Subaru's BRZ is a blast from the pastComment on this story
There is a programme on DSTV that I love watching and which drives my non-petrolhead spouse nuts. It’s called Victory by Design and it features former international sports-car driver Alain de Cadenet driving all manner of old cars, some worth millions of dollars.
To somebody who loves cars, there is nothing better than seeing an old Ferrari, Alfa Romeo or Jaguar being threaded through the trees on a vast, private country estate, the setting for many of the episodes.
And apart from the treat of seeing these topless two-seaters, there is aural pleasure in the soundtrack as De Cadenet goes up and down through the notchety, recalcitrant old gearboxes, double declutching and blipping the throttle to equalise engine and gearbox speeds for a smooth change.
These days, modern engineering has made double declutching unnecessary and it is an almost forgotten technique. My colleague Jesse Adams from Star Motoring uses the similar “heel-toe” technique - blipping the throttle and applying brakes at the same time - to help set up a car for a corner. But for him, double declutching is a waste of time.
I would agree with that, although the throttle blip has made a recent and welcome return to motor car technology. Most dual-clutch gearboxes include a throttle blip on downshifts and the manual gearbox on Nissan’s 370 includes an automatic throttle blip on down changes.
One of the things you need, if you’re going to heel-and-toe or double declutch, is a great sounding engine note. And that I had - in spades - when I was at the wheel of Subaru’s “old school” BRZ sports coupé. Subaru fits its own exhaust system to the car and claims it liberates a further 7kW from the flat-four two-litre engine’s already noteworthy output of 147kW.
Subarus have always had a unique sound…
For me it’s one of the most attractive things about them (apart from the quality, the roadholding, the balance - sorry, must stop sounding like a salesman). The exhaust in the BRZ gives the car an altogether more robust and muscular sound than its Toyota 86 sibling.
But the BRZ I was in was even brawnier: it had been fitted with a supercharger, courtesy of Rob Green Motorsport. Although the car is being used as a development mule by Rob Green and Subaru (there’s constant tinkering going on) and the power figures are not official (but around 200kW is talked about), it is still a well sorted, powerful and appealing car.
Yet it was that engine sound which made me dig into my distant memories and revive my trusty double declutching skills. In third, touch the brakes, clutch in, gear lever into neutral, blip the throttle, clutch in, gear lever into second. It may have been imagined, but I could swear the change down was sweeter, smoother and less jarring than when I hadn’t double declutched.
If you’re in a hurry (and in a supercharged BRZ you will be, quite often), the old-fashioned process is just going to slow you down because the car’s six-speed manual is plenty fast in all conditions.
The supercharger is one way of addressing frequent criticism of both the BRZ and the 86… that they’re not quick enough and will get blown away by hot hatches at the traffic lights. And while it is fun with the extra horsepower, I think giving the car more muscle misses the whole point about the BRZ: this car takes you back to the fundamentals of motoring, when there were no fancy gadgets and the skill of the driver was paramount.
To look at it another way, it’s an analogue car in a digital world.
A joint project between Subaru and Toyota (although Subaru, clearly, did the heavy-lift engineering), the BRZ creates a new path for Subaru, which is best known in this country for its stunningly effective symmetrical all-wheel drive systems. The BRZ, in classic sports-car tradition, is rear-wheel drive.
Which makes it fun to chuck around. With the traction control turned off, you can easily provoke wheelspin and a drift from the rear, although with the standard 147kW available, the car will not get you into serious trouble and it's easy to catch once it starts to get frisky.
That 147kW is, by the way, produced by a jewel of a motor (Subaru’s with some input in the direct injection system from Toyota and Yamaha) which will rev to 7500rpm and produce a banshee wail at the upper end. Up there, close to the red line, it is unlike any Subaru engine I have experienced - but exhilarating.
Like the firm clutch and stiffish manual gearbox, the steering is wonderfully direct and not overly power-assisted. This makes placing it perfectly an easy job. In fact, it is the precision of the entire machine which is so gratifying. (Not that I would have expected anything less from Subaru.)
Overall, the BRZ offers the sort of experience which, I predict, will start to grow in demand in future as people rebel against technology and information overload: real, hands-on and authentic. Just like artisanal beers and cheeses, or bush breaks to places where there is no cellphone signal, the BRZ evokes a more satisfying past… without the comfort of the present and future. - Saturday Star
Engine: Four-cylinder, horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’, two-litre, naturally aspirated, 147kW.
Fuel requirement: 95 octane unleaded petrol.
Fuel consumption: In the city you will get around 10 litres per 100km, even using the power and having fun. This will fall to less than seven litres per 100km on the highway at 120km/h.
CO2: 181g/km (combined cycle, official figure). Interestingly, the six-speed auto has a figure of 164g/km.