This is a bittersweet time to be a sports car enthusiast – and I’m not talking about the dreaded rise of the “soulless” electric vehicle or the rapidly proceeding demise of coupes. Cars are faster and more capable than ever before, but the continuous push to build something “better” is creating a world where cars are designed more for bragging rights than actual enjoyment. Fortunately, there are a few cars left that cater to real-world drivers on the street rather than automotive journalists on the test track, and we should all praise the new 2022 Subaru BRZ for ensuring that the traditional sports car won’t die off for at least a few more years.
While Subaru did bow to the masses and gave its new BRZ a bigger engine, the rest of the vehicle remains remarkably unchanged from what it was always intended to be – an affordable and lightweight car that you could actually bring out on the street. Aside from the legendary Mazda Miata, this type of sports car that focuses on reliable fun is increasingly difficult to find as manufacturers and enthusiasts chase higher and higher performance numbers. As cars get ever more powerful, it is time to stop and assess what we really want from a sports car.
Back to the Basics
The headline numbers for the 2022 BRZ are 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque from a 2.4L boxer-four. That’s a decent upgrade from the 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque that the old 2.0L engine produced, but is it really what we should be focusing on? In an era when you can go out and buy a Camry with over 300 horsepower, going fast isn’t really a good reason to own a sports car anymore. In fact, I’d wager that the current democratization of horsepower is a huge reason why sports car sales have slumped – why buy a cramped little coupe when you can get a comfortable and reasonably priced SUV from Ford with more horsepower than a Lamborghini Countach?
Sports cars aren’t even much use as a status symbol in a world where a Sierra Denali commands more attention than a Porsche. What continues to set sports cars apart are the traits that you can only get from a vehicle designed for performance – sharp handling, a low center of gravity, and lightweight. While a car like the new BMW M4 G82 is a simply incredible machine (no matter what you might think of its looks), they sacrifice many of those fundamental sports car attributes, chasing numbers that are increasingly irrelevant.
With a 3.0L twin-turbo inline-six producing over 500 horsepower, the G82 has twice the power of the 2022 BRZ and can run the quarter-mile in just 11.6-seconds. Of course, that power comes at a cost, and the G82 also weighs over 3700 pounds and has a wheelbase of 112 inches. To put that into perspective, those dimensions are a half-foot longer and over 300 pounds heavier than a Toyota RAV4. The G82 can put down unbelievable track times despite that bulk, but it’s not exactly a nimble and engaging sports car.
In contrast, the 2022 BRZ weighs in at an incredibly light 2,815 pounds, just 27 pounds heavier than the previous generation. Not so long ago, it was difficult to find a sports car over 3,000 pounds, but today it is difficult to find one that weighs less than that. Even the Porsche Cayman, one of the ultimate driver’s cars, now tips the scales at 3,034 pounds. It may not attract attention like horsepower ratings, but Subaru understood that keeping weight low was critical to preserving the sports car feel.
Subaru didn’t stop at boosting power and minimizing weight gain, though. The 2022 model also boasts 50% better torsional rigidity, 60% better lateral front rigidity, and even a lower center of gravity (which was likely helped by having most of the weight gain confined to the low-mounted boxer engine). Subaru also kept the 6-speed manual transmission and the Torsen limited-slip differential – two features that are rather difficult to find in the modern crop of fun cars. With the addition of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires, arguably the best street tire on the market, this is a car that embodies everything a road-going sports car should be, even if it doesn’t have the fastest 0 to 60 mph time around.
What to Leave Out
The modern market isn’t just pushing manufacturers to make cars far more powerful than necessary for the road; it is also driving the inclusion of features that arguably do more to detract from the sports car experience than add to it. From cockpit dominating infotainment displays to intrusive driver aids, it makes you wonder whether the engineers and consumers alike have forgotten that the purpose of a sports car is the enjoyment of driving. Do you really need a dozen Bose speakers when you can listen to the tires move over the pavement? Do you really want warning noises whenever you brush the lines while apexing a corner?
Somewhere along the line, people seem to have gotten sports cars and luxury cars confused, but Subaru didn’t make that mistake with the BRZ. Sure, it includes an 8” touchscreen infotainment system – but it’s buried in the dash below your line of sight, unlike the now-common “floating” screens that obnoxiously clutter your vision. It is even open to question if Subaru would have included it at all without the government mandating a backup camera (the JDM base model used to come with a piece of trim where the infotainment normally goes).
Perhaps the largest and most exciting absence is the lack of Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist technologies (at least on the manual cars). While this decision may owe more to the high costs of developing EyeSight for the handful of manual cars that Subaru sells, it is something to be thankful for. Even the Mazda Miata now comes standard with a whole slew of driver-assist features, including automatic braking and lane departure warning. For a fully-redesigned sports car to not include similar features in 2021 is a minor miracle.
Similar simplicity is seen throughout the cabin. The well-bolstered seats remain manually adjustable, and there is no option for a sunroof, two decisions that sacrificed luxury to shave off weight and cost. However, the 2022 BRZ remains a very modern car, and Subaru did not shy away from introducing advanced technology where it improves the driving experience. For instance, there is a new fully digital instrument cluster that offers detailed information on engine temperature, oil temperature, and battery voltage in addition to an easy-to-read central tachometer and digital speedometer. Even better, Subaru eschewed the flashy graphics and pointless animations that fill so many other digital instrument clusters.
There Are Two Paths to Take
The 2022 Subaru BRZ demonstrates that it is still possible to build a car that combines all the traditional sports car elements. However, it remains up to the market whether such a vehicle will be embraced or ignored. The everyday sports car for the average buyer is a dead segment. Today, people who want to go fast or show off buy a performance SUV or a pickup truck. While that means the sports car market will shrink, it also means the sports car market will become the domain of the true driving enthusiast.
As this occurs, there are two paths that we can take. We could continue to push for more and more power and performance, building fabulous cars like the M4 G82 that put down incredible lap times but that are a little more interesting to drive on the street than any other luxury sedan. Or we could have cars like the 2022 BRZ that are intended to maximize the sports car experience, allowing for driving enjoyment wherever you are. Which way the industry goes will largely be up to all of us.