It’s easy to write off the 2017 Subaru BRZ, which was updated this year, as being only slightly improved. Several carefully chosen engine tweaks net Subaru’s nippy little sports car just 5 horsepower and 5 lb-ft of torque more than before. There also were some structural enhancements here and there that made the sort of difference that Subaru can’t be bothered to calculate in percentages of improved chassis stiffness. Yet the road feel is remarkably improved, particularly from behind the wheel of a BRZ equipped with the optional Performance package.
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An $1195 option available only for the $28,465 Limited trim with the six-speed manual transmission, the Performance package effectively results in a car costing $3345 more than the base BRZ Premium. And forget about it if you eschew clutch pedals. The hardware includes larger 12.8-inch front and 12.4-inch rear brake rotors (up from 11.6 and 11.4) clamped by Brembo four-piston front and dual-piston rear calipers, along with Sachs dampers and 17-inch wheels that are 7.5 inches wide rather than the standard 7.0 inches.
That list looks thin, but the equipment plays well with the subtle updates made to every 2017 BRZ. Engine tweaks include a revised airbox feeding a tuned aluminum intake manifold, freer-flowing exhaust, camshaft and valvetrain surfaces that have been through an intense polishing process to reduce friction, and a different tune for the direct-fuel-injection pump to reduce parasitic loss. In the chassis, revisions include reinforced mounting points for the front strut-tower brace, the transmission, and the rear struts, as well as a rear anti-roll bar that’s 1.0 millimeter larger in diameter, revised spring rates, and a reprogrammed stability-control system that’s less intrusive than before.
The cabin of the 2017 BRZ feels more upscale, continuing a trend for Subaru as a whole, but driving enthusiasts of the sort who care most about this review will focus on the smaller-diameter steering wheel that now features built-in audio controls; these were added in response to owner feedback. If you’re not a fan of electrically assisted steering, the 2017 BRZ won’t convert you. Still, its accuracy is quite good, allowing the driver to aim the car precisely and displaying none of the rubbery hysteresis found in many electrically assisted systems.
The 2017 car feels quicker than before—and it is, by 0.1 second to 60 mph according to our testing—which we’ll credit to sharper throttle mapping in conjunction with a new 4.30:1 final-drive ratio on manual-transmission cars (the previous BRZ had a 4.10:1 ratio). If you’re looking to feel the meager difference in power from the engine itself, we suggest starting your Whole30 program the day you take delivery of your BRZ.
First, Change the Tires
The roads we took from downtown Granada, Spain, to the nearby Circuito de Guadix racetrack were layered with dust that meant that even the BRZ’s puny 156 lb-ft of torque was plenty to make the car squirrely in ways that weren’t always comfortable. Some interesting (and unintentional) drifts were unnerving and not entirely the fault of the Michelin Primacy HP tires.
We do have to talk about those tires, however: The Performance package gets the same size brakes as the roughly 600-pound-heavier WRX STI, some surprisingly capable Sachs dampers, and slightly wider wheels but the same rubber. With the added braking power and suspension competence, the wheel-and-tire package ultimately lets the BRZ down. Anything with a Performance label should start with capable rubber; this one will make you scream for stickier high-performance tires.
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That said, the mismatch of the tires to the rest of the car’s capabilities showcases just how balanced and neutral this BRZ actually is. It makes it possible to hang on the line between understeer and oversteer for what feels like days; breathe ever so slightly off the gas to get those few degrees of nose-in, and then get back on to aim the little car on corner exit as you mat the accelerator with confidence, knowing the 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder isn’t going to dump a ton of power down the driveline. Forget straightaway speed, as the overall experience is much more like driving a well-balanced classic British sports car—but without the unplanned pit stops. It might even make Colin Chapman blush. Although let down by the tires, the Performance package’s brakes are powerful, and the pedal feel, height, and spacing are ideally matched to the rest of the factory footgear, which makes heel-and-toe downshifting easy and fun. Everyone’s a pro on corner entry in a BRZ.
The on-track balance of the BRZ Performance pack brings to mind the Acura Integra Type R of 20 years ago, another niche variant that didn’t look like much on paper but which took advantage of well-chosen little tweaks and upgrades to make something that transcended its parts manifest. The Acura’s VTEC engine was more exciting but less powerful than the BRZ’s, and, yes, it was a front-wheel-drive car, but its appeal similarly rested in the understanding of how to maximize driving pleasure.
It takes gifted chassis specialists to understand how to make all these elements play together so well. Subaru should take it as a compliment that the internet chorus consistently screams, “More power!”—it’s a testament to the BRZ’s exemplary chassis. The Performance package allows more leeway than ever for a horsepower boost. But the focus of the BRZ has always been handling and balance. If you accept the BRZ on its own terms, you won’t need convincing. If you’ve been on the fence, this Performance package could push you right off it. Warning: You’ll be shopping for aftermarket turbocharger kits long before the factory tires wear out.
From: Car and Driver