BRZ has a slightly more upscale look to the interior design compared to the sportier FR-S.

BRZ interior

Aside from the touchscreen infotainment package, the 2013 Subaru BRZ takes the same function before form design as the FR-S with very few unneeded frills. My BRZ test car was a Premium model so unlike the higher end Limited package that includes a higher tech dual zone climate control system, the BRZ Premium has a nice and easy HVAC system with three basic knobs – one for temperature, one for fan aim control and one for fan speed. The gauge cluster beyond the small, leather wrapped steering wheel has a massive central tachometer with a digital speedometer tucked within along with an integrated (and adjustable) shift light while a larger analog speedometer and a combo fuel/temperature gauge flank the big tachometer. You can pick the engine RPM at which the shift light illuminates so during stints of spirited driving, there is no need to take your eyes off of the road.

The Subaru BRZ features the same cloth race inspired seats as the Scion FR-S and that are finished entirely in black with contrasting red stitching that is echoed in the steering wheel and shift boot. These seats offer a true race-like feel that will keep the driver and front passenger anchored down even when the car is hitting turns as hard as possible. More importantly to those who don’t spend much time on the track, these sporty seats are comfortable and inviting so you will be just as comfy on a long highway drive as you are on a dash around the track. With the front seats set for a 6 foot tall driver and passenger to have plenty of leg room, the rear seating spaces don’t offer much leg room for rear riders. Children will easily fit in the back seats but the driver and front passenger will need to sacrifice some leg room in order to accommodate adult passengers in the back seat.

Even with the low roofline and the relatively small form of the BRZ, there is still a ton of elbow, head and knee room for the front riders so even taller drivers and passengers will be very comfortable in the front seats. In the long run, the back seat doesn’t serve much purpose in terms of people hauling but neither does any other sports car on the market so I have a hard time really finding fault with the BRZ due to the small back seat. This isn’t a car designed to drive a big family around but for a couple with a small child or two – this interior will work until those kids get a bit bigger.

BRZ seats

The 2013 Subaru BRZ is a little light in rear seating space but there is little else to complain about with this compact sports coupe. There is a ton of space for the driver and passenger with sport seats that offer everything that you need for a Sunday cruise along a mountain road or a hard romp on a road course…with an injection of modern technology in the form of the Subaru touchscreen infotainment system. This is an interior that pulls you in and makes you want to hit the road and drive hard.

The Drive
My 2013 Subaru BRZ Premium coupe was fitted with the same 2.0L Boxer 4-cylinder engine as the Scion FR-S sending 200 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via a standard manual transmission and a Torsen rear differential. On paper, the BRZ looks to be a little light on power but just a quick spin in the BRZ shows that you don’t need huge power to have a sports car that offers an incredible driving experience. This isn’t a car that is going to beat up many American muscle cars in a straight line but the low center of gravity and the low curb weight make this one of the best handling sports cars in America.

The suspension system of the 2013 Subaru BRZ is said to have slightly softer spring rates than the Scion FR-S and that equates to a slightly smoother ride on the highway with less road noise transferred into the interior with the only downside to that being slightly more “give” in the turns. However, I used the word “slightly” over and over again to point out just how minimal the differences between the two Toyobaru coupes really are so unless you have driven both vehicles extensively – you wont notice any real difference between the two. The BRZ seems a bit less willing to throw the back end out than the FR-S so those who want to spend a bunch of time drifting might opt for the Scion but the Subaru offers every bit of the all-out handling abilities as the FR-S – or any other affordable (not including supercars) sports car on the market today. This is a car that you can literally throw into turns as hard as you want and the BRZ holds the road like it is on a rail. This is a car that can hit turns hard enough to get the passenger gasping and reaching for the door mounted grab handle but this is also a car that will handle those turns confidently…although it will also happily get sideways with a little extra throttle input from the driver. Also, the braking system is quick to pull the car back under control just in case the driver gets a little too overzealous in the twisties.

The short throw to the manual transmission shifter allows for gear banging fun and a shocking amount of accelerations even with “only” 200 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque so while the BRZ won’t beat some of the V8 muscle cars down the quarter mile – it still is gobs of fun to launch and pound through the gears. The clutch is tight and very sensitive, just the kind of clutch feel that you would expect from a modern sports car but it also allows for comfortable daily driving so this car can serve as a car that you would drive to work every day while also very confidently serving as a weekend track toy.

BRZ side

There are a great many muscle car lovers who question the relatively low amount of power of the 2013 Subaru BRZ but when you look at this rear drive sports coupe for what it is – one of the best handling cars in the American market – it makes good on every promise made. Japanese sports cars have historically focused more on performance through lightweight construction paired with a well tuned chassis and the BRZ is a beautiful example of this type of automotive engineering. At the end of the day, this is one of the most entertaining cars that I have ever driven and having driven pretty much every affordable sports car available in the US today – that is saying a lot. It handles like it’s on a rail, it will drift with a bit of clutch manipulation and it will serve as a great daily driver with a smooth ride and real world fuel economy capabilities that topped 30mpg during my testing.

The Final Word
The 2013 Subaru BRZ might not be an ideal family vehicle or drag strip monster but what it does – it does very, very well. This is one of the best handling cars I’ve driven and the BRZ is right at home whether you are on an intricate road course or the wide open road but the most important aspect is that this car drives so beautifully without compromising the basic comfort needed from a good daily driver. This is a car designed for someone who loves to drive and while it doesn’t offer the straight line performance of the American muscle cars, the Subaru BRZ offers just as much driving excitement in its own special way.

If you love to drive, the Subaru BRZ is a car that you have to drive before making your next purchase. If you love to cut through the sharpest of turns confidently in a car that just seems to beg to be driven harder – the BRZ is a car that will put a smile on your face just like it did for me. While you might have to call on the aftermarket to make this lightweight rear drive sports coupe more competitive in the world of drag racing, those who want a car that will always go exactly where you point the nose will surely find that the BRZ offers stock handling capacities like few affordable cars in the US market.