If there’s one thing we enthusiasts would do well to remember, it’s that our hobby is, well, very silly. Spending good time and money to make your car marginally faster/taller/louder/better looking/lower is an objectively silly pursuit. Manufacturers, too, can forget that this is all supposed to be fun, especially when they come out with a performance variant of a car. Subaru almost fell into this trap with the 2018 BRZ tS. Almost.
When the Subaru BRZ (aka Scion FR-S, Toyota GT86, Toyota FT86) first came out, it was notable for being a conscientious objector in the horsepower wars that are still waging among the world’s sports cars. It side-stepped the very serious expectations of sports car buyers by being underpowered and a bit of a handful at the same time. Low-grip tires means the limits are low, and low power output means the consequences aren’t so dire when you get it wrong. And because that was such a compelling package, every car fan has read some version of this same paragraph 1,000 times in the 7 years since the car launched.
It’s important, though, to skirt the edges of plagiarism in this review; the BRZ tS is ultimately a higher-grip, more nailed down, and gulp more serious version of that beloved little sports car. It would be easy to look at the bigger wheels wrapped in stickier tires, the Sachs suspension, the upgraded Brembo brakes, or the specialty bucket seats and worry. Has Subaru thrown away the thing that made the BRZ special – its fundamental unserious-ness?
In the first few minutes of driving, I have to admit that I was concerned. Recreational wheelspin in the normal BRZ is as easy as changing the radio in most other cars. Since the tS offers no increase to the 205 horsepower available in the base model, the wider and stickier tires mean you’re going to have to work to earn your burnouts. The ride isn’t outrageously stiffer than stock, but you can tell it Means Business. And the same can be said for the brakes. Steering is similarly more immediate and rewarding, especially turn-in. Everything is just a little sharper and more RIGHT NOW. You can tell it’s your same old friend, but you haven’t seen each other in a while and now all they want to talk about are their investments and this great new CrossFit place they’ve found. They’ve become Very Serious. Can a sports car be both Very Serious and Very Seriously Underpowered? It’s a question to give any sporting driver a headache.
But all that goes away when you check your rearview mirror for the first time and catch sight of the absolutely enormous wing on the back deck. Yes, Subaru will tell you the wing is functional, and it may well be. You don’t think, though, about downforce or drag when you catch a glimpse of it. Instead, you smile. Most people aren’t used to seeing a giant slab of carbon fiber following them around in their road car. It’s incongruous. It’s unusual. It’s, well, very silly, and that’s how sports cars should be. They should be the thing in your life that reminds you to have fun.