2017 Subaru BRZ Review

Subaru is giving the black sheep of its lineup a refresh: The BRZ gets more performance, a better interior, and feels more refined.

But let’s address the elephant in the room. Power has not been significantly increased. Manual transmission models get a five horsepower nudge, for a total of 205 ponies and 156 lb-ft of torque. And while this car gets new internals to support that extra juice, Subaru insists that the more durable and beefier engine components are standard operating procedure when refining a motor, and that the upgrades haven’t been made to prepare for the high-horsepower STI model that enthusiasts are dreaming of.

These changes deliver a slight change to the engine’s sound — it sounds like it just cleared its throat after being choked up and nervous the first few years of its life. The BRZ is an awkward fit in the Subaru lineup, featuring rear-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive and a less-than-practical two-door setup, whereas the rest of Subaru’s offerings are far friendlier for those looking for a daily driver. Fortunately, there’s still a tangible need for the BRZ. It’s an honest sports car in a world full of heavy, high-tech, turbocharged, point-and-shoot cars. This rear-wheel-drive coupe still weighs in at well under 3,000 pounds, has a responsive naturally aspirated engine, and begs to be revved out and shifted often (at redline.)

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Other Upgrades

Technical changes are plentiful, considering this is a mere refresh. In addition to the engine upgrades, the manual transmission gets a shorter final gear ratio, which means that there’s a bit more mid-range responsiveness and a bit more engine speed in sixth gear. You may also notice the need to change gears a bit more often, too.

The front and rear suspension have been revised, with the car sporting new bushings, differential mounts, modified rear stabilizer bars and improved coil spring rates. These changes, in addition to revised damping tuning, means that the car is smoother on the road, but still as responsive as always.

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To test these performance enhancements, we hit the track with the 2017 Subaru BRZ, and the results were nothing short of impressive.

Those looking for more confidence in a sports car, however, can get the new performance package, which includes an even sportier suspension and bigger brakes. It sounds like a must-have for anyone considering tracking their car, but Northerners should be warned, as there’s no such package available in Canada. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to test the new package yet. Wait for it to arrive later this year.

On the Track

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On the track, the five extra horsepower is barely noticeable, but the car does respond better. It revs a bit more urgently and that shorter final drive ratio is clearly working to the car’s advantage. The transmission is still nice and notchy, with easy-to-find gates, but the light clutch and lack of feedback with the pedal hasn’t been addressed.

The suspension feels nice and progressive. The car can still rotate, but it does so a bit more predictably than before. Even without the performance package, the coupe is still a blast around the track, and has a more planted feel that is less harsh than the last time we drove this car.

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The steering is still among the best electric power-assisted setups in the industry, and the car clearly communicates to the driver exactly what is happening at all four corners of the car. “I’m sliding,” it will squeal at one corner. “This is understeer,” it shudders in another. “You lined up that corner perfectly,” it will say as it screams to redline. Every lap, the car rewards you for exploring a bit closer to your limit.

A new stability control program is standard on the car. Called Track mode, it replaces the old Sport mode. Subaru has dialed back the intervention in this mode, and any braking it applies feels natural and hardly abrupt. The car is still able to hold a nice drift while using this setting. Hey, what can I say? I was encouraged to test out the new mode very thoroughly!

Styling Refresh

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Sadly, the slippery stock tires are still fitted to the car, but there are new wheels, making for a stylish upgrade. That’s not the only stylish change on the car. A revised front and rear bumper are also found, along with updated head and tail lights. The car now uses LEDs for everything, promising lower energy consumption and bright illumination. There’s a new standard spoiler that doesn’t obstruct rearward visibility, STI-style, and actually improves aerodynamics. The fender accent has been changed from a single blade to a new dual blade look, and the interior has been touched up as well.

Our example had a carbon-fiber textured trim, while higher trim level models featured leather accents on the dash and door panels. The new steering wheel is outfitted with entertainment controls, which some drivers will appreciate. A more tangible upgrade is the available new multifunction display that can show information like distance to empty, lap times, G-forces and horsepower/torque figures. It’s a slick screen and a great addition to the car. There’s been no significant upgrade with the infotainment system. BRZ models get a screen similar to the base Forester and Impreza, which means it comes without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility.

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What’s the Point Without the Power?

