Although Subaru is best known for its rugged all-wheel-drive family sedans and SUVs, it has a performance side, too. Beyond Subaru's rally-inspired WRX is another, less well-known sports car, one that's quickly gaining a powerful reputation of its own: the 2015 Subaru BRZ.

Powered by a normally aspirated 200-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, the BRZ combines the joy of a perfectly balanced lightweight chassis with the precision of rear-wheel drive to create a classic performance coupe. Designed in conjunction with Toyota (you may notice the striking similarities between the BRZ and the Scion FR-S), the BRZ's engine and suspension represent Subaru's contribution, while the sleek styling and cozy interior spring from Toyota's styling studio.

The BRZ isn't for everyone, however. Although it has a small back seat, the BRZ's cabin is really only fit for two passengers. Technophiles won't be impressed with the audio and infotainment system, which may be one of the least intuitive in the industry. There aren't even steering-wheel-mounted audio controls available. But if you're looking for a fun sport coupe with great road manners, a wonderful 6-speed manual transmission and sleek good looks, the 2015 Subaru BRZ deserves at least a couple of test drives.

What's New for 2015?

For 2015, Subaru revises the BRZ's shock-absorber settings for a smoother ride and adds a few cosmetic upgrades, such as faux carbon fiber on the dash. A limited-edition Series.Blue trim will be offered to the first 1,000 lucky buyers. The car includes a choice of blue or white paint, unique trim and wheels but offers no new performance upgrades.

What We Like

Balanced chassis; communicative steering; comfy front seats; seductive styling; reasonably well equipped for the price

What We Don't

Engine could use more power; poorly designed audio system; no steering-wheel audio controls; cramped rear seat

How Much?

$26,490-$31,000

Fuel Economy

The Subaru BRZ is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer engine, meaning that its pistons lay on their sides in a horizontally opposing configuration. The normally aspirated 4-cylinder generates 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. With the 6-speed manual, the BRZ earns an Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. With the 6-speed automatic, fuel economy jumps to 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

Subaru offers the 2015 BRZ in two well-equipped trims: Premium and Limited. There is also a limited-edition Series.Blue trim limited to 1,000 units. All three trims come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic with manual shift control is offered on the Limited for an additional $1,100.

The BRZ Premium ($26,390) brings air conditioning, cruise control, power mirrors, 1-touch up/down power windows, power door locks with a remote fob, a leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic steering wheel, a 65/35-split folding rear seat, a limited-slip rear differential, HID headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, and a voice-activated touchscreen navigation system with Bluetooth, real-time traffic alerts, a USB/iPod port and HD Radio.

The BRZ Limited ($28,390) adds fog lights, Alcantara and leather seat inserts, push-button starting, a rear spoiler, illuminated sun-visor vanity mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, and the Cold Weather package, which adds heated front seats and heated side mirrors.

The BRZ Series.Blue ($30,285) adds front, rear and side under spoilers, red brake calipers, black-painted and STI-branded 17-in wheels, blue leather seat bolsters, head restraints accompanied by blue accents, and stitching throughout the cabin.

Stand-alone options include a powered subwoofer, an interior illumination kit, a rear-bumper diffuser and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

The BRZ offers a modest trunk that measures 6.9 cu ft. and can be expanded by folding down the rear seatbacks.

Safety

Every BRZ comes standard with anti-lock brakes, electronic traction and stability control, and six airbags, including front, front-side and side-curtain. Although the government has yet to crash-test the BRZ, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has. The BRZ earned top marks in every test, including the moderate-overlap front, roof-strength, and seat and head-restraint tests. It was designated as a Top Safety Pick.

Behind the Wheel

With only 151 lb-ft of torque, the BRZ isn't going to deliver the same neck-snapping acceleration as its WRX or WRX STI brothers. Thanks to its lightweight chassis, though, if you're willing to get the revs up over 5,000 rpm and really work the 6-speed manual, the BRZ will bring a smile to your face every time you take it for a spin. Driving the BRZ reminds us of another old favorite, the Mazda RX-8. Wonderfully neutral in the curves, with precise steering, great brakes and tenacious traction, the BRZ is the kind of car that you want to push through winding mountain roads for hours on end.

Best of all, for everyday drivers, the BRZ is easy to live with. Its ride isn't too harsh or jarring, the gas mileage is pretty good, and its maintenance schedule is no more expensive than the average family sedan.

Other Cars to Consider

Hyundai Genesis Coupe -- The Genesis Coupe is a bigger car with more interior room, a more powerful engine and a much better audio/navigation system, but it's not as precise in the curves and feels heavy.

Ford Mustang V6 -- The V6 Mustang can't match the BRZ's handling, but it does offer more power, features and a muscular appearance.

Chevrolet Camaro V6 -- Like the Mustang, the Camaro offers more power and a more masculine look than the BRZ, but it is also noticeably heavier, offers poor outward visibility and is less agile when turning.

AutoTrader's Advice

Unless you absolutely can't live without heated seats and side mirrors (and a few other amenities), go with the base Premium trim over the Limited. It has everything you need to enjoy what the BRZ is all about, plus you can use some of the $2,000 savings to replace the underwhelming navigation radio with a nice aftermarket system. If you can't drive a stick, however, you'll have to move up to the Limited, as the Premium doesn't offer an automatic transmission.

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