The 2020 Subaru BRZ lives in a severely underserved segment of the sports car market. There are currently just four sub-3,000-pound rear-wheel-drive sports cars for sale under $40,000. Subaru’s co-development of the BRZ with Toyota also means that its closest competitor is also its twin, the Toyota 86. With a starting price of $28,845, according to Consumer Reports, buyers get a 205-hp four-cylinder boxer engine and a six-speed manual transmission.
Designed from the ground up as a sports car
One of the Subaru BRZ’s greatest strengths is that Subaru was conceived as a sports car rather than a sporty version of a standard car. Thanks to its horizontally opposed cylinders, the short height of the 2.0-liter boxer engine means it sits lower in the engine bay. The low slung engine results in a lower overall center of gravity, which aids the driving dynamics and high-speed stability.
Subaru also paid close attention to the weight distribution, achieving a near-perfect 50/50 split. With a curb weight of just 2,789 lb and 205 hp on tap, the BRZ has greater power to weight ratio than similarly priced hot hatchbacks.
For the enthusiasts that want the best of the Subaru BRZ, there is the range-topping tS model. Subaru’s performance division, STI, has given the BRZ tS crucial add ons that improve handling and chassis rigidity. Upgraded Brembo brakes, 18-inch wheels, an STI-tuned suspension, and a chassis brace all come as standard. The BRZ tS’ $31,395 starting price is a modest increase given the significant benefits.
The Subaru BRZ has massive untapped potential
The Subaru BRZ’s boxer engine is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. While its physical design results in excellent driving dynamics, it’s power delivery does not. The available 151 lb-ft of torque comes in high in the rev range, leaving little usable torque down low.
Thankfully, the Subaru WRX utilizes a turbocharged version of the BRZ engine, meaning a direct swap should be feasible. A turbocharger would provide low-end torque and further highlight the excellent chassis. Despite this, eight years into the BRZ’s life, Subaru still refuses to make it happen despite having a viable, proven engine available.
The sports car-focused nature of the BRZ results in drawbacks in other vital areas such as the cabin. Edmunds noted, “significant engine noise and freeway noise.” The intrusive noise is mostly due to poor cabin insulation, often resulting in unpleasant road-noise, which sours the BRZ’s daily driveability.
It’s still one of the best sports cars for under $40,000
As mentioned in the intro, there are currently four sub-3,000-lb rear-wheel-drive sports cars available. The BRZ’s main competitors are the Toyota 86, Mazda MX-5 Miata, and the Fiat 124 Spider. It’s important to note that while the 86 is almost identical to the BRZ, the Fiat is also closely related to the Mazda. The 124 Spider and the MX-5 are mainly produced on the same assembly line, although the Fiat utilizes a different engine.
The BRZ still manages to stand out by offering more optional performance upgrades than its Toyota sibling. The BRZ’s coupe body style also differs from the Miata and Fiat 124 Spider’s soft top configuration. While Mazda does offer a retractable fastback option, it is still not a traditional coupe.
Upgrading from the BRZ would require almost doubling the starting price to $57,500 for a base Porsche Cayman or $67,150 for an Alfa Romeo 4C. Given that the BRZ also comes standard with a manual transmission option, it is not only a capable sportscar but one with excellent performance for its modest asking price.