What's the used Subaru BRZ coupe like?
Motoring journalists have moaned for a while now about the limited number of drivers’ cars available. The sort of car that handles really well, is fun to drive, and doesn’t cost the Earth to buy or run. For too long, they said, there hasn’t been much to choose from. Until, of course, the Toyota GT86 and its sibling, the Subaru BRZ, were launched in 2012. Both near-identical cars sold well and remained on sale until 2022.
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine in this BRZ isn’t overly powerful; with a non-licence threatening 197bhp, and fuel economy can be quite good, if you refrain from thrashing it. When you do, you’ll need to rev the engine out to get to peak power. It’s quite fun to do so at first, but you soon realise that it isn’t quite as fast as it sounds. It doesn’t have that much torque at low engine revs, which means you have to change down more often than you would in some of the BRZs rivals, many of which have turbocharged engines that need only a slight prod of the throttle to generate meaningful acceleration.
The handling is excellent, with accurate, direct steering that’s a pleasure to use. Grip levels are fine in the dry, but it does have its limits in damp or rainy conditions. This is because the BRZ is fitted with narrow tyres that don’t have a huge amount of grip in difficult conditions. The BRZ is supposed to be a little bit playful on the limit, with a number of different stability control settings to keep you safe should the back-end start to step out of line. That’s okay if you like that sort of thing, but it can be a little unnerving to begin with.
Given that it is a sports car, the ride is surprisingly well sorted. It is still firm at low speeds to limit unwanted body roll, but it manages to soak up the bigger shocks from speed bumps, potholes and motorway expansion joints very well. Combined with the excellent front seats, you can find yourself getting quite comfortable in the BRZ, until the road noise starts to irritate, especially on broken bits of tarmac where the roar is very noticeable. The BRZ is a light car, which comes at the expense of some sound deadening. Rivals, such as the Audi TT, are rather more refined.
The interior isn’t a BRZ strong suit either. It does get plenty of equipment, but the quality is less than stellar. Some of the finishes aren’t that pleasant to the touch, and many of the switches feel like they’ve come from a car built in the 1980s. The digital clock certainly does.
Space is at a premium in this car. The back seats are best used for short trips only because legroom is in short supply. The boot is a reasonable size and would cope with weekend luggage for two, but the opening is rather small and limits its ability to hold taller objects. If you want a fast, practical car, then the Volkswagen Golf R has seating for five and a hatchback boot, with a much larger opening.
Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used Subaru BRZ coupe?
The BRZ is a rear-wheel drive sports car known for sliding its tail wide when driven with gusto. Check very carefully for previous accident damage because a clean, presentable car on the outside could be hiding all sorts of horrors underneath. At the very least, do a HPI check. This should let you know if the car has been written off by the insurance company at any point in its life.
If you want further security, then organisations such as the AA and RAC offer pre-purchase inspection services, where a trained inspector comes to view your potential purchase for a fee, and will point out any potential problems with it.
What are the most common problems with a used Subaru BRZ coupe?
Some BRZ owners have mentioned condensation in the rear lights on their cars. If your car has this issue, it will be brought to light after heavy rainfall. If you want to try replicating it when inspecting a car, use a watering can or garden hose and aim the water at the seal around the unit to test for leaks.
There was also an issue surrounding a lumpy idle, which can be fixed with a visit to your Subaru dealer. It can also be done as part of your service.
Is a used Subaru BRZ coupe reliable?
Subaru usually puts in a good showing when it comes to reliability and the brand was placed 10th overall out of 30 car brands surveyed in the last What Car? Reliability Survey the firm appeared in. The BRZ wasn’t included, unfortunately, thanks to the limited number of results received, due in no small part to the tiny number of cars sold.
If you would like to see the full reliability list for coupés and convertibles, head to the What Car? Reliability Survey pages for more information.
What used Subaru BRZ coupe will I get for my budget?
There was a limit imposed upon Subaru by Toyota (the BRZ is related to the Toyota GT86) regarding how many BRZs they could sell in relation to GT86s. This means that there are quite a lot more of one than the other. Because of this, prices for the BRZ starting at around £12,000, whereas you can find higher-mileage GT86s for around £9000. Automatics are rarer still and start at £15,000.
For between £12,000 and £14,000 you'll find plenty of 2013 or 2014 cars in great condition with an average mileage, between £14,000 and £16,000 will get you into a 2016 car with a lower than average mileage, while £15,000-£17,000 gets you a good 2017 car, with 2018 and 2019 variants starting at around £17,000. Pay between £17,000 and £21,000 on a good 2019 or 2020 model.
Sat-nav was always an option, but it’s no hardship if your BRZ doesn’t have it fitted. The unit comes from Alpine and looks like a bit of an afterthought. You are better off using your phone for navigation; so don’t pay extra for a car with it navigation.
How much does it cost to run a Subaru BRZ coupe?
The BRZ can be a little thirsty. The official combined figure for the manual is the worst, strangely, at 36.2mpg, according to the NEDC tests prevalent at the time. The reality is, if you use the BRZ as it was intended, you will get an awful lot less than that.
If you get an automatic BRZ, then your economy, according to the official figure will be better at 39.8mpg.
Road tax for anything registered before April 2017 can be quite expensive, with the manual costing slightly more at £240 per year and the automatic £190. If you buy a BRZ made after 2017 then tax drops to £155 for both versions, because no version of the BRZ cost more than £40,000 when it was new.
Subaru servicing can be expensive so it is worth checking with your local dealer to find out as a rough guide how much it might be.
Which used Subaru BRZ coupe should I buy?
Fortunately, there are only four choices to make with the BRZ: manual or automatic and SE or SE Lux.
It depends upon how you want to use your BRZ. If you enjoy driving and wouldn’t dream of having a sports car that dictates which gear you should be in, then take the manual.
If you plan to use your BRZ in town and you want to rest your clutch leg, get the auto. You still get gear change paddles behind the steering wheel should you wish to override the car’s choices.
The SE spec is well equipped with 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with push button start, USB and iPod connectivity and a leather wrapped steering wheel and handbrake.
SE Lux adds heated front seats and part leather trim. While this doesn’t sound like you get that much more for your money, it is the one that has sold in the greatest numbers.
Our favourite Subaru BRZ: 2.0i SE Lux manual
What alternatives should I consider to a used Subaru BRZ coupe?
If you are set on getting a BRZ, have a look at its sibling, the Toyota GT86. Essentially, it is the same car but with only a few subtle differences. The major advantage of getting a GT86 is that there are a lot more of them about, and Toyota has a greater spread of dealers when it comes time to service your car. The warranty on the BRZ is three years, but the GT86 has five years of coverage, which means you are more likely to find a GT86 with some cover left than you are with the BRZ.
The Mazda MX-5 is not a particularly fast car either, but at least that is a convertible, so the wind in your hair will certainly makes you feel like you’re travelling faster than you are.
If you want your coupé to be a bit a more brawny, then the 3.7-litre V6 in the Nissan 370Z has power to spare. It can be a bit of a handful though, and it is a heavy lump of a thing, especially on a twisty road.
If you want a performance car that can do it all, then the Volkswagen Golf R is just what you need. With 296bhp, it is formidably fast for a hatchback, and four-wheel drive allows you to put that power down, even when the weather is bad.