Car Reviews

2018 Subaru BRZ tS Review

Isaac Bober’s 2018 Subaru BRZ tS Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: Subaru sprinkles some STi goodness on the BRZ… our tS isn’t quite the same as the Japan-only BRZ STi Sport but it’s close in all the right areas.

2018 Subaru BRZ tS

Pricing $39,894+ORC Warranty three-years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 152kW at 7000rpm Torque 212Nm from 6400-6800rpm Transmission six-speed manual (as tested) Drive rear-wheel drive Dimensions 4240mm (L) 1775mm (W) 1320mm (H) 2570mm (WB) Turning Circle 10.8m Weight 1295kg Boot Space 218L Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 50L Thirst 8.4L/100km

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HARD TO BELIEVE that the Subaru BRZ has been knocking around in Australia since 2012 and while Subaru has resisted loud calls for the thing to be given more power it has, ever-so-often tweaked the BRZ to keep it fresh. The arrival of the BRZ tS, an homage to the BRZ STi Sport, which is a Japan-only model mirrors recent tweaks to the twin-under-the-skin Toyota 86, only the BRZ tS gets STI gear. The 86 doesn’t.

What is the Subaru BRZ tS?

Put simply, it’s Subaru’s version of the recently upgraded Toyota 86 which for an additional $2200-$2900 adds a ‘performance kit’ including Brembo brakes and Sachs dampers, wheels, new rear wing and red accents. The BRZ tS takes the tweak a little further, adding Sachs dampers, STI springs, Brembo brakes, a flexible v-shaped bar to keep steering response sharp under load, a flexible draw stiffener, and much more.

2019 Subaru BRZ tS Review

Unlike the Toyota 86, the BRZ tS is a specific model rather than a package. Available as both a manual or automatic, pricing starts at $39,894+ORC for the manual and $41,894+ORC for the automatic. Our test car was the six-speed manual equipped BRZ tS.

Some will moan that the BRZ tS continues with the standard car’s 2.0-litre Boxer four-cylinder but you really should drive the thing before taking to your keyboard and tapping out a comment. Let’s get into this thing.

What’s the interior like?

Okay, the BRZ tS doesn’t make any major changes to the cabin of the BRZ other than a sprinkling of STi badged bits and pieces and some red inserts on the seats and contrast stitching. That said, it looks good and because Subaru’s upgraded the infotainment system to one running Subaru’s third-generation software, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and native sat-nav. It’s a 7.0-inch unit which fits well onto the dash but the ratio stretches the smartphone interface a smidge but, hey, when the thing’s gripping to a corner like it’s got claws and your face is split in a stupid grin then you don’t much care that your smartphone display is slightly stretched.

2019 Subaru BRZ tS Review

More broadly, the fact the BRZ tS has smartphone connectivity is yet another reason I’d recommend it over its Toyota sibling. Indeed, that company’s head-in-the-sand approach to offering Apple and Android interfacing is beyond me. Moving on.

The smartphone connectivity works well and quickly and the native infotainment system is good too. It’s easy to use, is all touch screen accessed with some hard shortcut buttons which is great. During my time with the BRZ tS I fiddled around with the sat-nav which was easy to use; it suggests locations as you’re typing to get to the result quicker, but can only be used when the vehicle is stationary. It wasn’t perfect, though. It asked me to turn down a no-right turn road and had pronunciation difficulties with the word ‘towards’. But that’s not a biggie. The native system re-routes quickly and cleanly and the directions are all given with plenty of time even if you will giggle every time the system says the word, ‘towards’.

The cabin is snug but you don’t feel claustrophobic and there are plenty of hidey holes for odds and ends, like your phone, coffee cups or water bottles. The front seats are form-fitting but, even at six-foot tall I felt comfortable and was able to get a good driving position. There’s good fore and aft movement on the seats and the steering wheel offers decent reach although rake movement is limited. Despite that, I felt right at home behind the wheel of the BRZ tS with good vision right around the thing.

2019 Subaru BRZ tS Review

Climb into the back and it’s a completely different story, though. I had to travel with the whole family in the car, for a short period only and to give my son some legroom behind me meant that I was squashed forwards onto the steering wheel. My wife, who’s leg is in a moon boot because of a buggered ankle had to push her seat all the way back, meaning that my daughter had no legroom at all.

That said, the shape of the rear seat is good and there’s enough head, shoulder and elbow room. But with bugger all legroom you’re best off using the back seats for groceries as they’re less likely to slide around in here than if you store them in the boot which offers 218 litres of storage space. It’s a flat, shallow boot which hides a space saver spare.

The material quality and fit and finish on the BRZ tS is good and the red accents and contrast stitching, along with the STi badges make the cabin feel cool.

What’s it like to drive?

This is the best bit. When I was younger, I worked at MOTOR Magazine and had the fortune/misfortune of being handed the keys to a Lotus Exige to ferry it 600km for the annual Performance Car of the Year. It was orange and awesome.

After just half of those 600km had passed beneath the sticky rubber, the corner carver had imprinted itself on my brain as one of the finest handling vehicles on earth. And I still use that thing as a yard stick to measure sports cars. And that brings me neatly to the BRZ tS, see, the tweaks Subaru has made to the suspension and tyres have taken it from lairy to scalpel sharp, and I like that.

2019 Subaru BRZ tS Review

Drifting is great, but it’s not my thing… And it’s not the BRZ tS’s bag either. See, the tyres have been swapped to grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres from the Pilot Primacy rubber on other variants; these tyres are a little slipperier making it easier to hang the bum out.

