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The Subaru BRZ Doesn’t Need More Power

It seems that everyone, including Doug, believes that the Subaru BRZ, the Scion FR-S and the Toyota 86 (which are basically all the same car) are seriously deficient in the horsepower department. The BRZ tS only gets an Acceleration DougScore of 3, going from 0 to 60 in a leisurely 6.3 seconds. Never mind the extensive accolades the car gets in other areas. It has the best handling on the low side of the price range, especially once you swap in the original tires for some wider, grippier rubber. It’s responsive. It’s fun to drive. And I should know, having bought a 2014 BRZ new and owning it for three years. In street driving, autocross and track days, sure, I admit there were times when I wouldn’t have minded a little more power. But I never, ever thought the car needed it.

Maybe it’s just my perspective. Before the BRZ, I owned not one, not two, but three Mazda Miatas. All were from the early 1990s and featured the original 1.6-liter engine, good for a whopping 116 hp. That’s less than my Saturn SL2. But Miatas are such a joy to drive that I didn’t usually care. It’s the ultimate “slow car fast.” And when you nail a turn just right, carrying a massive amount of speed with you as you exit onto the next straightaway, it’s one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. It wasn’t the car that went that fast. It was you — the driver — and your skill behind the wheel that let you push the limits that close to the edge without exceeding them.

I came from those cars, as well as an AW11 Toyota MR2 with similar power, to the Subaru BRZ. Sure, at 2,762 pounds, it’s a heavyweight compared to my 2,100-lb early Miatas, but it’s still a lightweight car in this day and age. And 200 hp is more than enough for everyday street driving. On its original economy-tuned Michelin Primacy HP tires — shared with some models of the Toyota Prius — it takes no effort at all to break the back wheels loose under power. Turn off traction control and you can drift the BRZ right off the showroom floor (I don’t recommend doing that since dealers tend not to like tire marks on their tile floors).

During my first autocross in the BRZ, it became quite apparent to me that the car’s weak point was not its horsepower, but its grip. Handling was excellent, but the BRZ was held back from fulfilling its true potential by the slippery tires.

A set of wider wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires fixed that problem. This confirmed my theory that the car was made for tires like these. My suspension was 100 percent factory stock, and it handled exactly the way I wanted it to. It was a bit harsh for the crappy Massachusetts roads I drive every day, but it was worth putting up with the discomfort for the excellent handling on smoother roads and the track. The tires, an axle-back exhaust to make it sound like a sports car, a very mild tune (more to cure the FA20 engine’s infamous midrange torque dip than to add any power) and more aggressive brake fluid and pads for the track were the only performance modifications I made to the car.

Were there times when I wanted more power? Yes. Any other answer would make a liar out of me. But there’s a difference between “want” and “need.” It would’ve been nice to have the power to hang with a Porsche Boxster S or a Chevrolet Corvette on the straightaway, after gluing myself to their bumpers going through the turn before it. But it wasn’t a necessity. The fact that my lightly-modified car could even keep up with sports cars that cost way more was satisfaction enough. I didn’t mind the Corvette blasting away from me down the straightaway any more than I did when I drove a Miata with almost half the BRZ’s power.

I had enormous fun with my BRZ during the time I had it. I only got rid of it because I got married, inherited two stepsons, got a house and needed something a bit more practical. So I got a WRX — not for more power, although it does have it, but for more space and a usable back seat. Even after three years, I didn’t get bored with the BRZ or feel like it needed more power. It had just the right amount, as Subaru and Toyota intended.

But — and this is a big but — I also believe that Subaru and Toyota should listen to potential buyers and give them what they want: more power. I believe the car doesn’t need it, but the world doesn’t revolve around me. Aside from cosmetic changes inside and out, the BRZ you can buy brand new right now is nearly identical to the original BRZ you could buy in 2013. It sold well during its first two years of production (when I bought mine), but those numbers have plummeted since. I think everyone who wanted a BRZ, FR-S or 86 already has one. Even worse for the manufacturers, these cars took a massive depreciation hit. You can buy a used BRZ that’s 95 percent as good as a brand new one for a fraction of the price. Why pay more?

The answer would be simple if Subaru and Toyota would release STI and TRD versions of these cars with a small supercharger bumping them up to 250 or 280 hp. While the WRX’s turbo doesn’t fit on the BRZ, a small centrifugal supercharger fits perfectly where the stock airbox goes, as I’ve seen on aftermarket kits. Offer a factory setup, and these cars would sell like hotcakes again. But for some reason, Subaru and Toyota continue to refuse to do that.

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  1. I grew up in CT and totally get the “slow car fast” thing, I had a ’98 Ranger 4×4 that did it’s fair share of rallying with a sub 200hp v6. 

    I’ve also spent a lot of time down south where the roads are straight and boring. You need big power when the elderly have 400hp on tap. My mother has a Honda Accord with 290HP and knows how to use it. 
    So you think it doesn’t need more power? Buy the base model. 

  2. This car doesn’t need more (horse) power. But what it does need is more torque. Just enlarge that 2.0 to a 2.5 and you could easily add 30-40lbs of torque. I drove one of these with a deep, deep gearing change in the differential (I can not remember the ratio) And man did it feel faster.  

    • The mid-range torque dip is a killer for sure! The extra torque, not horsepower, is the biggest difference and improvement I see in my WRX with a turbo version of the same engine.

  3. This car is a complete loss for these brands. The base one is nice but it’s just dumb for TRD/STi not to have a 300 hp with decent wheel/tire set up for $40k and then give the world a truly great car. 

    Yes in the SCCA and autocross world (and vast majority of people who would have bought this) this bog standard version works just fine. They needed this model to generate excitement. It did until the moment it arrived. Then fell on it’s face. Not taking the week of engineering required (three plus years ago) to create a top end model just goes to show the weakness of these brands and failure to understand the market.

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