2018 BRZ TS Review: Heroic or Quixotic?

Sebastien Bell
by Sebastien Bell

Chevy guys will know that if you’re talking classic wagons, you’re talking Nomads. And if you’re talking Nomads, the only one worth a damn (one damn being the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars, in this case) is the two-door variety. Why? Because it’s rare.

But if we examine that for a second, we might able to figure out why it’s rare. The two-door Nomad is a contradiction. Why the hell would anyone buy a two wagon? That’s the inconvenient version of a vehicle whose main advantage is its convenience. And it doesn’t even look enormously different from the four-door Nomad.

The BRZ tS kind of inhabits the same space. A hardcore, track-focused, semi-STI version of a car whose main advantages are its norm-core, street-focused, unpretentious nature, it doesn’t really make sense. But it’s cool. And it’s rare. And that might be enough.

What does it all mean?

FAST FACTS

Engine: 2.0-liter flat four
Output: 205 hp, 156 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6 speed manual
Fuel Economy: 20/27/29 (US), 11.6/10.2/8.6 (CAN)
Price as tested: $34,355 (USD), $39,045 (CDN)

Just what is the Subaru BRZ tS? It’s a BRZ that Subaru’s performance division has taken a look at without actually adding power to. I’ll admit, it’s a bit frustrating. Although there are a lot of mods to enumerate here, it effectively comes down to a stiffer chassis, stickier tires, and a big honking spoiler over the rear wheels.

What has changed, exactly? Okay. Here we go: the Sachs dampers from the BRZ Limited Performance package are tuned to work with 18-inch wheels; the same package’s Brembo brakes also sneak behind those wheels and cover 12.8-inch discs in the front and 12.4-inch discs behind you; STI springs are 15% stiffer fore, 3% stiffer aft; a flexible strut-tower brace, flexible lower front crossmember brace both are added and use ball joints to limit NVH (they do not); and the car wears sticky Michelin Pilot Sports.

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All of this means a stiffer ride with an 18% reduction in roll and 15% reduction in pitch, so that there’s none of the standard car’s bobbing in hard cornering or braking. It also means less oversteer and better grip all over.

The consensus among my esteemed peers is that this all amounts to better handling, but less fun. And yes. They’re kind of right.

For a certain type of driver

The ride isn’t unbearable, but it is hard. As I noted above, any passing attempts to reduce NVH have failed because this is one of the loudest cars I’ve ever driven, making listening to talk radio a near impossibility. It has a nice interior (all Alcantara and soft-touch materials) but it sounds like a race car. When you get in and press the clutch to start it, you can hear the levers moving under you and when you press the ignition button, you’re greeted by a labored, prolonged wind up as the starter struggles to overcome the engine’s inertia.

I’m not normally a fan of flat engines (I’ve described Porsche race cars as painful and hateful in the past), but somehow this flat four sounds good—meaty and bassy, in a tuneful kind of way. And as it runs, it takes some time to heat up, skipping the odd beat, making the car twitch excitedly on idle. It’s by no means a race car, but the noises, the thinness, make it feel a bit like one.

When you start moving, you notice immediately how rough every road you drive in a normal day is. Cracks and crevices in the pavement that you might otherwise ignore completely now come into the cabin, punishing you for not avoiding them. But it’s not delicate. The BRZ tS makes you feel like it wants you to fight back.

Stress machine

Picking a gear takes effort and the cogs are too similar in size to all be used in everyday driving. Second gear can pretty much be ignored unless you’re hustling. Driving smoothly requires several throttle blips and driving quickly requires a firm hand.

