2. Subaru BRZ Limited with Performance Package
Price as tested: $29,660
0-60 mph: 6.4 sec; EPA rating: 24 mpg city-highway combined
Hottest color: WR Blue Pearl
In contrast to the cobbled-up look of the new-for-2017 Mazda MX-5 RF fastback, the BRZ has the deftly drawn proportions of a proper sports-car coupe. In convertible form, the Miata arguably outpoints the Subaru for vintage sports-car purity. But the two have in common the time-honored values of low weight, quick reflexes, and just enough power to do the job right.
A reshaped front fascia helps the BRZ look wider and even lower. It’s complimented by addition of LED headlamps and daytime running lights. Subaru says the new pedestal-type aluminum rear spoiler improves stability by increasing downforce. Base Premium and better-equipped Limited models are joined for ’17 by a limited-to-500 Series.Yellow edition. It’s essentially a fully equipped Limited in an exclusive color combination – with a $30,515 base price. No worries, the Limited we specify nails our best-cheap-sports-car target with $340 to spare.
Like every ’17 BRZ, it gets upgrades that improve what was already among the most involving handling on the road. Springs and dampers are updated, the rear stabilizer is beefier, and chassis reinforcements are added at strategic points. Stability-control thresholds rise enough for Subaru to relabel the “Sport” mode, “Track.” There’s also a traction-control-system “off” switch.
Stay with the six-speed manual transmission; it saves $1,100 over the six-speed automatic and, for ’17, triggers a bit more power. “Boxer, Rear-drive, Zenith” is the car’s decoded name. It denotes the sole engine: a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with Subaru’s horizontally opposed cylinder layout, a low-center-of-gravity design known as a boxer. Manual BRZs now have 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, bumps of five ticks each over automatics. It feels like more, thanks in part to a final-drive ratio lowered to 4.30:1 from 4.10:1. A Torsen limited-slip differential remains standard.
For its $28,465 base price, the Limited adds to the Premium such perks as LED fog lamps, heated mirrors, and keyless entry with pushbutton ignition. The front seats are heated and have Alcantara inserts, leather bolsters, and red stitching. A newly standard instrument-cluster LCD displays lateral Gs, accelerator-pedal position, steering angle, braking force, oil and water temperature, and an integrated stopwatch to record lap times.
Best yet, our budget accommodates the new Performance Package. Available only on manual-transmission Limiteds, it’s a steal at $1,195. It upgrades to Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers and rotors on the front, dual-piston calipers and rotors on the rear. It adds SACHS Performance shock absorbers to all four corners and fits unique 17-inch black aluminum alloy wheels. At 7.5 inches, they’re a half-inch wider than the standard alloys but wear the same 215/45R17 summer tires. That relatively narrow tread is part of this car’s easy-to-drift DNA, an eye-widening underlay to a classic sports-car driving experience.