Test Drive: 2017 Subaru BRZ Inazuma Edition

If your life feels empty and meaningless because it’s devoid of sports car awesomeness, the 2017 Subaru BRZ Inazuma Edition will fix all of your problems like a packet of Peter Popoff Miracle Spring Water.

Designed, without compromise, as a sports car from the ground up.

The gist?

It’s fun, sticky, sassy, loves being worked, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, while the Inazuma Edition builds on core BRZ traits with targeted upgrades to the brakes, suspension and appearance.

For the money, BRZ, and its latest special-edition Inazuma variant, represent some serious sports-car value. Even in top-dog Inazuma guise, you’re looking at a sub-$33,000 price tag. Skip this trim, or even opt for the base model machine, and BRZ still forms a compelling package at its sub-$28,000 base price.

In any case, one thing sticks out further than anything else in separating the BRZ from most competitors: From the ground up, since this little coupe was just a sketch on an engineer’s napkin at wing night, it was designed to be a genuine sports car. That’s a contrast to machines like the Civic Si, or the Cooper S, or the Hyundai Elantra Sport, which were primarily designed as high-volume, low-cost commuter models with good fuel economy, big rear seats and big cargo holds, and later fitted with a punched-up engine, stiffer shocks, bigger brakes, stickier tires, and special badging.

So, BRZ is one of just a very few models on this side of a much bigger price tag that was designed, without compromise, as a sports car from the ground up. In many compelling ways, this shows up in the driving experience, and even more so in the Inazuma Edition model.

To the BRZ’s snarly engine, near-perfect weight balance, and great shifter and clutch combination, Inazuma (that’s Japanese for “lightning” by the way) adds big Brembo brakes front and rear, a set of Sachs premium dampers, special black exterior trim, and a vividly-yellow-accented cabin. The upgraded shocks and brakes position this model as strong contender for the dollars of a weekend track-day enthusiast, or a BRZ fan after the highest-capability factory model currently on Subaru’s menu.

In a small number of applications, high-revving, non-turbo engines are still a thing that exists. With the tester, one such glorious little flat-four provided motivation: the 2.0-litre all-motor unit generates 205 horsepower, relishes visiting its 7,400 rpm redline, and sounds pleasingly old-school and mechanical. The six-speed manual transmission includes one of the best shifters in the business, and the no-nonsense clutch feels perfect for the manual driving enthusiast: holding lots of power for fast launches, boasting minimal dead space to the pedal travel, and feeling like a proper sports car clutch, not a glob of coagulated porridge.

Steering is another asset. The ratio is quick and feisty: on the highway, just a few millimetres of rotation is all that’s needed for lane changes, but the heavy steering feel also ensures that, despite the fast ratio, it rarely feels nervous or twitchy. At track day, drivers can expect to feel the BRZ locking confidently into its instructed line, but with a mischievously small amount of actual work at the wheel required to chuck it around.

With the Sachs premium dampers, the BRZ Inazuma Edition’s added handling performance comes with minimal compromise to comfort. Some vehicles with handling this sassy ride like a trash can full of cinder blocks. Here, the shocks are stiff and taut and don’t turn potholes into kitten-kisses, though flat, predictable and highly capable handling co-exists nicely with ride quality that’s more than comfortable enough for daily use.

The upgraded Brembo brakes look killer and draw attention galore at cruise night – all while looking curiously large-set behind the tester’s wheels. Performance-wise, the pedal is more vague than some drivers will expect, given the precision dialled elsewhere into the machine. Still, stopping power is big, virtually fade-free, and highly consistent, even during severe driving.

Put it all together, during a fast romp down your favourite empty back road or a Saturday afternoon’s worth of lapping your favourite circuit, and the result is compelling. There are many words possible to describe what you feel driving this thing hard: frisky, feisty, eager, and energetic all come to mind.

But what’s easier is to explain what you don’t feel.

Drive the pants off of it, and you never get the sense that the BRZ is struggling with its size or weight, or like you’re bothering it, or like it’s arguing with you.

The balance is tremendous: Brakes are perfectly matched to the power output; the steering is expertly tuned against the handling and character of the vehicle. Nothing overwhelms anything else. All said, as hard as you’d car to drive it, BRZ Inazuma never feels out of its element. Like a great sports car should, much of it feels best when used hard. Brakes are more precise when applied aggressively, gear shifts are smoothest when rushed, and the engine seems happiest when the red shift light blinks frantically to request an upshift.

Further, there’s minimal delay or softness: the steering, shifter and clutch all have no slack. The brake feel is a little vague, but stopping power arrives fiercely from the first bit of pedal. All said, BRZ responds with that balance and right now urgency to your commands you just don’t quite get with a souped-up Civic. In a number of ways, it feels closer to something like a Porsche Cayman than a hopped-up front-drive hatchback when you get to pushing.

Is 205 horsepower enough? Maybe so, maybe no.

On one hand, there’s more entertainment value from the distinctive, swelling and peaky shape to the power curve, than to the level of output itself. Further, you can smash a few redline shifts from the quick gearbox before entering demerit point territory. And, since the engine doesn’t have enough juice to overpower any other part of the chassis, you almost always feel like you can drive the BRZ at 110 percent.

On the other hand, you can feel the car’s ability to handle more power than what’s currently on tap, and hardcore enthusiasts may wish for a sports coupe with more sauce, possibly from the cheaper and more potent Nissan 370Z Enthusiast Edition, which boasts a compelling 130 horsepower advantage over the Subaru.

Other notes? Mileage on my watch impressed, especially given how frequently I partook in the redline, and in spite of the curiously high sixth-gear cruising revs, which typically land above 3,000 rpm.

Entry and exit to the front seats is aided by a relatively large door opening and relatively thin door sills, and provided you’re somewhat reasonably fit, you’ll have little issue getting in or out. Two adults, even larger ones who frequently carry a backup taco, should have adequate space once seated. At hand storage facilities are decent, even despite the lack of a covered centre console, and the trunk is fairly shallow, but remains large enough to handle a few suitcases.

Gripes are sports-coupe typical. Wind and road noise levels at speed are fairly generous, rearward visibility is limited, and the central command touchscreen is a bit clumsy and looks like it’s from the forties. Further, do you love contorting yourself like a Russian gymnast and swearing a lot? If so, try the rear seats. These can physically fit an adult, but such passengers may be more comfortable walking home in the rain. One further note – though the low-mileage tester hadn’t yet seen its first oil change, the outboard driver’s seat bolster was already showing signs of wear and abrasion.

Ultimately, here’s an authentically satisfying sports car driving experience that doesn’t cost too much, is easy on fuel, works well as a daily driver, and really, really loves having the bejesus driven out of it. If you figure you’re after one, stop reading now, and get to your local Subaru dealer, ASAP. At writing, only 44 of the limited-edition, lightning-yellow units were left unsold.

2017 Subaru BRZ Inazuma Edition
Engine Displacement: 2.0L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 205 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 6,400–6,600 rpm
Fuel Economy: 11.1/8.0/9.7 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 196 L
2017 Subaru BRZ Inazuma Edition
Base Price $32,695
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,650
Price as Tested $34,445
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
9 Styling
9 Powertrain
7 Quality
8 Comfort
7 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
9 Fuel Economy
7 Features
9 Value