I recently had a chance to drive the Subaru BRZ tS, which is a high-performance version of the Subaru BRZ sports car. I say it’s a high performance version because it has everything enthusiasts have been clamoring for: Grippier tires, better brakes, sport suspension and a more aggressive look on the outside (which, unfortunately, includes a rear wing that covers approximately the same area as a ZIP code). It is, by all measures, the perfect BRZ.
Well, except for one: it still doesn’t have any more power. The BRZ tS is effectively an “STI” version of the car, modified by Subaru’s STI tuning company and packed with STI logos inside and out — except that it doesn’t have the usual STI touch, which is more horsepower. Unfortunately, that — more than any of the stuff I’ve listed above — is precisely what the BRZ needs.
I borrowed this particular BRZ tS from a viewer in the San Diego area, and I spent a few hours driving it around and filming it. There are a lot of great things: The interior is nice, and it boasts excellent, grippy sport seats. I like the meaty exterior look, though I could do without the massive wing. The tires do feel a bit grippier, the brakes a bit grabbier, the whole package a bit sportier — which is impressive, because the regular BRZ already feels very sporty. Except that it needs more power.
And, unfortunately, the tS does nothing to address that. It still uses the same ol’ 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a meager 205 horsepower and a truly weak 156 lb-ft of torque. It still does 0-to-60 in something like 6.4 seconds, which is laughable for any sports car from this era. For reference, a base-level EcoBoost Mustang does 0-to-60 in 5.3 seconds, and even a base-level Miata can hammer it out in 6.1 seconds — and that’s before the car’s power bump for 2019. The BRZ is, simply put, slow. And the BRZ tS is just as slow. Except it now costs $34,500.
Yes, that’s right: The BRZ tS, with all its go-fast goodies and add-ons, costs $34,500, which makes it very close to a dollar-for-dollar competitor with the Subaru WRX STI, which starts around $37,500 — except the STI has up to 310 hp, seats four people and boasts sublime handling.
Except, not quite as sublime as the BRZ tS. No one will scream louder than me for more power from the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 — but in situations where you’re on a twisty road and you don’t need excessive power, few vehicles come close to matching the BRZ’s handling acumen. The car corners completely flat, the steering is tremendously precise, and the fact that the car isn’t very heavy means you’re never guessing about whether or not you’ll be faced with vicious oversteer, excessive body lean or any other undesirable component. It just turns very well every time — and I admit that it’s fun to floor it coming out of a corner, using the entire car rather than just a quarter-throttle like in many sports cars.
But while I love the idea of “using the entire car,” in this case, the execution just isn’t there. Not only do you use the entire BRZ when coming out of a corner and bringing it up to speed on a straightaway, but you wish for much more car. The tS has only slight improvements over the regular BRZ, but you can feel them all — the grippier tires make it almost impossible for the rear end to step out. The brakes feel up to the task of higher speeds, and the whole vehicle just feels a little more refined for performance compared to the regular one.
Unfortunately, that performance just doesn’t come. We’ve all heard of tuners modifying their car’s engine to big horsepower without upgrading the brakes, suspension or any other components. Well, this is the opposite: modifying all that other stuff for a big horsepower boost that never came. As a result, this is the perfect BRZ, with the perfect handling and balance and the best steering, suspension and interior — but it’s let down by the continued decision not to give it the additional power that it needs.
That annoys me. But on the right road, one that’s full of twisty, technical curves and lacking big straightaways, one where the BRZ truly shines, perhaps more than any other car on the road, you may not mind that lack of power.
Nah, just kidding. You still will.