Andi HedrickCar and Driver
Every hero has a weakness, and the original Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S (later Toyota 86) had two: power delivery and grip. The rear-wheel-drive chassis was sublime, but the tires offered all the traction of bowling shoes, and the 2.0-liter flat-four had a torque curve with a death valley at about 3000 rpm. But, as the new Toyobaru twins’ presence on this list should tell you, they fixed it. In a big way.
We figured they’d slap on a turbocharger and call it day. Instead, the Japanese siblings stuck with a naturally aspirated flat-four and upped its displacement. Subaru’s 2.4-liter makes 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The new engine transforms the car’s personality while staying true to its roots. It’s rev happy—peak horsepower arrives at a fizzy 7000 rpm—but now there’s plenty of midrange gumption, too, vastly improving the everyday driving experience. That newfound muscle is deployed though optional Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer rubber. This is still a benign sliding machine, but no longer does it feel like you’re always driving on a wet skidpad.
They also fixed a few things we didn’t know needed fixing. Torsional rigidity is up 50 percent, lending a feeling of absolute solidity that’s uncommon in a car this small and affordable. That improvement is even more impressive given that mass remains uncommonly low, at around 2800 pounds. On the road, these changes harmonize into a singular sports-car experience—the flat-four singing its 7000-rpm song as you slot the six-speed manual into the next gear and point the wonderfully balanced rear-drive chassis into a corner, the standard Torsen limited-slip differential making the most of it. The spindly A-pillars make for wonderful forward sightlines, allowing you to place the inside front tire exactly where you want it. That even applies at night; the optional headlights follow the path of the steering, illuminating apexes as the sun goes down.
So, what’s the flaw this time around? Well, the cupholders are inconvenient. See, they’re behind you and under a padded cover that serves as the armrest, so you can have an armrest or a place to put your coffee but not both at the same time. They designed it that way to make room for a mechanical hand brake that sits next to the shifter and prompts rally-car fantasies every time you look at it. Therefore, these particular inconvenient cupholders are extremely awesome, and we appreciate them.
Subaru and Toyota’s precocious offspring are unlike any other car at any price, which makes it all the more amazing that you can buy into this experience for about $30,000, give or take a few grand depending on trim and whether you (gasp!) spring for the automatic transmission. Somehow, Subaru and Toyota grew the BRZ and the GR 86 into formidable sports cars without abandoning the essential qualities that made them so endearing in the first place. The hero’s journey is supposed to be more complicated than that, but this dynamic duo skipped the second act and went straight from exposition to a 10Best-worthy resolution.
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