2017 Subaru BRZ: Subaru and Kaizen

Strong points
  • Exceptional handling
  • Very precise steering
  • Extremely dynamic
  • Still as stylish
  • Five more horsepower
Weak points
  • Cruel lack of midrange torque
  • Performance limited by standard-equipment tires
  • Touchscreen display difficult to read
  • Symbolic rear seats
Full report

The word kaizen is a fusion of the Japanese words “kai,” meaning “change,” and “zen” which means “better,” loosely translated in English as “improvement.” Kaizen applies perfectly to the 2017 Subaru BRZ, as the brand’s engineers applied a round of enhancements to their sports car, without however fixing its main problem.

The Car Guide slipped behind the wheel of the revised BRZ on the roads of Vancouver Island as well as on the new Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, located near Victoria.

All that for this?

Five horsepower and five pound-feet more for versions equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox. That’s the final result of modifications to the naturally aspirated, 2.0-litre Boxer four-cylinder engine, including air intakes increased by three millimetres, valve and camshaft polishing, a new design for the direct injection fuel pump and a less restrictive exhaust manifold.

In addition, the final drive ratio has been increased from 4.1:1 to 4.3:1 in order to improve acceleration times. Nothing of all this has been applied to versions equipped with the automatic transmission, whose engine is absolutely identical to last year’s car.

Cruel lack of torque

The first portion of our test, performed on public roads between Nanaimo and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, mostly highlighted the fact that the engine is in dire need of midrange torque. Despite the improvements, a lump in the torque curve is still very apparent between 3500 and 4800 rpm, which makes passing manoeuvres on country roads more challenging.

Since peak torque is delivered at 6400 rpm, the 2.0L engine has to be whipped, especially if the passing zone is short and we have to rid ourselves of one or two slowpoke RVs in order to fully exploit the magnificent roads unravelling before us. Handling is always as phenomenal, as the car benefits from ideal weight distribution and a very low centre of gravity.

In fact, the only limitative factor is the modest grip of the Michelin Primacy HP tires. We’ll get to that later. Comfort remains relative, with a very firm ride and a cockpit invaded by engine sounds, but that’s the price to pay for carving up twisty roads at high speeds while enjoying the chassis’ poise.

Photo: Gabriel Gélinas

A sharper blade

The next day, we headed to the Vancouver Island circuit, built on a hillside by architect Hermann Tilke, the creator of many F1 Grand Prix tracks. The Vancouver Island circuit is very tight, composed of 19 curves, some on an incline, and also includes many elevation changes. This track is an ideal environment for appreciating the improvements to the BRZ’s chassis and drivetrain.

In a few words, while last year’s car was already very capable in turns, the 2017 Subaru BRZ has become even more incisive at corner entry, hitting an ideal trajectory leading to the apex with extreme precision. To achieve this more direct and incisive handling, engineers reinforced the chassis behind the strut tower braces and rear wheel housings. The suspension has also been recalibrated with softer springs up front and firmer springs at the rear, while the steering system was revised as well.

The result is a 2017 BRZ that boasts improved roadholding capabilities compared to the previous model, with more controlled body movements, and it’s easier for an experienced driver to control drift angles in curves by modulating the throttle. In addition, the electronic stability control system was reprogrammed, and the Sport mode has been accordingly renamed Track. This mode allows us to slide the car exiting a curve while it maintains a safety net by stepping in right before losing control.

On the track, we quickly reached the limits of the Michelin Primacy HP tires. If we wish to fully exploit the 2017 Subaru BRZ’s performance potential on a circuit, a stickier set of tires must be budgeted.

Photo: Subaru

The new look

The BRZ’s appearance has changed, with a redesigned front fascia as well as LED headlights and taillights. All versions of the 2017 BRZ also include a fixed aluminum rear spoiler and a rearview camera. The 2017 BRZ gets a new multifunction steering wheel, borrowed from the WRX, as well as an infotainment system with 6.2-inch touchscreen for controlling the stereo, the satellite radio, the Bluetooth streaming audio and applications such as Aha, Pandora and Stitcher.

The Sport-tech version gets leather seats with suede-like accenting and red contrast stitching. It also benefits from a 4.2-inch display in the driver instrument panel, called the Performance Indicator, which allows the driver to consult chronometer data, longitudinal and lateral acceleration force as well as horsepower and torque curves.

The price range for the 2017 Subaru BRZ has been established as follows: the version with the manual gearbox starts at $27,995, while the automatic-equipped car is listed at $29,195. The Sport-tech editions are set at $29,995 with the manual and $31,195 with the automatic.

The BRZ already was a sports car that clearly emphasized handling and roadholding capabilities. It’s even more so with the 2017 model. We’re still waiting for the addition of the turbocharger to cure the lack of torque and give the BRZ the engine it deserves.

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