I can still remember hurling the Exige at corners and feeling every little bit of grit on the road come back through into the cabin and into my fingertips through the steering wheel, and that’s exactly how the BRZ tS feels. Now, Mazda talks about its horse and rider as one philosophy, but I can tell you the MX-5 doesn’t come close to the car and driver connection the BRZ tS conjures. It’s a well-worn description, but you really do feel dialled into the car’s doings. We’ll come back to this.

Let’s talk about the engine. The BRZ tS gets the same amount of oomph as the rest of the range, which is 152kW at 7000rpm and 212Nm of torque between 6400-6800rpm. This will see the thing get to 100km/h in 7.4 seconds.

Now, some will lament we didn’t get the 250kW engine from the BRZ STi concept last year, but this thing isn’t about travelling between corners at warp speed. Not in my opinion, anyway, it’s about extracting every last drop of feel and fun when driving. And you don’t need to be going fast to do that.

I spent a lot of time in the tS, driving it to and from Sydney twice in the week I had it, out onto the PM test loop beyond the Blue Mountains, and around town too. I found that, sure, you had to make use of the gears on longer hills to keep the thing spinning happily along, but there was generally more than enough thrust for overtaking or keeping up with traffic.

The manual gearbox is notchy and the clutch light and so it takes some getting used to to avoid hitting a gate from second- to third-gear. The clutch grabs right at the bottom of its travel but there’s no sensation of it biting, so, hurried gear changes can see the vehicle lurch. Get used to it, though, and you can shift smoothly and cleanly. The brakes also lack feel but they grab well and seem strong, if the punishment they copped on two laps of our test loop is anything to go by.

2019 Subaru BRZ tS Review

The steering wheel feels good in the hands, although I have read other journos complain about the angle of the wheel… it reminds me of a, wait for it, Lotus Exige. Indeed, it’s the intimacy and feel through the wheel when pressure is building through the vehicle mid-corner that mark this out as one of the best sports cars I’ve ever driven. My words really are too clumsy to do justice to the feeling and feel you get as you start carving through back to back corners, and you don’t have to be travelling too quickly for the BRZ tS to start communicating.

And then we come to the ride and handling. Our test loop is great for pulling apart a vehicle’s chassis, although, the loop is not so great as once it was. See, the authorities, obviously to appease the locals, have resurfaced a section of road that was as rough as guts. I loved it because, well, one, I didn’t have to drive across it every day and, two, because it told you in a few hundred metres how the vehicle rode across a patchwork surface. That’s gone now, but there are other rough sections of road on our loop and the dirt section is still there.

Across the highway, the BRZ tS felt good. Yes, the suspension is firm and you feel every wibble and wobble in the road, but the movements are well controlled and you don’t ever wince when you hit a bump. As the road stays smooth and the corners start coming, the BRZ tS moulds to the road like one of those downhill moguls skier; and you start grinning.

A section of our loop is tight, twisting, narrow and poorly surfaced but the BRZ stays on target, scything from corner to corner. The wooden brake pedal proves the only bit that’s not disappointing, but just not as impressive as the rest of the experience.

Even across dirt the BRZ tS feels stable and secure. And, then, when I intentionally provoked the tail it moved cleanly and was easily controlled. A lift off the throttle was enough to bring the tail gently back into line.

The tweaks the BRZ tS bring take this car to a level its garden variety siblings or any other sports car within cooee of its price tag can match. This is a sports car with character and control and one that you don’t have to wring the neck of to enjoy. It’s my new favourite sports car, and not just at this price point, at any price point.

What about safety features?

The BRZ tS carries the BRZ’s five-star ANCAP rating from 2012 but misses out on Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system. It gets airbags for front and rear rows, traction and stability controls, keyless entry and push button start, cruise control and an engine immobiliser. It’s a basic safety system but the BRZ performed well, structurally, when it was tested by ANCAP, so the body shell is strong.

What about ownership?

Subaru has a good reputation for building solid and reliable vehicles and the BRZ should prove to be no exception. Sure, the warranty isn’t the best around but the capped price servicing extends to three years with nine month or 15,000km intervals at $224.55 each for the four services covered.

Looking at issues flagged by owners of the BRZ, it seems that early 2012-2013 variants copped the most amount of recalls for things like a rattle in the gear shifter on manual models, and tweaks to noisy fuel pumps. A power steering wiring harness was recalled in 2016. But, in terms of mechanical issues, the BRZ seems solid and our own Robert Pepper hasn’t suffered any issues with his twin-under-the-skin Toyota 86.

So, what do we think?

If you don’t know what I think by now then you probably haven’t been reading the review very closely. I loved my time with the BRZ tS. It’s a sports car that uses struts, braces, improved suspension and more to give the driver more feel through the wheel, better grip on the road (thanks to different tyres) and the sort of mid-corner balance, poise and body control you normally have to pay a lot, lot more to get. This thing is easily my new favourite sports car.

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like?
What's it like to drive?
What about safety?
Practical Motoring Says: The Subaru BRZ tS offers the sort of ride and fits-like-a-glove handling one normally associates with Lotus… or Porsche. Yep, the tweaked BRZ tS is the sort of sports car that sports car enthusiasts go wobbly kneed over, once they’ve driven it. Before that, they’ll lament it’s not got more power… after their drive they won’t care about that, so good is this thing in the corners. The upgraded infotainment system (now standard across the BRZ range) and the STi bits and pieces make this car feel special.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.