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Subaru BRZ


And so now we have the set: Subaru New Zealand has launched the BRZ, its version of the joint-venture coupe that’s also available as the Toyota 86.

The two cars are remarkably similar: more so than anybody was expecting when the project was announced back in 2008 (when Toyota also purchased a 16.1 percent share in Subaru). The styling differs only in front bumper detail - the BRZ wears Subaru’s signature hexagonal air intake – and badging.

Underneath, the two cars are virtually identical in base trim, with a 147kW/205Nm 2.0-litre boxer engine and rear-drive. Both versions are built by Subaru in Japan, although Toyota has had the lead in launching the car in most markets – it provided the direct-injection fuel system for the engine, design, product planning and, it must be said, funding that made the whole thing possible.

Differences? It’s thought that the Subaru may have slightly firmer suspension settings, but the factory will not confirm or deny. And that’s about it, apart from what each brand chooses to do with the base car for more specialised versions.

The BRZ will be the rarer car in New Zealand. Just 12 were delivered to customers this month, with another 17 due in March and a maximum of 50 more before the end of the year. It’s only available in one specification, at $48,990 for the manual and $49,990 for the automatic. If you must ask, it’s roughly equivalent to Toyota’s mid-range GT86.

A Toyota Racing Development (TRD) package revved up the 86 for enthusiast buyers, as you might recall. Subaru’s advantage is that it has an even more exciting acronym in the ranks: STI.

There will indeed be a genuine STI version of the BRZ, with more power and a redeveloped chassis. Few details are known and it isn’t likely to land for at least a year. Possibly longer.

But in the meantime, Subaru New Zealand has a full catalogue of STI accessories and has even pulled together a package of equipment that it may offer to customers next year in “cheaper than the sum of its parts” form.

That car (along with a standard BRZ) was made available to media for a launch drive this week. Priced at $69,990, it features a sports exhaust, strut brace under the bonnet, performance oil filter, special wheels, lowered springs, body kit, special interior trim elements and detail touches such as a bright red STI-branded start button.

It’s all just a dip into the STI parts bin, but it does represent what’s possible within a particular price frame with a bit of distributor marketing interest. To buy all of those bits individually would cost more than that $70k sticker. In fact, Subaru reckons you could build a $100k BRZ if you really went crazy with the options list.

The standard BRZ is just like the 86: brilliantly engaging, a proper sports car and an absolute bargain for the enthusiast driver. The STI package is a major step up in price but does add to the BRZ experience: the styling enhancements are distinctive but still tasteful, the STI sports exhaust sounds sensationally raspy beyond 3500rpm, the lowered suspension adds sharpness without having a massive impact on the car’s excellent ride and the ability to customise such a special car can’t be a bad thing.

Subaru may have missed one trick, though. Toyota New Zealand launched the 86 in time to be eligible for the New Zealand Car of the Year award, presented by the New Zealand Motoring Writers Guild and the AA (Auto Trader was a sponsor of the awards night as well, just so you know). Anyway, the 86 won.

Luckily, Subaru New Zealand has a sense of humour about that. The next week it ran an advertisement congratulating its partner/rival and suggesting they do alternate weeks with the trophy.

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