What's a Toyobaru, anyway?: This is Subaru's version of the sports car co-developed with Toyota. The 'Toyobaru' twins (its sibling being the Toyota 86) eschew the size and complexities that seem to bloat most modern sports cars, and instead offer a slimmed-down waistline, unadorned interior, and nimble handling. All in all, it delivers.
Purpose-built interior: Don't expect leather or massaging seats here - this is a sparse cockpit rather than a lavish cabin. Materials don't try to hide their back-to-basics roots, and the monotonous expanse of black everything would make Henry Ford proud.
The backseat is there in the most technical sense: yes, there are seats in the back. But they're more for helping drop insurance premiums rather than anything else. Even children won't want to stay there long. We'd just keep the rear seats folded flat, or otherwise use them as an upholstered shelf that happens to have two seat belt anchors.
If this were a family car, all of the above would be demerits. But this isn't a family car - it's a driver's car through and through, and for those looking for uncompromised focus, the BRZ succeeds in its mission. Good visibility, low center of gravity, and well-bolstered seats give the car a sense of old-school purity and purpose. What it doesn't have in features or quality, it makes up for in adherence to that old, almost forgotten dogma of honest simplicity.
Nimble handling: The ace hiding up the BRZ's wheel well is how admirably it manages itself in the corners. With bigger, heavier cars, there's more drama and delay, even if it's only measurable in milliseconds. The 2,800 pound BRZ, by contrast, feels almost clairvoyant on winding roads. Approach, turn the wheel, and bam — the nose is pointing in the direction it was intended.
Partial credit for this can go to that boxer-style four-cylinder engine under the hood. The design splays the pistons out horizontally across from each other, in the process spreading the weight across a greater area and placing low in the chassis.
Despite this, the engine leaves us wanting. It makes a meager 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque, and the power just isn't there to keep up with the nimble chassis. The key to speed with this car is maintaining momentum - lose it and you're back at square one, which sits 9.3 seconds from 60 mph. As good as the handling is, a healthy jump in power would make for an even more invigorating experience.
A performance value: A lot of good sports cars sit out of reach for many enthusiasts, especially the younger set. The BRZ helps rectify this by carrying a price tag that's within reach for those not trying to take out a mortgage for a new performance car. A base Premium trim stickers for $25,795, while the nicer-trimmed Limited can be had for $28,645.
By contrast, a ragtop Miata begins at $25,730. This is the BRZ's closest competitor, not so much in apparent similarities - after all, one's a convertible two-seater and the other a four-seater hardtop - but in ethos and philosophy. Both are light, nimble, and low on power but high in smile-inducing fun.
You can try to compare a Mustang or Camaro, but their added heft and longer shadows make them feel more like grand tourers than lightweight sports cars. To pit either of the American coupes against the Subaru would only serve to highlight the disparity in their respective intentions.
Final thoughts: Cheap analog sports cars were once taken for granted rather than heralded and evangelized. But dastardly things like changing tastes and market effects and good business sense have established a new world order in this latest century. It's conspired to make something as seemingly mundane as the cheap rear-drive BRZ a rare bit of sparse unpolished sanctity in an era intent on luxifying everything from sub-compacts to heavy-duty trucks.
Some might not like the crudeness of the BRZ. Others might find fault with the rather mediocre fuel economy or lack of space or some other objective measure. These are all valid flaws, yet the rectifying of these flaws would undo the whole delicate knot that makes the BRZ as special and worthwhile as it is.
More money can buy a better sports car, but there are few sports cars as simple and visceral as the 2019 BRZ.
Check prices for the 2019 Subaru BRZ »