Payne: Dancin’ in the rain with the nimble Subaru BRZ

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 30, 2022

Oakland County — The last time I drove the Subaru BRZ was at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, one of America’s great race tracks. I flogged the rear-wheel-drive skateboard mercilessly around the 1.5-mile circuit (and accompanying infield autocross track), rowing the gears to 100-plus mph on the front straight, pushing the envelope around the Turn 2-3 Carousel.

You’ll be happy to know the $30,555 sports car is entertaining around Metro Detroit at 55 mph, too.

The affordable ’Ru is an outlier in today’s premium performance environment. These are the days of super-performance with track-focused, six-figure cyborgs like the Porsche 911 GT3 and Corvette C8 and Ford Mustang GT500. Ooooh, my knees are getting weak. These monsters are a joy to drive on track with operatic exhaust notes, sophisticated electronics and race-car-inspired suspensions. But how many track days can you manage in a year? Driving them around town is like walking King Kong on a leash.

The sleek 2022 Subaru BRZ has much improved, more mature looks than the first-gen model.

For sports car lovers on a smaller performance envelope — and smaller budget — there are affordable treats like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and BRZ and its sister Toyota GR86.

For just $30K, my Ice Silver tester was nearly as playful on public roads as on track. On a rainy weekend morning, I took the Subie out on north Oakland County’s deserted public roads for some fun. Turn on TRACK mode, turn off traction control. Taking a Michigan U-turn, I goosed the throttle and the rear end stepped out — my right foot managing the slide easily with the BRZ’s 184 pound-feet of torque. Try this on slick roads with the 470-torque Corvette and you might swap ends.

I repeated the fun as I headed north through low-speed, 90-degree turns and out into lake country on S-turns and switchbacks. Subaru and Toyota co-developed the BRZ and GR86 twins, and this second generation’s biggest improvement comes from the upgraded 2.5-liter flat-four engine pulled from Subie’s toolbox. Where the first generation car was underpowered, the new 228-horse mill allows drivers to take advantage of the chassis’ sublime handling.

The 2022 Subaru BRZ is available with a $1500 auto shifter - but the base 6-speed manual is more fun.

I powered merrily out of turns using the paddle shifters to maintain revs since the non-turbo engine’s rev band is fattest over 3,000 RPM. For such reasons, the 6-speed manual is preferred over the automatic (75% of BRZ sales are stick) — and it’ll save you the $1,500 upgrade to the automatic.

Styling is also a major improvement for this second-gen BRZ — maturing nicely so that it looks like it belongs next to the Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s that inevitably populate the tennis club parking lots where I spend my leisure time.

I admit, however, that I have had a couple hot affairs with the BRZ’s GR86 twin in the year since my first date with the BRZ in Lime Rock. And, ahem, I must admit I prefer the Toyota’s looks. It’s leaner, meaner, more timeless.

The interior of the 2022 Subaru BRZ.

The interiors are identical, with cupholders awkwardly placed in the center console, which makes it difficult to keep a drink and a smartphone connected by wire to the console. I quickly made a habit of storing my bottled Snapple in the door cupholders because, when you have a sports car, you are constantly navigating to the countryside to find twisty roads.

The BRZ has a small competitive set, as previously noted, but Michigan Subaru fans eyes may also wander across the showroom to the excellent Subaru WRX. Ooooooh.

The 2022 Subaru BRZ makes a big engine upgrade with 2.4-liter, 228-horse, 184-torque Boxer engine.

With all-wheel drive for all-seasons, a whopping 271 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque from the same 2.4-liter boxer-4 and roomy rear seats, the WRX pocket rocket is the better all-around car. And since its platform was developed by Subaru, not Toyota, it has all the latest ’Ru tech features like a big center screen. It’s why there are few small sports cars offered these days — electronics and suspension advancements have made compact cars nearly as compelling to drive as smaller, less utilitarian sports cars.

But like a junior 911, BRZ is determined to offer its own form of utility. No, its rear seats can’t swallow six-footers (I had to take my legs off to fit back there), but at least they exist. Unlike, say, the Mazda MX-5, the ’Ru’s second row complements its rear boot so you can load it with extras on a trip north. It offers daily utility to complement its daily drivability.

So BRZ has more bandwidth than you first realize. In the end, though, you buy the Subaru for what it unabashedly is: a lightweight, 2,864-pound sports car that — in its second generation — truly justifies its place in the auto world.

Sleek lines that no pocket rocket can match. A low center of gravity to make even an electric car jealous. Stick shift so you can row it through the twisties. Rear-wheel drive so you fling it around an autocross course.

Or dance in the rain on an overcast day.

2022 Subaru BRZ

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive four-passenger sports car

Price: $29,615, including $960 destination fee ($30,555 Premium, automatic model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 228 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque

Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.4 seconds (Car and Driver, automatic); top speed, 140 mph

Weight: 2,864 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 20 mpg city/27 highway/22 combined (manual); 21 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined (auto)

Report card

Highs: Fun, affordable daily driver; 2.4-liter power

Lows: Quirky console; not as attractive as cousin Toyota GR86

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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