Dance in the rain with the nimble Subaru BRZ

LAKEVILLE, Connecticut – The last time I drove the Subaru BRZ was at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, one of America’s great race tracks. I whipped the rear-drive skateboard mercilessly around the 1.5-mile circuit (and accompanying in-field autocross track), rowing speeds to over 100 mph on the front straight, pushing back the envelope around the Turn 2-3 carousel.

You’ll be happy to know that the $30,555 sports car is also entertaining in the Detroit metro at 55 mph.

The affordable ‘Ru is an outlier in today’s high-end performance environment. These are the days of super performance with track-focused six-figure cyborgs like the Porsche 911 GT3 and Corvette C8 and Ford Mustang GT500. Ooooh, my knees are getting weak. These monsters are a joy to drive on the track with operatic exhaust notes, sophisticated electronics and race car-inspired suspensions. But how many track days can you manage in a year? Driving them around town is like walking King Kong on a leash.

For sports car enthusiasts with a smaller performance envelope – and a smaller budget – there are affordable treats like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and BRZ and its Toyota GR86 sibling.

For just $30,000, my Ice Silver tester was nearly as playful on public roads as it was on the trail. One rainy weekend morning, I took the Subie out on the deserted public roads of northern Oakland County for some fun. Activate TRACK mode, deactivate traction control. Turning around Michigan, I pushed the throttle and the rear end popped out—my right foot easily handling the slide with the BRZ’s 184 pound-feet of torque. Try this on slippery roads with the Corvette at 470 torque and you might change the ends.

I repeated the fun as I headed north on low speed 90 degree turns and around the lakes on S turns and switchbacks. Subaru and Toyota co-developed the BRZ and GR86 twins, and this second generation’s biggest improvement comes from the upgraded 2.5-liter flat-four engine pulled from Subie’s toolbox. Where the first generation car was underpowered, the new 228 horsepower mill allows drivers to enjoy the sublime handling of the chassis.

I happily powered out of corners using the paddle shifters to maintain revs, as the non-turbo engine’s rev band is biggest above 3,000 rpm. For these reasons, the 6-speed manual is preferred over the automatic (75% of BRZ sales are sticks) – and it’ll save you $1,500 to go automatic.

Styling is also a major upgrade for this second-generation BRZ – which is maturing nicely to look like it belongs next to the Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s that inevitably populate the parking lots of the tennis clubs where I spend my free time.

I’ll admit, though, that I’ve had a few sizzling adventures with the BRZ’s GR86 twin in the year since my first date with the BRZ at Lime Rock. And, ahem, I have to admit that I prefer the look of the Toyota. It’s leaner, meaner, more timeless.

Interiors are identical, with cupholders awkwardly placed in the center console, making it difficult to keep a drink and a smartphone wired to the console. I quickly got into the habit of storing my Snapple bottles in the cup holders because when you have a sports car you are constantly cruising out into the countryside to find winding roads.

The BRZ has a competitive little package, as noted earlier, but Michigan Subaru fans’ eyes can also wander the showroom to the excellent Subaru WRX. Ooooooh.

With all-weather all-wheel drive, a whopping 271 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque from the same 2.4-liter boxer-4, and roomy rear seats, the WRX Pocket Rocket is the ultimate all-around car. And since its platform was developed by Subaru, not Toyota, it has all the latest ‘Ru tech features like a large central display. That’s why few small sports cars are offered these days – advances in electronics and suspension have made compact cars almost as attractive to drive as smaller, less utilitarian sports cars.

But like a 911 junior, the BRZ is determined to offer its own form of utility. No, its rear seats can’t swallow six feet (I had to remove my legs to get in there), but at least they exist. Unlike, say, the Mazda MX-5, the ‘Ru’s second row completes its rear trunk so you can load it up with extras on a trip north. It offers everyday utility to complement his daily driving.

So BRZ has more bandwidth than you might think. Ultimately, though, you’re buying the Subaru for what it unabashedly is: a lightweight, 2,864-pound sports car that, in its second generation, truly justifies its place in the automotive world.

Clean lines that no pocket rocket can match. A low center of gravity to make even an electric car jealous. Stick shift so you can row it through turns. Rear-wheel drive so you can toss it around an autocross course.

Or dance in the rain on an overcast day.

2022 Subaru BRZ

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive four-seat sports car

Price: $29,615 including $960 destination fee ($30,555 Premium, automatic model tested)

Powertrain: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder boxer

Power: 228 horsepower, 184 lb-ft of torque

Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-100 km/h, 5.4 seconds (car and driver, automatic); top speed, 140 mph

Weight: 2,864 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 20 mpg city/27 highway/22 combined (manual); 21 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined (auto)

Report card

Highs: Fun and affordable daily driver; 2.4 liter power

Bass: Offset Console; not as attractive as its Toyota GR86 cousin

Overall: 3 stars

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Henry Payne is an auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpaynedetroitnews.com or Twitter HenryEPayne.

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