2015 Subaru BRZ is sporty, affordable, fuel-conscious coupe with rear-wheel drive

Markets Associated Press

Subaru's all-wheel drive passion aside, the automaker crafts a fun, rear-wheel drive, sport coupe. The 2015 Surbaru BRZ is surprisingly affordable, too, with a starting retail price of less than $26,500.

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Better yet, the low-slung, two-door BRZ earned the top safety score of five out of five stars, overall, in federal government crash tests. Standard safety equipment includes six air bags, anti-lock brakes and brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control.

The BRZ comes only with a naturally aspirated four cylinder — no turbo. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic — no dual-clutch. And the BRZ can be noisy to ride in, with plentiful road noise.

But the only rear-drive car offered by Subaru has precise steering, virtually no body lean in corners, sport-tuned suspension, Torsion limited-slip rear differential, 200 horsepower, light weight and a terrific-for-handling low center of gravity.

The BRZ even has decent fuel mileage. In fact, this sporty coupe ranks sixth in federal government fuel mileage ratings among gasoline-powered, 2015 coupe nameplates. A 2015 BRZ with six-speed automatic is rated at 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 28 mpg.

Most gasoline coupes that top this rating, such as the Scion iQ, Mini Cooper Coupe and Fiat 500, are arguably more utilitarian-looking than the sporty BRZ.

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Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $26,490 for a 2015 BRZ Premium with rear-wheel drive, four-cylinder "boxer" engine and six-speed manual transmission. The lowest starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2015 BRZ with six-speed automatic is $27,695.

There aren't a lot of options for the BRZ, which comes standard with high-intensity discharge headlights, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, cruise control, air conditioning, folding rear seatback, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming, Aha infotainment, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, keyless entry and voice-activated navigation system.

The tester was one of the 1,000 Series.Blue limited editions that were new for 2015. It added $1,795 worth of sporty items including special spoilers, black-finish alloy wheels, red-painted brake calipers, carbon fiber-patterned interior trim and leather- and alcantara-trimmed seats with blue stitching.

Competitors to the BRZ include its engineering sibling, the 2015 Scion FR-S, which has a starting retail price of $25,670 with manual transmission. This is $820 less than the corresponding BRZ. The 2015 FR-S with automatic also is lower priced. Its $26,770 starting retail price, including destination charge, undercuts the BRZ automatic model by $925.

and Subaru worked together in engineering the two coupes and sell their versions under the different names. is a minor partner in Subaru.

Another competitor in the lower-priced coupe segment is the 2015 Kia Forte Koup SX, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $21,415 with manual transmission. Note the Forte two door is front-wheel drive. But the SX comes with a 201-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder.

BRZ stands for Boxer Renaissance Zenith, referring to Subaru's traditional use of horizontally opposed, boxer engines being taken to a new level. For the BRZ, the 2-liter boxer four cylinder adds Toyota-sourced direct-injection technology to produce the 200 horses and peak torque of 151 foot-pounds of torque at 6,400 rpm.

This compares, though, to 195 foot-pounds of torque produced by the turbo four in the Forte Koup SX, and the turbo torque starts at a low 1,750 rpm and carries to 4,500 rpm.

The seat of the pants "oomph" sensation surely is different between the two cars. At around 2,775 pounds, the BRZ weighs up to 230 pounds less than a Forte Koup SX. As a result, the power-to-weight ratio is impressive for the BRZ. It can make the car feel exhilarating and lively, even without a turbo.

Add in the exemplary handling — rear-wheel drive, quick steering response, tenacious road hugging — and the fun-to-drive quotient zooms.

On twisty roads, the test BRZ moved through the right- and left-hand curves at good speed as if it were one single piece. The car's low center of gravity — some 18 inches above the pavement — keeps the BRZ amazingly flat in turns and curves, with nary any body motion.

Engineers worked to move the engine as far back as possible to center the weight. This also allowed for short, sporty body overhangs at the front of the car.

The nimble character and small size of the BRZ — it's only half a foot longer, from bumper to bumper, than a Honda Fit — add to the optimal handling.

Inside, the BRZ didn't feel as cramped as expected. Front seats provided good support and were comfortable. Front-seat headroom is a decent 37.1 inches, and legroom is a generous 41.9 inches.

It's the back seats that are diminutive, with 35 inches of headroom and just 29.9 inches of legroom. It's also a real pain to get into and out of the back seats, and rather than calling the BRZ a four-passenger auto, Subaru calls it a 2-plus-2-passenger car on the specs sheet.

Wearing summer performance tires, the test BRZ Series.Blue was noisy. Most road noises readily came through to passengers. On all but the smoothest of asphalt passengers felt vibrations from road surfaces. At times, the ride could be downright jarring.

The 6.1-inch display screen for the audio/navigation unit with CD player in the dashboard was small compared with those in many other cars. Buttons were small, too, and not easy to operate.

The 196-watt amplifier often could not overcome the road and engine noises that intruded.

Consumer Reports says reliability is well below average.