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TGI[BRZ]: What if?

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TGI[BRZ]: What if?

Welcome to the latest installment of our weekly series: TGIF[R-S], where Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad details the ownership experience of the Scion FR-S. If you haven’t seen the latest articles, be sure to check out the whole archive of them. 

What if I was all wrong? I ask myself this very question every time someone asks me why I got my Scion instead of the Subaru. This past week I got the chance to do it all over again with the exact opposite choices I made with my own car.

So instead of my Ultramarine Blue Scion FR-S with the six-speed manual transmission, I got a Satin Pearl White Subaru BRZ that is equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission. Not very many people get this chance, so I’m scrutinizing every minute difference between these two cars.

Without even driving the BRZ, there are noticeable differences inside and out. Obviously, the overall interior and exterior design is the same, but Subaru and Scion made some interesting choices differentiating the two cars. The BRZ’s front end is certainly softer in appearance, and while still sporty, it looks sleek and sexy, as opposed to the ferocious, almost angry look of the FR-S. In particular, the FR-S has more accentuated fangs and the grill makes an upside trapezoid-like a snarl. Helping make the BRZ look sexy are the gorgeous HID headlights that make a distinct ‘C’ pattern. Its absolutely mesmerizing in comparison to the FR-S’s boring old projector halogens. Finally, under the headlights, the BRZ features LED daytime running lights, while the FR-S just has turn-signal lights and simple halogens. The LEDs certainly give off a more premium look. The only other significant exterior change is with the front-side fender. On the FR-S there’s the 86-boxer logo, while on the BRZ, there are just slats with silly looking plastic.

Inside is where you’ll find most of the differences. First, and most noticeable, is the BRZ’s Pioneer Navigation System. At first glance this is a significant upgrade over the FR-S’s base head-unit, but it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. First of all, buttons and icons are small and easy to miss with your fingers. I also had significant difficulty pairing my phone to the unit, until I found (by accident) you have to use the handbrake before many of the important features are enabled. The navigation screen is just plain ugly, and pretty unintuitive, and finally, the microphone is an external mic that just sticks out by the top of the windshield. It doesn’t look OEM at all.

However, I did enjoy the BRZ’s audio equalizer settings, which made me realize that the sound system in these two cars is a lot better than I thought. It’s incredible how big of a difference in sound quality these settings make. If only there was a way to make the FR-S’s stereo sound this good.

There are a few cosmetic differences inside the BRZ. First, the information cluster it uses has a dark background with red-amber lighting, as opposed to the FR-S’s lighter tach with white lighting, and a carbon-fiber textured look. All that tacky carbon fiber in the FR-S is gone from the BRZ, even on the sweeping dash, where the Subaru has a sweet looking silver plastic which gives it a more classic look.

Finally, the seats use a different material. The FR-S uses a soft cloth seating material, where the BR-Z uses a harder mesh-like fabric. Personally I find the FR-S’s cloth better looking, and more comfortable.

This BRZ also uses an automatic transmission, with the shifter sticking up and out to the side, mimicking a manual gear-stick in gear. It’s really interesting, and a small but appreciated touch for the automatic driver. You’ll also notice that the handbrake has red stitching, while the FR-S doesn’t.

A quick note on getting into this BRZ after driving the FR-S for two months: it’s eerie how familiar the car overall, and yet at the same time there are so many little changes. As soon as I stepped into the Subaru, I was reaching for the clutch pedal. I found myself doing this again and again, just because the car felt exactly the same as my FR-S.

This week’s test of the BRZ also let me try out the automatic transmission in my everyday driving routine. In my rush-hour drives, the automatic was easier to deal with, and required a lot less work. However, when cruising, or spirited driving, I would have gladly swapped out the automatic for a more engaging manual transmission.

Make no mistake: the automatic in this car is good. In fact, it’s really good. The vehicle shifts faster than I’m sure I can with a stick-shift, especially when down-shifting. After a few days driving the auto, I had to go online and make sure that this thing wasn’t a dual-clutch unit. It’s unbelievably good, and left quite the impression on me, that a $25,000 car could have such an advanced transmission.

Many automatic transmissions are programmed to return excellent fuel economy. They do this by upshifting as soon as possible, and try not to downshift until really pressed. The BRZ’s automatic isn’t at all like this. It even rev-matches when put into ‘Sport’ mode, although that setting still made for a few jumpy downshifts at slow speeds.

Driving the two cars back to back on the road its also easy to notice a small difference in the suspension. The BRZ feels a bit softer overall in comparison to the FR-S. It really feels different in the turns, with the BRZ feeling a bit more confident and safe, while the FR-S seems more lively.

Overall though this experience taught me one important thing about these two cars: they’re both fantastic to drive. Personally, I love the edgy look of the FR-S, and the manual transmission is much more engaging as a driver than the superb, yet dull automatic. The navigation system in the BRZ is a bit of a let-down, but the car’s gorgeous HIDs and LED lights give the the car an upscale look and feel over the Scion.

In the end, the answer is clear, I made the right choice. Subaru can take the BRZ, I’ll stick with my FR-S.