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Does a Subaru BRZ work as a family car?

This week I’ve been swanning about in a refreshed 2017 Subaru BRZ… but I haven’t track tested it, rather I’ve ‘family’ tested it. Did it pass?

MIGHT SEEM LIKE an odd test of a car like the Subaru BRZ. You probably expect to see it being given a hard time at a race track (Robert’s already done that and you can read his opinion here), but the truth of the matter is the vast, vast, vast majority of owners of either a Subaru BRZ or its twin under the skin, Toyota 86 are buying it to schlep about in.

And when it comes to schlepping, nothing beats loading up the family and really testing a car’s ability to do what it is we need a car to do everyday. Like, drive to the shops, drop kids off at school and pick them up again, longer drives to visit friends, and even visit the local hardware store, because who doesn’t do that at least once every week.

So, there’s another, normal test of the Subaru BRZ coming this week, but for now let’s consider how well it handles life as a family car. Or even, for that matter, the car of someone who’s about as close to six-feet-tall as you can get without actually being six foot…

First, let’s talk about me. As I mentioned, I’m nearly six-feet tall and so folding myself up to fit into a sports car can be a real pain. Sure, it was fun when I was younger and one of my fondest motoring memories is piloting a Lotus Exige for more than 600km when I worked at MOTOR Magazine and it was Performance Car of the Year time. The thing was cramped, loud and an absolute hoot.

So, what about the BRZ, well, it’s got the cramped bit bang on with all of the controls feeling like they’re literally in my face. And getting in is typically sports car annoying, meaning you open the door and poke one leg in and then shuffle and bend and curse as you bang your head on the door frame and eventually end up falling into the seat. Climbing out is a little easier, because you just swing one leg out, hoping the door won’t swing back and cut off said leg and then roll out of the car in the least glamorous way possible. Even my nimble eight-year-old struggled to clamber out of the thing.

Driving the BRZ, say, once or twice a week would allow me to forgive this in and out process, but using it everyday would and has worn a bit thin. And with the grey hairs appearing in my beard and hair, I look like some oldie going through a mid-life crisis, and nobody wants that.

Subaru BRZ as a family car

So, what about the kids? The BRZ might have four seats, or two proper seats and two carved out niches that are covered in material and made to look like seats, but only those without legs can use the back seats. I fitted a booster seat to the back, behind the passenger seat and it fit perfectly; no gaps, no movement, and there ISOFIX mounts and top tether points. But helping my five-year old daughter climb into the back was, let’s just say, interesting. For a start, she’s not strong enough to lift the lever on the passenger seat that tilts the back rest and allows the seat to slide forward. And when I did it for her and then let go of the seat it immediately shot backwards and slammed into the back seat. Hmmm.

Once she had climbed into the back then she wasn’t strong enough to pull the seatbelt which was running through its booster seat-mounted guide, and so I had to lean into the back and twist to pull the seatbelt across her and clipped into the receiver. And then it was time to put the front passenger seat back which you’ve got to do just-so to avoid it being pushed up against the little one’s legs, but enough room that someone in the front doesn’t have their own legs folded up under their chin.

For the sake of this trip, he who had called shotgun was my nearly-nine-year-old who is both too heavy and too tall to now sit in a booster, which would be my ideal for any child under the age of 10, but that’s a whole other argument, as is that children should rear-face for as long as possible… The seatbelt fit the boy just fine and so off we went. After getting the kids into the car and then folding myself into the front seat I was exhausted and not exactly loving the sports car life.

But, before I move on, I posted a pic of the booster in the back of the BRZ and it sparked a debate around the amount of room and side impact protection for a baby/child sitting in the back. Having owned a tiny-tot Ford Fiesta and being t-boned on the side my son was sitting on, he was about six-months-old at the time, I’d hazard a guess and say the side impact protection on the BRZ isn’t really the main issue. The car is tiny and unless it went up against another small car, no matter its five-star ANCAP rating and its side impact protection of 15.43 out of 16 (which is excellent) it’s likely to come off second best. That said, bar the legroom there was more than enough room for my daughter in the back of the BRZ it’s just that I found it a struggle to get her in there.

What about driving the thing? Well, it was nice to have a press car that’s got a manual gearbox which is becoming a rarer and rarer thing these days. More than that, the manual variants get more power than the auto versions, with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 152kW and 212Nm of torque, and it was the latter figure that was of most concern to me.

See, the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ is not a fast car it’s not even a particularly quick car, indeed a Polo GTI is cheaper, has more grunt and is quicker to 100km/h in either manual or DSG trim, and there’s more room for back seat passengers. But to simply dismiss the BRZ (and its twin) on those grounds is missing the point.

