The 200-horsepower flat-four engine is small, only displacing two litres, but it is tuned to rev freely and somewhat raucously, not cruise serenely. The suspension is set up to dart from corner to corner, not provide a cushy ride during a daily commute. And the BRZ is small, with just enough room for two adults up front and a backseat too cramped even for six-year-olds.
The trunk is really, really small.
Both cars can be used to do most – if not all – of the ordinary things that ordinary cars are tasked with every day, and if the daily commute includes slicing the apexes off your driveway’s nine turns, or a self-timed blast along a section of California’s Mulholland Highway, the only new cars better suited for that duty cost about four times as much. The BRZ is high-value automotive entertainment.
Co-developed by Subaru and Toyota and produced by Subaru’s parent, Fuji Heavy Industries, in Japan, the BRZ is engineered to exploit the inherent advantages of the Subaru direct gasoline injection flat-four “boxer” engine. Because the cylinders are arranged in two horizontally opposed banks, a flat-four is relatively wider and substantially lower than a stand-up, conventional inline-four. That means the engine’s weight is centered down low in the chassis. Set back for better front-to-rear weight bias and feeding either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, the engine is not overwhelmingly powerful. And it needs to be flogged to get the most out of it.
It is the flogging, however, that hurts so good.
The BRZ’s centre of gravity is only 18.1 inches above the pavement, so there is very little body roll as the little beast tests the flex of its all-independent suspension and digs its modest 215/45R17 Michelin tires into a corner. The whole car is in fact very low, and the pilot consequently sits low, posterior nearly over the rear axle line, at the far end of the 101.2-inch wheelbase. Legs, meanwhile, are far forward, with thighs almost grazing the small-diameter, thick-rimmed steering wheel. The instrumentation could hardly be easier to scan, and the manual shifter ticks off short, accurate throws like a Pro Bowl quarterback.
The electric power rack-and-pinion steering is quick and communicative in a way that only Porsches and Ferraris have been before. In sum, the BRZ is a total immersion experience. On the right road, dicing and diving from corner to corner, being knocked against the bolsters of the perfectly shaped front seats, the driver is getting rarified kicks.
For all that, the BRZ is not quick, requiring about 7 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour from a standstill, but it is always egging the driver on to blow off work, head for the hills and slice open a country road. That is, if an enthusiast can grab one. Supplies have been low from the get-go, and though Fuji has pledged to produce more in 2013, it will take months for back-orders to be filled.
Prices start at $26,310, inclusive of $785 destination charge, and that nets a GPS navigation system. Helpful hint: Aim the BRZ at the squiggly lines on that electronic map.
The BRZ is about as close as a buyer can get to a motorcycle with a roof and two doors. But maybe the prospective customer would like a plaything that is even more engaging than the BRZ, and less punishing, at a lower cost. Such as, you know, a motorcycle.
Nothing beats a bike for sheer motorized engagement. In a car, the mind can wander while listening to old Doobie Brothers hits, or taking in comely distractions along the beachfront, without dire consequences. But a motorcycle requires total devotion to the task of riding. After all, the equivalent of a fender-bender in a car can mean weeks of hospitalization and months of physical rehabilitation on a bike. That vulnerability can be intensely exhilarating – as long as it is respected.
Motorcycles are also, with very few exceptions, a lot more affordable than cars, occupy less space in the garage and achieve significantly better fuel economy. Yes, there is nowhere to store anything on most bikes, and inclement weather all but kick-stands them, but taken out for a weekend of club racing at the local road course, the bike only goes through two tires instead of four.
The Honda CBR500R, new for 2013, is something of a return to the basics in sport bikes. It uses a liquid-cooled, 500cc parallel twin engine making just under 50 horsepower – a quarter of the BRZ’s output. But since the bike only weighs 425 pounds – less than a sixth of what the BRZ weighs – it commands a significant power-to-weight advantage over all but the most exotic cars.
Combined with its easy-going suspension system and less-than-radical riding position, it is an easy bike to which beginners can quickly acclimate themselves. It is fun without the intimidation factor of bigger, harder-core sport bikes like Suzuki’s GSX-R series or Honda’s own CBR600RR.
Prices for the new CBR500R start at $6,309, inclusive of $310 destination charge, with a model equipped with antilock brakes going for $6,809. Even after purchasing the requisite helmet, riding leathers and a few saddle bags, and prorating the time spent praying for God’s protection, that is still a lot cheaper than a BRZ.
But it would not hurt to keep a decade-old Honda Civic around for those days when it rains, or when you have a date with someone who lacks your daredevil spirit, or if you want to carry more groceries home than what will fit in your saddle bags.