2017 Subaru BRZ First Drive

2017 Subaru BRZ

When the Subaru BRZ debuted in 2012, it was heralded as a return to the traditional Japanese sport coupe formula – a compact, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive runabout that hearkened back to greats like the original Toyota Celica, Mazda’s RX-3, and the Nissan 240SX. Japan is covered in mountains, and that’s where its enthusiasts honed their hooning. Cars that emphasize handling, not horsepower, make the most sense there.

2017 Subaru BRZ

Now, five years on, Subaru is using the model’s first facelift to further differentiate it from its Toyota cousin. The BRZ is Subaru’s ultimate vision of a sophisticated driver’s car, more string-backed gloves than flat-brimmed hat. To prove the point, Subaru invited us to drive the refreshed 2017 specimen, along with 2016 models for comparison, at Japan’s legendary Fuji Speedway.

The BRZ’s revised styling makes the distinction painfully clear right off the bat. It now sports a squarer jawline, with a chin described by senior designer Yuki Kumono as aircraft-inspired. LED DRLs are embedded in the new headlamps, moved up from the space they once shared with fog lights. A side note for Subaru fans: The C-shaped DRLs are called “hawkeyes” internally, which is sure to cause confusion among Subarists who havealready given that name to the 2006–07 Impreza WRX and STI.Freshened taillights and a reshaped spoiler update the badonk, and the Subie has new fender inserts. Styling is of course a subjective matter, but anyone who says the sea-creature maw of the post-Scion 2017 Toyota 86 is better looking is clearly wrong.

Ultimately, though, the question on everybody’s minds is, “Does the BRZ have any more danged power?” The answer to that is yes, technically, but only on certain cars. The 2.0-liter boxer four makes five more horsepower and five more pound-feet of torque only on manual-transmission cars. That brings the totals to 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. Cries for a turbocharger have gone stubbornly unanswered.

In typical Japanese fashion, it’s not the numbers that matter. Subaru has focused instead on the overall driving feel, that elusive metric that can’t be expressed on a spec sheet or through the frothing internet comments of armchair racers. Subaru’s engineers, some of whom are trained as the company’s expert test drivers, have toiled away at a host of improvements for the base Premium trim, the upper Limited grade, and a new Performance Package that’s available on top of the latter.

Sliding into the 2017 car, the cabin immediately feels more upscale and welcoming than the Spartan pre-facelift model’s. Most of the touchable surfaces, including the dash, door panels, and center console, come slathered in soft stitched materials instead of the old hard plastic.