The result of all of this is stress. Loud, effortsome, and constantly encouraging you to fight it, driving the tS quickly didn’t make me smile so much as it made grit my teeth in a look of constipated focus. But you are rewarded with pace. The stiff chassis and grippy wheels amount to a very neutral car. You can still get the back end to wiggle if you’re really silly with the throttle, but it’s not given to oversteer. What the BRZ tS lacks in straight line speed it makes up for in its ability to pull Gs.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Subaru BRZ Review

This is one of the pricklier issues facing the tS. One of the BRZ’s biggest advantages was its ability to deliver outrageous fun at normal speed and at normal prices. It wasn’t a giant-killer, it was a little kid playing pretend. The tS loses that childlike glee. So does it become Don Quixote when it actually dresses up for battle?

I’m not so sure.

My experience driving the tS may not have been unbridled joy, but others certainly didn’t see me as crazy. When WRXs and Civics Type R saw the car, they inevitably took a look and even more inevitably smiled and gave me the thumbs up. By making this tS so expensive, by making it look special, and perhaps most importantly by making its appeal less obvious than horsepower, Subaru has made a truly noteworthy piece of esoterica.

The context of the ins and outs

I’m fairly convinced that people who listen to vinyl don’t enjoy music more. Buffalo mozzarella doesn’t taste that much better than a decent cow’s milk mozzarella. A two-door Nomad doesn’t look that much better than a four-door Nomad. What people really enjoy is getting into the nitty-gritty, the process of discovery that comes with studying a subject intensely. The joy happens around the object as it does in the object itself.

There’s pleasure in the sense of acceptance that comes with seeing a Civic Type R driver covet your car. There’s pleasure in knowing that Subaru went overboard trying to make the BRZ tS handle as well as they possibly could. There’s pleasure in knowing that you could pull out two wrenches and make the car’s back end stickier if you really needed to. There’s pride in possessing something that’s limited to a run of just 500 and in knowing that anyone who buys it has to know more than just how to quote horsepower figures.

The Verdict: 2018 Subaru BRZ tS Review

The tS isn’t for everyone. The standard car is probably more fun on the road and I don’t disagree that by making it handle better Subaru has added a little too much grip to the power-to-grip seesaw. But I don’t think the tS has to be for everyone. Subaru seems to agree. Really, this is for nerds and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed by this car. The tS feels appropriately special.

Making predictions about future classics is always a tricky business, but the BRZ tS has all the trappings of a future classic. It’s limited, it has an advantage over regular counterparts, and it has the kind of pace that will doubtless make it a folk hero at the autocrosses, leading to exaggerated tales about its excellence. The types of exaggerated tales that’ll make it a downhill hero.

In that context, the BRZ tS makes a lot of sense. But the context may change if and when the STI arrives.

Discuss this story on our Subaru BRZ Forum

LOVE IT

  • Oodles of grip
  • Looks that grant you entrée to the world of tuners
  • Feels like a clever choice

LEAVE IT

  • Harsh ride
  • Less usable performance
  • No more power means you still have to deal with people saying "Yeah, I would've bought one but it didn’t have enough power" from the towering window of their crossover
Sebastien Bell
Sebastien Bell

Sebastien is a roving reporter who covers Euros, domestics, and all things enthusiast. He has been writing about the automotive industry for four years and obsessed with it his whole life. He studied English at the Wilfrid Laurier University. Sebastien also edits for AutoGuide's sister sites VW Vortex, Fourtitude, Swedespeed, GM Inside News, All Ford Mustangs, and more.

More by Sebastien Bell

Comments
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 3 comments
  • Jack Woodburn Jack Woodburn on Jul 06, 2018

    $3800 additional for the same amount of yawn.

    • Kaffekup Kaffekup on Jul 12, 2018

      And more discomfort. But I'm sure there will be 500 people happy to have a "track car" as their daily driver.

  • Jonny_Vancouver Jonny_Vancouver on Jul 13, 2018

    It seems to me like it would be an easy fix to just give these cars what everyone has been asking for: More power. Tweak the engine or add a small turbo, but even just 50 more hp & lb ft of torque would make a noticeable difference, and make a lot of people happy. Even Hybridize it a bit ...

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