There is indeed performance to be had out of the BRZ but you’ve got to work it, there really is no torque to rest on in a higher gear and where I live in Leura NSW, it was necessary to use mainly fourth gear as fifth and sixth on the hills would see the thing almost going backwards. But, away from this there’s enough usable performance that you can overtake easily enough and that you can push the thing without being too worried about exceeding the speed limit.

And I think that that is probably the charm of the thing. It’s not a lazy sports car that allows you to swan about; you’ve got to work the BRZ before it comes alive. But you’ll know within a few metres that the BRZ is a gem of a sports car; it rides well and the steering is excellent; linear and well weighted, although some might argue that it’s a little too heavy at parking speeds. And in the corners it feels planted and adjustable, but the immediacy of connection between driver and car movement means being ham fisted with the thing will see you picking bits of tree out of your teeth. Just because the thing is affordable doesn’t mean it’s easy to drive… but for drivers it can be a real joy.

I’ll have a more thorough assessment later this week.

Back to the school run. I walked past the boot, thinking it might be overkill to stash my daughter’s school bag there, and put it on the back seat next to her. And that was fine, although to get the bag back out I had to fold my seat forwards; I couldn’t just reach into the back, so small is the cabin.

Subaru BRZ as a family car

Later in the week, with me and my two children on board… there was no room for mum (which means, the BRZ ultimately fails as a family car) it was off to the hardware store, a weekly occurrence when you’re renovating a crumbling house. This time it was to buy an impact driver and some glue (an impact driver, I might add, that was cheaper than hiring one for a weekend, so, as long as it lasts longer than a weekend I’ll consider that a win). I thought I’d try out the boot, which isn’t really a boot, just a storage space for the spare wheel. That said, I was able to place all my items into the boot/spare wheel and they didn’t slide around.

Subaru BRZ as a family car
Found I had to park away from other cars as the doors are long and need to be opened right up to climb inside.

The BRZ passed all of my ‘family’ tests, and there were others I haven’t mentioned here, like going to the supermarket and a couple of trips into the Big Smoke, but the BRZ didn’t pass with flying colours. And the major ‘family’ test was a complete fail. We tried to get my son into the seat behind me, but even if I pushed my seat forward about as close to the wheel as I dared, there still wasn’t room for his feet. And, my wife is just about my height and with the passenger seat set for her, it was pretty tight for my daughter sat behind her.

So, in the end I’d argue that you can’t have a BRZ and use it as a family car, unless you’re, perhaps, a single parent. So, the BRZ is really just an indulgence of a car, but an indulgence that can be a real hoot if it’s just car and driver getting about the place.

Question: Do you own a BRZ or Toyota 86? Do you agree or disagree with me… let me know in the comments below.

  • GTfrank

    Now that my son is 1 the forward facing car seat is fine in the back of the BRZ. Now the 3 of us can go out. When you have a new born and must face the car seat facing back. No human can sit in the passenger seat. Driving home from the hospital with a new born my wife had to sit in the seat behind me with her legs going down the middle of the car. I am 6.5 feet tall my Wife 5.9 feet tall. You need a back up 4 door with a newborn. A family of 3 are fine from that point on till you child hits 7 or so. If you have a family of 4 and you are all under 5.5 feet tall you can make it also. For me my BRZ is for mostly recreational use. I have a Family of 4 we must use the sedan or the SUV when all of us go out.

  • mixedfish

    For a ‘sports car’, it’s probably one of the most practical examples of it. Not the most comfortable thing but I have done 4 adults which is good enough for a short city drive to the pub. Workable as a daily driver too because the rear seats drop down well to create decent space for suitcases. 0-100 sprint is slow but that isn’t a realistic measure for street driving more for magazine marketing, instead 0-60 is considerably similar to the Polo GTI if not faster, so it is more than capable of overtaking.

  • Mr F

    Thank you so much for doing a review on such a unique (and important) aspect of the BRZ. I am in this very situation where I am strongly considering buying a 86/BRZ but have a young family also. Of course most reviews just focus on the brilliant driving (which we all already know) with brief mentions on “seats suitable for small children”, etc. But this is incredibly helpful as the real life issues such as getting car seats in and out (not just the fact that technically they fit when they are in) and practicalities of a child getting in and out and assisting them with their seatbelts. Also wide opening doors making parking and access difficult – genius! Something I never would have thought of. I always knew a sports car would make life with kids etc more difficult but its great to get a proper insight without actually having to but one and find out the hard way.

    I was thinking if I got one it would likely have to be as a second car, but deep down was hoping maybe I could get away with having it only (it would only be for occasional use with kids about once or twice per week as we have a 4WD as the main family car). This is important as I could probably spring for the new model if its the only car, otherwise the other option is a used 86/BRZ and a second used mid sized car for family duties. But personally, I now know the issues you mentioned would drive me crazy so that helps me immensely.

    Thanks again.

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.