There’s no way to address the fact that enthusiasts want more power out of this car, and Subaru hasn’t done that. The track we used to evaluate the car featured some elevation changes, and some extra power and torque would have been really appreciated. However, there’s also a sense of satisfaction with the BRZ, that comes when you line up the track perfectly. The car feels faster when you drive it the right way. It teaches you how to use its light weight and agile handling with every lap turned. This is something that’s missing from point-and-shoot, high-horsepower cars. Those give you the thrills without the experience that you earn from learning the car and the track. The BRZ has a lesson to teach and it’s a gratifying one. If you want to go fast without thinking, get another car, like a Mustang, Camaro, or WRX. The BRZ requires you to be involved and a willing student. Pricing is a big part of the BRZs story too. In America the car is under is $26,315 including delivery. In Canada it’s $27,995 not including freight and destination.

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The Verdict: 2017 Subaru BRZ Review

On the road, the BRZ is a blast. It’s smooth, fun, good looking and balanced. These traits translate nicely on the track, where you can explore your limits and the limits of the car quickly and easily, without any fears. This 2017 model is the same rear-wheel-drive sports car we’ve loved for the past five years, but slightly refined to deliver more of what we liked about it.

Discuss this story on our Subaru BRZ Forum

  • Haveaniceday

    Hate the lawn mower sound these things make.

  • Mark S

    Getting to the point where I wince when I see BRZ or 86 articles on websites, because of the torrent of “more power” from the non-owners. Like if the car makers magically add 50hp and 100 lbs ft, these folks would suddenly buy these cars…. Apart from the expense of a turbo and the effect on the handling, just fitting the plumbing in the BRZ is a task and half when u compare the engine bay in the WRX vs BRZ. That said, if a special small volume edition was to be made with more power, there would be a some folks willing to pay for this warranty bestowed car vs adding the snail after market and voiding the warranty – my guess is we are talking $35 to 40k though, pricey.

    Like what Subie has done for the most part – the spoiler is far more appealing that the old one. Not a fan of buttons on steering wheels – I like the current wheel that has nothing on it, nice and clean. Wish they would get rid of the analogy speedometer, or at least alter the range to make it useful, I rely on the digital.

  • GTfrank

    It sounds tons better with the sound tube plugged. Cold Air intake also gives the car a wonderful deep growl above 4000 rpm. Finally after the warranty is up unequal headers add about 10 hp without a tune almost 20 hp with a tune and make the boxer sound like a small block V8.

  • I’m really torn on the power issue. On the one hand, it would be easy (though maybe not as easy on the fleet environmental stats) to sell a supercharged version of this car that would be up ~70hp and ~50ftlb. Several aftermarket companies offer kits that will do this for a few thousand bucks, and their tunes are mild and work even on CA 91-octane swill. At around 300hp (plus a commensurate increase in torque), these cars would be little monsters– easily capable of scooting sideways everywhere on command, and would provide enough power to avoid feeling sluggish on highways and steeper canyon roads.

    On the other hand, there’s a certain charm to driving a car that needs to be flogged to go remotely quickly. I bought a 997.1 Carrera a month or two ago (~325hp / 270ft/lb on a 3,075-lb car). That car is significantly faster than the BRZ (9.5lbs/hp compared to the BRZ’s 13.8lbs/hp), but I have mixed feelings about it: the power is great, and the power is terrible. Merging onto freeways or just powering around other traffic: super easy (especially when you retain your BRZ habit of dropping a couple of gears when you want power!). Absolutely tearing up canyon roads when you’ve got a clear bit of road ahead of you? Wonderful! The sound of that flat six screaming up to 7500rpm? Totally horny and absolutely glorious. When you’ve got a road to yourself and you want to drive hard, the Porsche’s power absolutely feels like a good match for the car (tyre:power/chassis ratio is appropriate) and for the road (you can use full throttle for a good long time between corners without terrifying yourself or doing a thousand miles an hour).

    But the Porsche’s power is not without its downsides. Accelerating onto a freeway may give you an erection, but it’s tough to keep that erection from lasting longer than four hours: the car will effortlessly and sedately creep up towards 100mph in sixth gear. Cruise control becomes a requirement to keep yourself from going to jail, and any time you’ve not got it set to 75, every other car on the road just feels like A) it’s parked, and B) it’s begging to be blown past in whatever lane is open.

    On “side” roads– the kind of twisty, enjoyable road still in civilization that you might use as a more interesting way to get to a typical daily destination– the Porsche is a troublemaker: if you go a remotely responsible speed, or if you’re unfortunate enough to encounter other traffic, the car makes you feel frustrated because you’re unable to exploit much of its potential. And I don’t mean you can’t drive 10/10ths, because that’s never a good idea on public roads; I mean you often feel like you can’t even drive 5/10ths. You can run out first gear and then you get a brief burst of second, but you can’t even hold that to redline because you’ll be going over 70mph by the time you need third. The BRZ tops out at about 58 in second, which may not seem like a huge difference on paper but feels hugely different when charging down some vaguely-residential road in the foothills. You can use more of the BRZ’s performance more of the time.

