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2013 SUBARU BRZ: A BRZ to drive

Subaru coupe takes a purist's approach to sports cars

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2013 Subaru BRZ

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In addition to looking great from every angle, the Subaru BRZ is fun to drive.

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The instrument panel features a large, centre-mounted tachometer that integrates a digital speedo.

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Allow me to dispense with any pretense of journalistic objectivity in matters related to Subaru's highly anticipated sports coupe, the BRZ.

I want one! Now!

Far too seldom comes a car with nearly all of the precepts I hold sacrosanct for a sporting machine -- drop-dead looks enhanced by a classic long hood and short deck profile, light weight, rear-wheel drive, superior handling and grip, a zippy engine and -- the big one -- affordability ($27,295 to start).

Yes, there are a few niggles, but none of them detracts from the driving experience. The BRZ (and, no doubt, its Scion FR-S near-twin) is a thoroughly modern performance vehicle that still manages to rekindle memories of cars from my youth.

The only disappointment is my test vehicle had the optional six-speed manumatic transmission and not the manual. Call me old-school, but paddle shifters do not offer the same seat-of-the-pants driver/vehicle interaction as rowing a shifter through the gates.

Plus, if you keep your foot in it and allow the engine to redline, the manual-equipped BRZ accelerates faster to 100 kilometres an hour -- 7.7 seconds versus 8.4 seconds for the manumatic, according to Subaru (or about a second quicker if you read the U.S. buff books).

Mollifying the disappointment ever so slightly is that the upshifts are instantaneous, while downshifts come with blipping control to mimic the sports-car experience.

Now, more about the one issue with which motorheads have been clogging the blogosphere: the BRZ's supposed lack of power and aforementioned weak acceleration times. Sure, if you want blistering straight-line speed, the BRZ, with its 200-horsepower 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder, isn't going to cut it. You'll have to wait for the twin-turbo diesel hybrid convertible promised for 2015.

Putting things in perspective, though, the BRZ is in the same class power-wise as the Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Honda Civic Si and the Volkswagen GTI, similarly priced sporting cars. (A major crimp in this argument, however, is the Hyundai Genesis 2.0T and its 274-hp turbocharged 2.0L engine.) But Subaru made its intentions clear from the outset it was pursuing a "purist's" approach to sports cars with the BRZ, eschewing the focus on ultimate power, luxury and performance -- and the resultant weight penalty.

Certainly, with a large proportion of high-strength steel used throughout its body, plus aluminum for the hood, the BRZ's 1,255-kilogram weight (for the manual; another 21 kg for the automatic) is decidedly trim for a modern car. More important -- and the key to its agility -- is the BRZ has a super-low centre of gravity -- just 459 millimetres, due in part to the boxer engine's inherently low design height and its placement.

Now, throw in a front suspension with the struts mounted low for a low hood line, a front strut brace, a double-wishbone rear suspension and electric power steering with a quick 13:1 steering ratio and you have a VIP card for Party Central when it comes to twisting tarmac.

The Sube absolutely devours decreasing-radius turns with a tenacity that would impress a Porsche owner, and that's shod with relatively narrow P215/45R17 Michelin Primacy HP summer rubber. A Torsen limited-slip differential helps the inside wheel maintain traction during fast cornering. Plus, there's the vehicle stability control and traction control systems (which can be turned off) and a Sport mode that allows a driver to dial up the fun factor.

Said handling tenacity doesn't come with a punishing ride, either; the BRZ provides intimate contact with the road without compressing your spine like an accordion. Also, one rose-tinted aspect of the sports coupe's low ride height is that, much like others of its ilk (think Mini Cooper), it exaggerates the sensation of speed -- you feel like a scofflaw even while keeping it legal.

Subaru describes the cabin as a "simple, elegant approach to interior design." I'd classify it as Spartan at best. The sport seats are the best feature, being both very comfortable and heavily bolstered for track-day shenanigans. Drivers will also welcome the three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

The instrument panel features a large, centre-mounted tachometer with a hard-to-read analogue speedometer to its left. Fortunately, the tach integrates a digital speedo that is clearly visible. A 6.1-inch touchscreen for the audio/navigation system is located in the centre portion of the dash and looks as though it was added as an afterthought. It also defies easy use.

The rear seatback folds flat to expand the space offered in the trunk. With the seats up, the trunk offers a minuscule 6.9 cubic feet of room, but with the seatback folded down, there is supposedly enough room for two standard golf bags. I don't play golf, but I do go to the supermarket. As long as you don't buy toilet paper in bulk, the BRZ will pass for a grocery-getter.)

As for the rear seats, Subaru says they will accommodate front-facing child seats, wisely not claiming an adult will actually fit back there.

The true beauty of the BRZ is it's a sports car for modern times. It's not burdened with impractical horsepower it doesn't need. What's available is fully usable while still being fuel-efficient -- I averaged a fuel economy of 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres during my time with the car.

Meanwhile, the Sube's handling makes even the most ordinary driver feel like a hero. The Genesis 2.0T -- which is probably the BRZ's (and FR-S's) closest competitor -- is a more complete sports coupe in terms of amenities, but, while a decent road car, it's not in the same league as the Subaru on the track.

The greatest satisfaction I've had with a car in the last year is in Porsche's redesigned Boxster S. The Subaru BRZ comes a close second and, with a sticker price less than half of that of the roadster, goes to show one doesn't need big bucks to own a track star.

-- Postmedia News

THE SPECS

TYPE OF VEHICLE: Rear-wheel-drive sports coupe

ENGINE: 2.0L DOHC boxer four-cylinder

POWER: 200 hp @ 7,000 rpm; 151 lb-ft of torque @ 6,400 rpm

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual (optional six-speed manumatic)

BRAKES: Four-wheel disc with ABS

TIRES: P215/45R17

WHEELBASE: 257 cm

CURBWEIGHT: 1,255 kg

TRANSPORT CANADA FUEL ECONOMY: (L/100 km): 8.3 city, 5.9 hwy.

PRICE: base/as tested $27,295/$28,495

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