2022 Toyota BRZ First Drive Review: History Repeats

Table of Contents 2022 Subaru BRZ on the track2022 Subaru BRZ Ain’t Misbehavin’BRZ vs GR 86: Design DifferencesMore Power for the 2022 Subaru BRZSubaru BRZ Is Still a Rear-Drive Bargain2022 Subaru BRZ Specifications Cast your mind back to 2013 or thereabouts, when Subaru’s rear-drive BRZ and its cousin, the Toyota 86—then […]

Cast your mind back to 2013 or thereabouts, when Subaru’s rear-drive BRZ and its cousin, the Toyota 86—then known as the Scion FR-S—were new. Although nearly identical, the rear-drive sports cars had different personalities: The FR-S was more playful while the BRZ was more shy about shaking its tail feathers. Fast-forward to 2022, and as Yogi Berra once said, it’s déjà vu all over again. The Toyota is a slide-happy goofball, and the new 2022 Subaru BRZ is even more serious about getting through the curves as quickly as possible—i.e., with fewer speed-robbing slides.

2022 Subaru BRZ on the track

We got our first taste of the second-generation Subaru BRZ coupe on the track at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park, not far from Monticello Motor Club where we’d tried out the 2022 Toyota GR 86 just a couple of weeks prior. The choice of venues was telling. Monticello is a curvy, playful track, while Lime Rock is shorter (just seven corners) and deceptively fast. Monticello highlighted the GR 86’s love of oversteer, while Lime Rock’s higher-speed turns showed off the Subaru BRZ’s ability to keep its rear end solidly planted at high velocities.

Truth be told, we felt some initial disappointment at the BRZ’s reluctance to rotate, but as we got the hang of the track and its rhythm, our level of respect for the Subaru rose rapidly along with our speed. The BRZ stayed tight on our chosen path, allowing us to concentrate on our line and make subtle adjustments with the throttle. Like the Toyota, the Subaru is a patient teacher; it highlights mistakes with a little slip from either front or rear, rather than punishing them with snap oversteer. As we refined our technique, we could appreciate what BRZ line manager Michael Redic had told us about the team’s guiding philosophy: “Our focus was on making sure that what the driver puts in, the driver gets out—that their expectations are met every time.”

2022 Subaru BRZ Ain’t Misbehavin’

We also took Subaru’s sports car for laps on Lime Rock’s autocross loop, which is more like a miniature racetrack than a traditional autocross, and that gave us a better opportunity to poke and prod at the limits of traction and handling. Like the GR 86, the BRZ comes in two trim levels, in this case the higher Limited with 18-inch wheels and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires and the lesser Premium with Michelin Primacy tires on 17-inch wheels. (Both wheels are nearly identical 10-spoke designs; we had to scope the tires’ lettering or size information to tell them apart.)

We pushed hard in both versions, and with the PS4 tires, the BRZ stays stuck. The exception was one particular uphill corner that levels off suddenly, abruptly unloading the suspension. Here we could reliably hang out the tail and extend the drift with power, and the BRZ made recovery as easy as in the 86. The BRZ Premium’s greasier Primacy rubber was easier to break loose with the simple expedient of speed, and gathering the tail was a snap here, too. Of course, the secret to autocrossing is to slow down to go faster, and when we backed off our pace, we were amazed at the precision and light feel of the BRZ’s steering, though as with the GR 86 we would have liked more feedback.

BRZ vs GR 86: Design Differences

A look at the hardware shows why the differences between the 2022 Subaru BRZ and the 2022 Toyota GR 86 are so pronounced. Both cars use a new, stiffer body shell, but the suspension tuning tells the tale: Compared to the GR 86, the new BRZ’s spring rates are increased by 7 percent up front and decreased by 11 percent out back. The Toyota carries over the old car’s rear suspension, with its stabilizer bar mounted to the subframe, while the Subaru has a new design with a 1-mm-narrower bar anchored to the body. There are other differences, including aluminum front knuckles and a hollow front bar for the BRZ, which reduces unsprung weight compared to the Toyota’s steel knuckles and solid bar. The changes translate to a stiffer front and softer rear for the Subaru, and it’s the stiffer end of a car that lets go first.