    TL;DR: A supercharged BRZ would be easy and would feel like a miniature GT3. Unfortunately, more manic-ness is a bit of a double-edged sword.

  • Mark S

    That a great detailed comment. I was lucky enough to drive a Boxster and a Cayman, definitely the sound past 5000 RPM is seriously addictive even without PSE fitted. The base cars take some go pedal action so you do get to hear that great sound a fair bit until you are cruising along. Of course on the other extreme with say the Turbo’s etc. a driver rarely gets chance to open up them up to full chat on a public road.
    If money grew on trees to purchase, maintain and cover the warranty I would have a base Cayman or 911 above the BRZ/FR-S: the noise and the handling of those Porsches are amazing attributes. Also you can get them with the adjustable suspension and a few other niceties. Would agree you get to use more of the performance in the BRZ than any Porsche product and I like the driving the slow car fast cliché, but a base Cayman handling (like an Elise) is something else.
    I think the FR-S (my current fun car) is great value for money, new and used, maintenance is very reasonable and while it lacks straight line power, it is plenty enough for some fun driving. Of course even in the FR-S you can get a speeding ticket! On the freeway, I kind of like the downshifting to overtake – keeps me alert. My old GTI was press and go on the freeway (the magic of turbo torque), which also great, but kind of less involving. Add forced induction to the FR-S, upgrading the parts to match the increased powers, would increase the MSRP and move the FR-S up into the area where other RWD’s exist (BMW 228i for example). Am sure some folks will buy a more powerful $35k plus FR-S, but not sure Toybaru would see the car suddenly become the Honda Civic of the RWD world. Maybe as some kind of Halo car it could work.
    You have a great canyon carver in that 997.1, stick with it and maybe see with your local PCA chapter has track/autocross days. The local PCA here in Central Coast Cali seems very active and they get a great attendance and even allow non PCA members to go to their local autocross days. What is more, with the exception of the 996, the 911’s have seriously stubborn residuals (and even 996’s are not super cheap nowadays).

  • The 86 is incredible in terms of value for money. Did I mention in my previous post that the 911 is replacing a ’13 BRZ? I’ve had mine for three years and loved every minute of it. In many ways it’s similar to the 911: rear seats to use in a pinch, plenty of room for cargo, small overall footprint, comfortable for daily driving, etc. Very practical as well as great fun!

    The main reason I elected to change cars is that I’ve gotten to the point where I’d need to do powertrain modifications to keep driving the car faster. I’ve done wheels / tyres / coilovers / swaybars / misc other suspension and chassis stuff. Haven’t touched the drivetrain. But I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable enough in the car that I’m driving it hard enough on weekend drives to run out of oil cooling capacity. I had a proper sit-down and seriously considered a supercharger and supporting cooling gear, but sinking another ~$8k into the car didn’t seem prudent.

    Even without considering further changes to the BRZ, cost of ownership over the next few years after accounting for depreciation (still a lot to go on the BRZ, probably not much on the 911) and fixed costs (crazy-high insurance premium for the BRZ– the 911 is actually cheaper to insure by a significant margin!) look very close for the two cars. Given the same expenses, it seemed like trying a 911 was the way to go! I’ve been lucky enough to drive a number of 911’s hard in the past and have always loved everything about them. If, as you said, money grew on trees, I’d probably be driving a 997 GT3 as a daily. This isn’t quite that level of manic, but it does sound great and is still a lovely challenge to drive quickly.

    I’ve still got my BRZ (although it’s on the market)– maybe at some point I’ll do a proper write up comparing the two. Still adore the car, and still can’t think of anything else in that category (2+2, hard-top, daily-able sportscar) I’d have for the money if you compare new to new and used to used. I wish used 86’s had been around when I went shopping for my first car ten years ago…

  • Mark S

    That is great about the insurance. Heard that the BRZ was 4 seat primarily to help with the insurance, but still seems expensive to me for some reason. I shopped around, but all within about $50 of each other when I got some quotes in.
    Luckily I have a couple of none dealer Bosch/ASE mechanics around us here and so while maintenance on a Porsche is still steep, not as bad as bad as it could be. They looked after an Audi that I had and did a good job. Those 997’s though on Autotrader, CarMax. Vroom etc. are pricey and when I look on dealer sites, I sometimes have to do a double take, 911’s must be in serious demand.
    Not done anything my FR-S yet, but considering the TRD air intake an their thicker sway bars. Not going down the induction road, the cost and the warranty voiding, just not worth it and as I say. The air intake is not just for power, it would also stop the noise from going into the cabin. Great used car, there is a podcast/ You Tube channel, Everyday Driver, one of the presenters has a used FR-S, great certified deal and he uses it all year round, in Utah, unreal.

