PERHAPS the most anticipated affordable sports car of the year has, after a long gestation period, finally been launched last week, Nov. 29. Subaru’s BR-Z, which stands for Boxer (engine) Rear-wheel drive and Zenith (as in the peak of motoring pleasure and performance), has an intense interest surrounding it, primarily because of the brand’s very strong following and loyalty, more so than Toyota’s 86.
Let’s face it, when you think of Toyota, you think affordable, fuel-efficient people movers. When you think of Subaru, you think fire-breathing, pavement-pounding, gravel-spitting, tire-squealing rally replicas. See my point? Many Subaru owners are very proud owners who tend to own more than just one model: an STI for the weekend and a Forester XT for everyday use. These owners usually upgrade to the newer model when it comes to replacing their existing Subaru. Now that is brand equity and brand loyalty every manufacturer, from mass market to ultraluxury marquees envy. Buying a Subaru is about as much as buying a premium sporty Japanese brand as much as entering a semi-exclusive car club that understands, respects and caters to enthusiasts crazy about driving their cars hard, tuning/modifying it and maintaining a long-term relationship with their Subaru vehicle, the brand and the dealership.
With a price of P1.928 million for either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic BR-Z, casual observers gawk at the premium compared to the Toyota 86. Mike Luyun, head of Motor Image Pilipinas, is quick to point out that the BR-Z has most of the convenience, premium and luxury options that are not included in the 86, or are additional cost items, which explains the premium. Of course, the rest of the car needs no explanation: a rear-driven platform utilizing lightweight steel alloys for less weight AND greater crash safety that also offers the second lowest center of gravity in all production cars (second only to a Porsche 997 GT3 RS and a Lamborghini Aventador); a very fuel-efficient, responsive and environment-friendly flat-four engine codenamed FA20 (4UG-SE for Toyota) that features Toyota’s D4-S gasoline direct injection technology; a sport-tuned suspension that is lower by about 10 mm compared to the 86, which in turn gives greater bias to absolute grip rather than rear-end playfulness, making track action more exciting; and a highly advanced vehicle dynamics control package that integrates engine management, ABS-EBD brakes, traction and stability control all working together harmoniously to make cornering speeds faster than it seems to be possible.
The good news, said during its launch by Mike Luyun, is that a total of 21 units will arrive this December, which caused the crowd, composed of the two Subaru club members (Subaru Club of the Philippines and Subaru Society), owners, business partners, suppliers, dealer-partners and the media to erupt in applause. A handful of BR-Z’s have already been released to clients. There are a total of 70 reservations for the BR-Z for the main Greenhills dealership, with 35 more reservations for both the new Fort Bonifacio Global City and Alabang dealerships combined. Motor Image Pilipinas promised that they will be able to serve the demand fully and completely by next year, as Subaru’s Ota, Gunma Factory is now operating at maximum capacity to supply the world’s demand for the BR-Z, the Toyota 86 and the Scion FR-S.
I was given a chance to try the BR-Z in Indonesia earlier this year during the regional launch of the Subaru XV, Impreza and the BR-Z at the Indonesian International Motorshow, and though the test track was small, and I barely got out of second gear, the difference is obvious compared to the 86 which I’ve driven extensively: firmer steering, firmer suspension as already mentioned, and, difficult to explain, but the cabin feels truly Subaru even though many interior parts are shared with the 86. While not an easy car to drive fast in the same vein as a WRX STI rally replica, the BR-Z brings with it its own brand of driving pleasure. And, I want one.