There are other side effects to the changes in tuning: The Toyota’s ride is a bit more compliant while the BRZ rides harder and generates more road noise. The BRZ’s more studious attitude can be felt on public roads, as well; the Toyota gives you the impression you’re pushing hard without getting too far past the speed limit, while the BRZ feels like it could always go faster.

Other than handling characteristics, there is very little daylight between the Toyota and Subaru sports cars. Styling differs slightly, particularly around the front fascia, and we prefer the GR 86’s larger grille, but we don’t miss the extended “duckbill” spoiler from the Premium version of the GR 86. The interior is virtually identical save for upholstery, and everything we like in the GR 86—notably up-to-date switchgear and a nifty 7.0-inch digital dash with a distinct Track display mode—is present in the 2022 Subaru BRZ. So, too, is the dinky back seat.

More Power for the 2022 Subaru BRZ

But wait, you say—what about that bigger engine? Like the GR 86, the BRZ has had its four-cylinder boxer bored out from 2.0 to 2.4 liters, offering more horsepower and torque. The totals are now 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft versus 205 and 156, with the previous car’s 5-hp penalty for the automatic transmission eliminated. The torque curve is broader, giving the engine more flexibility; power delivery feels smooth and even between 3,500 rpm and the rev limiter. But the BRZ’s more serious attitude makes its modest power output more noticeable. We had enough oomph to play as we wanted in the GR 86, but our faster pace in the BRZ had us wishing for more power, just like in the old car.

When we drove the 2022 GR 86, we complained about its automatic transmission making it difficult for us to paddle down to get the revs we wanted. For our BRZ track drive, we left the automatic transmission in Sport mode, and it did a very nice job of delivering timely downshifts that kept the engine in its powerband. On the autocross, we used manual mode to lock the transmission in second or third gear, and that worked just fine. Given its greater reluctance to break the back end loose under power—and therefore a lower desire to play on the far end of the tachometer—the automatic is less of an impediment in the Subaru than it is in the Toyota. That said, given the choice, we’ll take the BRZ’s six-speed manual over the automatic every single time.

Subaru BRZ Is Still a Rear-Drive Bargain

Pricing for the 2022 Subaru BRZ will start at $28,955 for the manual Premium and top out at $33,255 for the automatic Limited. Automatic cars add more safety features for Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system, and in addition to the bigger wheels and gummier tires, Limiteds get a better stereo, upgraded upholstery, heated front seats, and headlights that steer with the wheels. We’d opt for the lower-trim Toyota since the more mundane tires increase the fun factor, but with the BRZ it’s the Limited we’d choose, primarily for those Pilot Sport 4s. Of course, if the Limited’s other goodies don’t appeal, you could always grab the Premium and add your own performance-tire/18-inch-wheel combo.

Our first experience with the 2022 GR 86 had us grinning like idiots; we came away from the 2022 BRZ wearing a more sober countenance that reflected our respect for its high-speed stability. Once more of the MT staff gets the chance to drive both cars, we expect a house divided. Some will prefer the stupid sideways fun of the GR 86, while others will favor the high-speed skill of the BRZ. We’re glad that Subaru and Toyota have given us the choice. And even though the two sports cars differ in personality, our takeaway here parallels our opinion of the GR 86: What the old BRZ did well, the 2022 Subaru BRZ does even better.

2022 Subaru BRZ Specifications

BASE PRICE $28,955-$32,255
LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 2.4L/228-hp/184-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual/6-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT 2,815-2,881 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 101.4 in
L x W x H 167.9 x 69.9 x 51.6 in
0-60 MPH 6.0-6.5 sec (mfr est)
EPA FUEL ECON 20-21/27-30/22-25 mpg
ON SALE Fall 2021

Kitty Gochal

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