Unpopular Opinion: The Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S Doesn’t Need a Turbo
Forced induction isn't the fix. You are.
Welcome to Unpopular Opinion, where one of our writers takes a long, hard look at conventional wisdom, and then says 'nah, eff that noise, yo.' The views expressed here are very much the author's own—because, really, who would agree with this sort of crazy nonsense?
All the best Subarus have been turbocharged: think of the tough early Legacy GT, the flared unobtanium of the 22b, the snarly wub-wub of a modern STI. Sure, a normally-aspirated Subaru can be useful, capable, and popular—but most of the time a Subie without a turbo is as sexy as Gore-Tex underpants. And then the BRZ came along.
Twinned with the Scion FR-S (now badged as a Toyota and dubbed the GT-86, as it should have been from the get-go), the BRZ represented what Subaru engineering could do if funded by Toyota's deep pockets. Thus, instead of cranking up the boost on a family-friendly compact, we got a 2+2 take on the Mazda Miata. All-wheel-drive wasn't available. Light weight was promised but the acceleration provided by the 200 hp, all-aluminum pancake-four was modest at best. And forced induction wasn't on the table. The BRZ would get straight-up stomped by the similarly-priced WRX, and probably, too, by the front-driven Civic Si on decent tires.
The low power and lack of turbos made people very angry, and have been widely regarded as bad moves. "Where's the STI version?" clamor the Subaru faithful. The enthusiast community waits, hoping for a hint from the Japanese home market. Established 'Roo-friendly tuners like Crawford are working up their own force-fed kits. The idea seems to be that this underbaked coupe needs a return trip to the oven so as to develop a lovely, forced-induction crust. Goes the mantra: It's so close to being good, but not quite there. Decades ago, 240SX owners wondered why we didn't get the turbo'd SR20DET Silvia, and here we are again wondering what Japan is up to.
But we drown in a sea of horsepower these days. Never mind outliers like the Hellcat; even a V6 Camry makes more power than you used to get from a 911 Turbo. The Mustang and the Camaro are both bloody-minded tarmac killers. Never mind staying ahead of the pack at a track day, the BRZ needs forced induction just to keep up with traffic, right?
Forget the Subaru connection for a moment and instead focus on Toyota's new nomenclature. That "86" is a nod to the haichi-roku of the Corolla GT-S, a humble rear-drive economy car that vaulted into legend because of its star turn in a manga called Initial-D. In the comic, the preternaturally gifted teenager Takumi Fujiwara beat faster cars with more experienced drivers, scorching down the slithering Japanese touge with the car's speed-warning dinging softly away in the cockpit.
A Corolla, not a Supra. Like the haichi, the BRZ and the GT-86 are both underdogs, despite the massive hype that accompanied their debuts. After a quarter-century, we're used to the Miata punching above its weight, but people seem less willing to accept the BRZ for what it is: a slow car that can be driven fast, but only by a driver willing to put in the effort. Think of Subaru acting here like the stone-faced Bunta Fujiwara, training the driver before tuning the car.
Deep in the wilderness of British Columbia, on an alpine road that echoes the glassy curves of Japanese mountain tarmac, I drop a gear to pass a bored-looking man loafing along in a Corvette, then set up for the next corner with a sharp heel-toe on the nicely-placed pedals. You don't fall in love with this car immediately, not in the same way a Mazda MX-5 charms on first handshake. But as the revs climb into that narrow sweet spot between 5000 and 6500rpm it's hard not to see the appeal of the naturally-aspirated BRZ. This car doesn't need an engineer to solve its flaws, it needs a driver. The BRZ doesn't need a turbo, it needs you.