Paying homage to a great

Brisbane writer Peter Atkinson relives his youth

2012 Subaru BRZ Photo / Supplied
2012 Subaru BRZ Photo / Supplied

Lately, I've been having flashbacks. Not the scary "wake-in-a-cold-sweat" kind, mind you.

Just those "I-feel-like-I'm-21-again" kind of flashbacks. Warm, fuzzy memories from a decade or two (or three) ago.

All thanks to a car that, in many ways, has turned back the clock to my early 20s.

Back then, my pride and joy was a Mazda RX-7 - at the time one of the best-looking, best-performed cars that a young bloke could dream to own. It's become something of a motoring classic - one of the best, affordable sports cars of its generation. Its lightweight construction, sleek lines and revvy rotary engine made it a delight to drive.

Those traits have been rekindled in the form of Subaru's much-hyped sports coupe, the BRZ - the product of an unlikely collaboration between erstwhile rivals, Subaru and Toyota.

The BRZ does break the Subaru rules in a couple of ways - it is driven through the rear wheels instead of the the company's legendary symmetrical all-wheel-drive.

And for a performance machine, it surprisingly forgoes the company's equally familiar turbo-charging in favour of a normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, albeit a good one - spinning willingly if lacking quite the top-end shove we've grown to expect from a sporty Suby.

Close my eyes for a minute and I could have been driving my beloved RX-7.

Like that iconic little coupe, the BRZ combines a revvy, feisty engine with a nimble chassis and low-slung, swoopy styling. Like the RX-7, it hits the market at an affordable price. And like the RX-7, I can imagine it gaining a real cult following.

It's clear there's been a conscious effort to give the car an unvarnished, raw style - from the rorty, barking exhaust note to the fact that the boot in our test car was unfinished - without so much as a square of carpet to cover the spare wheel in the cargo compartment.

The chunky sports steering wheel is devoid of such luxuries as audio or cruise-control buttons. Want to change the radio station, or the volume? The switch is right there on the dash, mate. Don't be so lazy.

Like another Mazda classic - the MX-5 - the BRZ's greatest appeal is that feel of a real, stripped-back sports machine.

It's not massively powerful - but it's very light - just 1256kg - which helps explain the missing wheel cover and the lack of other luxuries.

It is safe, mind you - with seven airbags and the requisite electronic stability aids; plus a few luxuries like Bluetooth, cruise control and a nifty engine start button.

The two-litre, horizontally opposed Boxer engine (which owes more to its Subaru parentage than Toyota) sounds great - particularly when it spins towards the 7500rpm red-line.

The fact it produces maximum power and torque beyond 6000rpm is an indication that this engine loves to rev.

The six-speed, close-ratio manual transmission has a notchy, short throw which makes it a delight to carve your way through the ratios. The clutch is light and progressive, the brakes powerful and fade-free.

The driving experience is raw, quick and pure fun. Not the fastest, but a car that certainly makes you feel as if you're going fast most of the time.

That's partly because you sit so low - the car's centre of gravity is just 460mm off the ground, which takes quite a bend to get yourself down into the cockpit.

By the numbers, it's not all that impressive - O-100km/h in 7.6 seconds is fairly ordinary. Its 147kW and 205Nm are similarly not earth-shattering.

That power is roughly on par with another of our favourite cars, the VW Golf GTI - although it probably lacks the mid-range shove of the turbo-charged German.

That's balanced by the fact that the BRZ sounds way better than the Golf when the whips are cracking.

And the BRZ loves corners. Absolutely gobbles them up, with awesome balance and not the slightest hint that you're about to break traction any time soon. Suffice to say this car's grip extends way, way beyond my bravery.

Steering feel is instant and absolute. You can literally feel the change in road texture through the wheel, so faithful is the feedback. The stability control settings can be altered to add further authenticity to the driving experience.

Even the BRZ's looks tend to mirror my old RX-7 - an elongated shape, long bonnet with raised wheel arches and a vast expanse of glass on the rear hatch.

It's a classic 2+2 machine and the back seats are very much an occasional proposition.

You'll probably prefer to have the back seats folded forward to free up a bit of extra cargo space.

Although even with the rear seats folded down there was no way my golf clubs could fit in, thanks to that big spare tyre taking up most of the space.

But even with golf clubs in the passenger seat beside me, this was still a totally satisfying weekend drive. And it's no chore to drive in weekday city traffic, either.


-AAP

*The Subaru BRZ arrives in New Zealand on December 12, and the 12 models available have already been sold.

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