Accidentally Green? Subaru BRZ Driven

There’s a horrible and rampant school of thought that enjoyment and environmental awareness are mutually exclusive ideals. And whilst Peugeot’s iOn is as likely to send shivers down your spine as a Tesla Model S is yield the crude and, let’s be honest, quite arousing timbre of a Mezger flat-six idling, those who have driven the aforementioned Tesla’s little brother with any sort of commitment will know how exhilarating the ‘green’ experience can actually be. Exhilarating enough to turn your complexion green.

Now I’m not going to pretend that the Subaru BRZ is the saviour of the planet – that would be absurd - and a car of its old-school ilk is a rare sight on these pages, but the philosophy that has precipitated its existence at all is a sizeable leap in the right direction. The BRZ is car making devolved and is all the better for it.

Toyota General Design Manager Akihiro Nagay says the car has its roots in go-karting

Devolution is a theme that’s slowly becoming more prevalent in design. It’s certainly more common in aesthetic design – interior and exterior styling, things we see and touch – but it’s a strategy that can also be applied to complex machinery. The Subaru BRZ, and its development sibling the Toyota GT86, are cases in point.  On the subject of this partnership, it’s not unusual for cars to be co-developed, but the romance between the two Japanese makers has paid dividends, and whilst Toyota’s ED2 studio in southern France is to thank for the waspish design, Subaru has developed and set up the car’s mechanicals at home in Japan.

The recipe is simple, effectual and cost effective, yet still elusive: a lightweight body, small capacity engine, rear-wheel drive and skinny tyres. Sending power to the rear alone is something Subaru have dabbled with just once before – with the company’s very first car, the 1500, in 1954 - and in the intervening fifty-eight years they’ve made their name selling turbocharged four-wheel drive rally homologations that were mostly unmatched for grip and pace at their respective price points.

All this gives the BRZ a decent, if not particularly spectacular, power-to-weight ratio, an impressive drag coefficient, almost perfect front-to-back rear weight distribution (despite no transaxle, à la Lexus LFA) and a car that feeds off the driver’s enthusiasm like an actor feeds off an audience’s emotions. It’s a real throwback, and cars like the BRZ are so unusual today that driving them feels like the first time you stepped behind the wheel of a car, and with it the invigorating novelty of an entire chassis responding to your specific inputs is rekindled. It’s something that’s conspicuous by its absence in the majority of cars we drive at the moment, with their convoluted chassis-management programs and 14-way adjustable electric seats. The BRZ is a massive, albeit nostalgic, revelation to drive with passion and leaves a long-lasting impression.

Skinny 215-section tyres set the lightweight RWD package alight

The BRZ isn’t just devolved in relation to other cars, though, as it has itself devolved over time. Its roots are in the hybrid Toyota FT-HS concept shown at the Detroit Motor Show in 2007 – a car that was both physically larger and equipped with a petrol-electric drivetrain that incorporated a generous 3.7-litre V6 engine. The BRZ is quite a lot smaller and lighter, and although it does without any electric motors, there’s no doubt which car makes more sense both environmentally and in the real world.  

The lightweight theme is crucial here, as it means a smaller engine can be used without sacrificing too much performance, which is ultimately this car’s raison d’être. At motorway speeds, in fact, the 2-litre boxer engine means the BRZ will easily manage over 40mpg and 35mpg is a reasonable target for everyday driving. I should warn, however, that ‘everyday’ driving in a BRZ is akin to choosing a straightjacket over a Savile Row suit.

Although the BRZ/GT86 saga began with the hybrid FT-HS concept, aesthetically it’s much truer to the Toyota FT-86 concept that broke cover at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show. The FT-86 also previewed the eventual decision to use the 200bhp flat-four engine that’s in this car. Inspiration for the design came largely, as you might expect, from the celestial 1967 Toyota 2000GT – a car whose low, aluminium coachwork made even a Ferrari 275 look a little ponderous. The BRZ’s pinched lines and the glut of visual weight at the back leave the car looking uncomfortable, however, and that’s a shame as beauty, brains and brawn are a rare combination. Subaru have come close.

If you’ve ever owned a Japanese car you’ll immediately feel at home inside, where function strictly follows form (although it’s ominously easy to accidentally depress the traction control button) and creature comforts are scarce. At the car’s price bracket, the fit and finish leave more than a little to be desired, but overall the BRZ wears its austerity well.

Interior quality isn't a match for the Germans, but ergonomics are excellent

The BRZ is a comprehensive example of what can be achieved when the focus is put on essential components and not overcomplication. At first this makes the BRZ seem a little spartan, but you quickly realise that the car does what it was intended to do so well that any equipment shortcomings are quickly forgotten.

Subaru’s BRZ is not the answer – which arguably lies in hydrogen-powered vehicles – but given that crude oil is here for the immediate future, it is an answer. Lightweight, frugal and fun, this is the sort of car from which enthusiasts should be getting their fix.

Engine: 1998cc 4-cyl boxer Power: 200 @ 7000rpm Torque: 151lb ft @ 6400rpm 0-60mph: 7.6s Top Speed: 140mph Emissions: 181g/km CO2 Economy: 36.2mpg combined Kerb Weight: 1230kg Price: £24,995

You may also like...

Mazda MX-5 Venture Edition

Range Rover Evoque eD4 Driven

Trident Iceni at Salon Privé

Lexus: Making Hybrids Desirable