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Subaru BRZ STI Edition Review: Par Excellence even in Automatic

The greatest sports car for under $300k is still immensely enjoyable even with an automatic gearbox.
James Wong
James Wong
26 May 2024
The steering is deliciously interactive and weighted, and the car is a weapon as far as handling is concerned.
What we like:
Class-leading handling
Characterful engine
Old-school values
What we dislike:
The STI Edition kit might not be everyone's cup of tea

Thanks to high COE and revised ARF calculations, there is a shocking dearth of new sports cars available today under $200k. Yes, you read that right, two hundred thousand bucks, which is a huge sum of money. Some friends and I were reminiscing about the good old days when performance cars could be had for between $100-130k. Now, you can probably only get yourself a Suzuki Swift Sport for a smidgen under $200k.

Within the $200-300k range, the choices open up to include cars like the VW Golf GTI, the Skoda Octavia RS and the WRX Wagon. Maybe the FL5 Civic Type R from parallel importers. But none of these are two door coupes; for that you only have the Toyota GR86, or the Subaru BRZ.

Best coupe for under $300k? Yep…

Thank heavens that these closely intertwined siblings are probably one of the best performance cars I’ve driven in recent memory. The BRZ on test here is interesting for two reasons – it is the STI Edition and so grabs attention like a billboard, while it is also equipped with a six-speed torque converter automatic gearbox, unlike the manual GR86 we tested prior.

What’s the deal with that wing on the Subaru BRZ?

The $18,000 STI Edition kit consists of the front and rear bumpers, side skirts and a huge carbon rear wing on the boot. On the inside, an Alcantara-clad steering wheel is the main highlight for the interior. Although the changes are not mechanical, I’d say the grippy steering wheel is probably the biggest improvement one would feel over the standard car. It has a feel-good factor and it’s a touch point you’d interact with every single time you drive, too.

How is the automatic gearbox in the Subaru BRZ?

Now comes the important question – does the automatic gearbox spoil the driving experience? Many have said that a car like the BRZ demands a manual gearbox, for it is meant to be a purist device in the first place. The engine also craves revs and therefore would benefit from manual intervention.

However, I also get it that a manual gearbox is a bit of a pain in Singapore especially if the car is daily driven, or if it’s used by other drivers (e.g. spouses) besides the owner. Testing the car on its own and banishing all memory of the manual, the gearbox is acceptably responsive for the BRZ. It upshifts rather quickly, although there is a discernable lag for downshifts. It’s smooth all of the time and makes the BRZ even easier to drive than before. It’ll also not stop you from exploiting the sweet FR balance of the car and in fact, for some, it’ll allow you more confidence to do so.

For the record though, I prefer the manual. It just feels a lot more engaging and dovetails perfectly with why one buys a sports car in the first place. But there is indeed a place and time for the automatic, and it’s no shame in picking the BRZ with it.

How does the Subaru BRZ STI Edition drive?

Other than the gearbox, the BRZ feels every bit as sweet as I remember the GR86 to be. The steering is deliciously interactive and weighted, and the car is a weapon as far as handling is concerned. Always ready to oversteer at your will and make your heartbeat monitors ring with urgency, it’s a beautiful hark back to old school JDM motoring that is fast disappearing. There’s simply no other sports car I’d have, I think, at its price point.

What’s the conclusion on the Subaru BRZ STI Edition?

As for the STI Edition kit, it’s more for cosmetic appeal than anything else. If that appeals to you, you should also specify the trademark Subaru blue paintwork to go with it. If anything, it differentiates the BRZ more from the GR86 and makes it feel more like a Subaru, and that counts for a lot.

Photos by James Wong


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