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Executive wheels: A dud and a stud

Jeff Rundles //June 29, 2015//

Executive wheels: A dud and a stud

Jeff Rundles //June 29, 2015//



I recently had the opportunity to drive two Subarus, but for what I found one might as well be a Lexus and the other a Mitsubishi. They are so dissimilar that it’s a wonder that they carry the same logo. There is simply no way in the world that anybody within the company working on one had anything whatsoever to do with the team that created the other.

Then I discovered why. The Subaru BRZ – the initials stand for Boxer engine (Subaru’s regular), Rear-wheel drive and Z for zenith – is actually a Toyota, called the Toyota 86. Nine years ago, Toyota bought 16.5 percent of the parent company of Subaru, Fuji Heavy Industries, and offered Subaru the opportunity to participate in the development of a sport coupe, which Subaru initially rejected because the concept was rear-wheel drive and all other Subarus utilize the company’s all-wheel-drive system. Toyota went ahead, calls the car the Toyota 86 or some variant in many places around the world, and then brought it out in the U.S. and Canada under its Scion brand, called the FR-S. Now in its 3rd model year as this Subaru BRZ, it probably should have stayed as just a Scion because it is not in any way a Subaru.

I am the wrong guy to give an accurate assessment of this car. Personally, I didn’t like it. But I will say that from a purely driving point of view – feel and handling, cornering – this car performs admirably. It is not a speed demon – its 2.0-liter 4 banger puts out 200 hp – but with the 5-speed manual transmission, which is very nimble, there is no question you can get it going. I noticed in the vehicle information provided by Subaru that the roof of the car is made purposefully high so that a driver could wear a helmet for racing, and I am sure that on a track this car would be satisfying to some.

But nearly everything else about the car was awful. It is, without question, the noisiest car I have been in in years. So noisy, in fact, that once you rev it up and get going – say, 10 feet from a stop light – you can’t hear the radio or the person speaking sitting next you. If you turn the radio up full blast you can make out the song playing, and then at the stoplight it will blast you ears off.

Here’s what else I didn’t like about the BRZ:

  • Have to be 25 or a yoga student to get in the car. Once in, it is fairly comfortable, but it sits extremely low, so getting in and out is a chore.
  • Yes, with the back seat folded down, you can raise the back hatch and get two golf bags in there. I did this. Ah, but getting the back seat to fold down, well, you have to be something of a contortionist or a magician; take your pick.
  • Speaking of the back seat, yes there is a seat, but unless the person sitting up front is more than three feet tall, there is absolutely no leg room or a place for feet.
  • This car is very, very low to the ground. The one they sent me had a “front spoiler” under the nose – presumably for racing aerodynamics – and I challenge anyone to drive it around town without breaking it in a pot hole or a minor depression in the road. I broke it. Turns out it is about 1 ½-inches off the road, unless you happen to be moving on a real street. Could be great for racing, but it’s a broken piece waiting to happen for any street driving.
  • Cup holders behind the driver – unusable if you want to refresh yourself while in the car.
  • Radio controls in the touch screen are about the size appropriate for a two-year-old’s fingers. If you have adult fingers it is almost impossible to get what you want.

The base price on this Series Blue BRZ model is $27,695. They added, for $2,545, an STI front (the racing spoiler) as well as side and rear “under spoilers,” a leather trimmed interior, red-painted brake calipers, carbon-fiber pattered trim, and an undercover insulator, which was so under cover it was unrecognizable. They also, for some reason, tacked on $1,795 for the Series Blue Price, and then discounted $750, then added on $795 in destination charges.  A lot of math. Bottom line: $30,285.   

Now, the other Subaru, the 2015 Outback in the Limited model with the larger, 6-cylinder engine (3.6-liter boxer with 256 hp) is a gem. One of the more quiet cars I have driven in a long time, this sport wagon is also very luxurious, very comfortable (great leather on the seats and steering wheel), and a larger-than-you-expect car that is a pleasure to drive. It is also very quick – this larger of the two engines offered (the other is a 2.5-liter four-banger with 178 hp) is fast, powerful, nimble – in all conditions, city or highway or mountains – and would made a fabulous road car. I made a note during my test drive that the handling “was wonderful – nice balance.” 

The Outback used to be a trim package on what Subaru then call the Legacy, but everyone confused it so they did the natural thing and made the Legacy the sedan and the Outback the wagon. Then they made them both much larger than they used to be, delux-ed them up and now make a truly wonderful car. Every time I drive the Outback or Legacy I want one.

I had two gripes. First, the liftgate in the back didn’t go up high enough so it is easy to bump your head. They could make this easier. Second – and this is a historical thing for Subaru – the windshield wipers are wimpy, flimsy and have trouble with a good rain, something Denver experienced a lot during my test drive. Never mind that in winter, what with ice and snow, these wipers would be worse. I talked with a friend with one of these cars and he said he just went to NAPA Auto Parts and bought good wipers and problem solved.

Other than that, I was in love with the car. The ubiquitous technology here is easier to use than in most European cars; the hands-free phone, for instance, can be set up in a moment by a novice with a smart phone. The navigation is excellent and the map is easy to read. All the hookups for phone power, USB for streaming music – all the stuff – works well and very intuitively. The stereo – a HarmanKardon with 12 speakers and a 576 watt amp – is excellent, and the 7” touch screen for handling all the things on the menu list is easy and not distractive. Also, the car is simply beautiful.

The base price on this top-of-the-line Outback is $32,995. They added on a Power Moonroof package for $2,990, and it included a very large moonroof, a compass mirror with Homelink (garage door opener), keyless entry and push-button start, voice-activated navigation, audio system and HVAC, and that new Subaru EyeSight Driver-Alert System, with pre-collision braking, cruise control, lane departure and sway warning, and a pre-collision throttle management system. Add in $72 for floor mats, and $850 in destination charges, and the bottom line is $36,907. Based on driving many other similar vehicles that cost a lot more for all that is here – and not to mention that it is rendered here better than most – the price of this vehicle is excellent. I highly recommend it.