  • I would drive the 86 year-round. As long as you’re willing to spend the money on a set of alternate wheels with good snow tyres, why not? If I lived somewhere snowy, I’d be very tempted to try and find a set of coils that would let me bump the ride height up like a rally car during winter. That would be rad.

    Sway bars make a big difference. Unfortunately I installed mine alongside my other suspension bits, so I can’t give an ~*only*~ swaybars review, but the front to rear balance of the car was significantly improved over stock. From the factory it felt like the BRZ wanted to understeer quite a bit. I know the FR-S was supposedly a little more tailhappy from the factory, but I’d imagine you’ll still see an improvement from sways. Mine’s really nicely balanced now: pointy in tight corners, and extremely neutral in long sweepers. On the limit in fast corners, it feels like the car wants to walk all four wheels to the outside at once… the front gives up ever so slightly before the back, but if you hold the throttle flat, the back feels like it’s just about to come around as well.

    One small thing: I don’t know if you’re aware, but if you want to try soft-disabling the sound tube, you can take the cover for the power socket in your glovebox and fit it into the opening for the sound tube in the footwell– they’re the same size. I did it on mine and didn’t notice a massive difference in sound, but it got a little quieter. For the low, low price of free you might as well give it a go!

    Not sure why our insurance is so high– I guess a lot of people must be balling them up. Not surprising I guess given that it’s probably a lot of people’s first RWD car and it comes on tyres that make wet roads like driving on ice…

    As far as 911s, take a look on Rennlist as well. Don’t be afraid of “poverty spec” cars either. Mine’s a base Carrera with little 18″ wheels and minimal options, and it’s an animal. You don’t need any upgrades to have a lot of fun in a 911.

  • Sami Haj-Assaad

    I run my ’13 FR-S all year long – at least whenever I’m not driving review cars. It’s a blast in the winter, although when the snow gets a bit too high, I have to wait for the plows to come. Still good winter tires make a HUGE difference.

    Actually, tires make or break this car. With the stock tires, the car is

    fun. With upgraded rubber it’s amazing.
    Besides tires and wheels, I haven’t done anything to my car. And I haven’t really felt the need to. I kind of want to lower it, because the rear wheel-gap is kind of goofy, but then I have nightmares about the winter ground clearance.

    Thanks for reading guys!

  • Mark S

    Many thanks on the soft-disabling of the sound tube, I had seen kits for blocking for the sound tube, but did not know about the power socket idea at all. I find myself on FT86 now and then looking at the myriad of things folks are doing to their cars and of course pondering what to do or even if to do a change. Why fix what is not broke! The TRD bit though are being offered to me at a discount and also with warranty quibbles, so always tempted when I take the FR-S in for its (currently free) maintenance.

    Not been on Rennlist or Planet 9 in ages! I should add that back to my list of places to visit again. Do find myself drooling at the old air cooled 911’s on Bring A Trailer, but some of the eye watering prices that the auctions are going up are amazing. All that said, very happy with the FR-S and no plans to sell soon, unless suddenly a great deal appears out of the blue.

  • Mark S

    The need for winter tires is exactly what the Everyday Driver presenter said, they even did a video driving the FR-S in the middle of winter in and around Salt Lake City. I am lucky enough to live where we get no snow (though we need rain!), but nice to know the FR-S is that flexible. When I lived in New England, I think I could have been driving a Landie, I still needed a plough truck.

    I think my FR-S being black may hide the gaps a little with respect to the wheels. As mentioned in a previous post, it is a dealer offering me discounts on TRD parts that is maybe the main cause of pondering a some trinkets.

    Now Subie has updated the BRZ, will be interesting to see where Toyota takes the 86 in the future. Am hoping they consider a full on 2.0 in the long term.

    About reviewing cars, if I knew that I was going to be testing Focus RS’s, Cayman 718’s, Hellcats etc., then heck I would be happy with a Prius as a daily driver! Please though, not saying that life is easy in the car review world, but if you can get paid for what you like doing, that is an awesome way to live.

  • Jan

    Skimming, and minor issue, but there is now a screen readout and no longer an analog coolant temp display. Can this screen display other than G-forces? Can we get coolant or oil temp info in real-time?