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Driven: Subaru BRZ

We take Subaru's BRZ sports car to Sydney Motorsport Park.

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Let’s face it; this could be an appraisal of a front bumper, front springs and dampers, and a handful of badges. In other words, the main differences between the Toyota 86 and its rival and clone, the just arrived Subaru BRZ. There’s also the DataDot theft deterrent added to all Subaru cars in Australia.

For those who have been lost in the Amazon for the past few months, the rear-wheel-drive twins are the outcome of a rare and dazzling collaboration between Toyota and Subaru. In essence, Toyota did the design and supplied the Aisin gearbox and fuel-injection system. Subaru contributed the 2.0-litre flat-four engine. Both the 86 and BRZ are built at Subaru’s Gunma plant in Japan. The Toyota has gone on sale to rave reviews – and queues.

Now it’s the turn of Subaru, and it is taking the bold approach of selling the supply-constrained BRZ exclusively online – with the promise of a seamless, premium customer experience.

Subaru BRZ (left) and Toyota 86 (right) . Photo:Joshua Dowling Click for more photos

Subaru BRZ v Toyota 86

Subaru BRZ (left) and Toyota 86 (right) . Photo:Joshua Dowling

  • Subaru BRZ (left) and Toyota 86 (right) . Photo:Joshua Dowling
  • Subaru BRZ (right) and Toyota 86 (left). Photo:Joshua Dowling
  • Subaru BRZ (right) Toyota 86 (left). Photo:Joshua Dowling
  • Subaru BRZ. Photo:Joshua Dowling
  • Subaru BRZ. Photo:Joshua Dowling
  • Subaru BRZ.
  • Subaru BRZ.
  • Subaru BRZ.
  • Subaru BRZ.
  • Subaru BRZ.

Subaru expects only 201 BRZs to be imported for sale here between now and the end of the year. About 30 BRZs have already been ordered through dealers while another 50 to 70 will be in dealers’ hands as demonstrator cars. Fewer than 100 BRZs will go online when the car goes ‘‘live’’ on the Subaru website at noon on Monday.

With insufficient BRZs to supply the whole dealer network at launch, Subaru opted instead for the online initiative with demonstrator BRZs at select showrooms, from where customers can arrange test drives via the website and also select their preferred delivering dealer.

Subaru is also offering the BRZ at a driveaway price that includes free scheduled servicing for the first three years or 60,000 kilometres.

The BRZ comes in at just one level, coincidentally or not, very close to the Toyota 86 GTS. The BRZ six-speed manual is priced at a no more- to-pay $37,150, with the six-speed automatic another $2580.

The lookalike Toyota is offered in two models, the base 86 GT at $29,990 (before on-road costs) and the better-equipped GTS at $35,490.

Direct comparisons with the 86 pricing are difficult. The Toyota price doesn’t include registration, stamp duty and dealer delivery, which add about $3500, while even with Toyota’s fixed-price servicing (at $170 a service) there’s another $680 during the first three years of ownership (service intervals are nine months).

Factor all that in and the 86 GTS is about $2400 more than the Subaru, but the Toyota also gets satnav and leather/heated seats – the latter pairing a $1500 option on the BRZ. So we’re talking about ... well, not a lot in terms of differentiation. Except for image, branding, customer loyalty and that bold online sales approach.

The managing director of Subaru Australia, Nick Senior, points to the transparency of the online selling experiment. ‘‘We believe that online purchase will provide transparency in supply, pricing and delivery expectations that match our high standards.’’

Subaru has appointed a BRZ co-ordinator who will be a dedicated point of contact for BRZ customers. ‘‘Our aim is to provide an exclusive experience,’’ Senior says. ‘‘Every BRZ we sell will be numbered and customers will be able to log on and receive updates on the status of their BRZ.’’

Senior suggests the internet initiative may be a world first in terms of being able to complete the entire new-car purchase process online. Asked if his dealers are peeved, Senior emphasises that the online sales system is a trial only and as such it will be reviewed early next year, when BRZ production should free up.

‘‘Anyway, this won’t change the way we sell cars,’’ Senior says. ‘‘The theatre of the negotiations between customer and dealer on the showroom floor will be with us for the foreseeable future, though some dealerships might be encouraged to look at online selling.’’

Subaru’s unique selling pitch aside, the BRZ and 86 mark an unusual relationship between two disparate car makers.

Toyota is the giant with a solid reputation for reliable basic cars and commercials and a pioneering bent for hybrids. Subaru, on the other hand, is a small and once quirky brand that in the past 15 years has inexorably wooed enthusiasts with a range of turbo and all-wheel-drive vehicles working in concert.

But hail the result! The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are creating rarely matched excitement among car enthusiasts demanding affordable driving pleasure.

Drive has already done a searching road-and-track drive of the Toyota sports coupe and unreservedly loved its joyous character and user-friendly dynamics. We also embraced its brilliant value.

Toyota and Subaru have even clammed up on the precise variations in the front suspension tune. The BRZ’s dampers and coil springs are firmer. But the specifics are clouded in confidentiality agreements; about 10 per cent is a good guess.

The BRZ’s features include stability control, 17-inch alloy wheels, big ventilated disc brakes, limited-slip differential (for traction out of corners), bi-xenon self-levelling headlights, Bluetooth, dual-zone airconditioning, USB connectivity, cruise control, fold down one-piece rear seat, height-and-reach-adjustable steering column and height-adjustable front seats. But no satnav. Subaru offers just one option: leather and alcantara trim with front seat heaters, priced at $1500.

There’s no doubting who has the marketing clout and war-chest. That’ll be Toyota, which has almost 20 per cent of the market here; Subaru has 4 per cent.

Still, Subaru’s customer loyalty is close to the best in Australia, right up with Mercedes-Benz. Subaru adherents are rusted-on fanatics but will they be confused by the rear-wheel-drive BRZ, a one-off departure from Subaru’s long established AWD roots?

Subaru goes into battle with a more youthful owner group, and a sportier brand reputation mainly due to its lengthy time in rallying, plus the iconic status accorded a succession of WRX and STI AWD turbocharged pocket rockets.

Toyota’s chief engineer of the 86, Tetsuya Tada, won the argument on the issue of turbocharging, ruling it out because the more linear power delivery and higher-revving nature of a naturally aspirated engine better suited the car. There was also a cost factor.

Senior is quick to point out that he wouldn’t have been interested in importing the BRZ if it had been front-wheel-drive (like all current Toyota passenger cars).

‘‘It’s a driver’s car. I’ve said before that if it was a front-wheel-drive car there would be no debate or discussion. It wouldn’t be coming,’’ he says. He’s also quietly pleased that the heart of the car – the boxer engine – is a hallmark of Subaru.

Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 GT

Engine: 2.0-litre horizontally-opposed four-cylinder

Power: 147kW at 7000rpm

Torque: 205Nm at 6600rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic

Fuel use: 7.8L/100km (man), 7.1L/100km (auto), 98-octane premium unleaded required

CO2 emissions: 181g/km (man), 164g/km (auto)

Weight: 1222kg (Toyota 86), 1256kg (Subaru BRZ manual), 1278kg (Subaru BRZ auto)

View Drive complete BRZ coverage

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