Last week I was in New Orleans Louisiana for the annual Subaru National Business Conference. While there I had the pleasure of riding in, and then driving, the new Subaru BRZ. Monday night was the big “reveal event” at the new NOLA Motorsports Park. After a showy production, we were afforded the chance to ride shot-gun with a professional driver around the 2.75 mile, 16 turn long loop. It was my first time being on a real race track at speed and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
On Tuesday, we were back at NOLA MP for some actual hands on time with the BRZ. One of the stations was a timed Agility Course. We had one chance to drive the course in a BRZ to see how we compared to the best bogey time posted by the “pro” who happened to be none other than Subaru Rally Team USA driver Dave Mirra. This was similar to an SCCA autocross, except it was “blind” (i.e. no chance to walk or test-drive the course) and in a completely unfamiliar car. I ended up setting the second fastest time of the morning out of 200+ drivers, just .07 seconds out of first and over a second clear of 3rd. I was a little over a second and a half slower than Mirra which I felt was pretty respectable given that he got to take several runs and wasn’t required to drive with the stability control on like the rest of us were. I couldn’t draw a lot of conclusions on the BRZ’s handling given the short course, very low grip surface (brand new asphalt), and unfamiliarity with the layout. The longest element of the course was a multi-cone slalom which the car handled with aplomb. As a prize for being under 34 seconds, I received a can of “Slap Ya Mama” Cajun seasoning. Only in New Orleans!
Later in the morning I got the chance to drive the BRZ on the short loop of the road course. There was a pro driver riding in the passenger seat to give guidance, as well as cone markers on the course identifying the braking zones, the turn-in points, apexes, and track-out points. There were no restrictions on speed and we were encouraged to explore the capabilities of the car. The test cars all had automatic transmissions. I’m a manual transmission purist, but found the automatic to be quite capable. In manual mode, the paddle controls on the steering wheel provided crisp upshifts and, more impressively, rev-matched downshifts. On the track the BRZ was stable, confident, and predictable. It wasn’t quite as fast strait-line as my WRX, but felt much more athletic and reflexive. Turn in was sharp and the car glided easily through the corners at high speeds with a complete lack of drama. On one turn I was a little late with my entry and I over-corrected, causing the back of the car to step out. The oversteer was gentle and easily correctable with a touch of counter-steer.
I came away quite impressed with the BRZ. On a dry, smooth track it is more capable than my WRX. It would undoubtedly be a great autocross car. It lacks the all-around versatility, however,that I find so endearing in my Impreza. I could see a BRZ in my stable some-day, but only as a complimentary ride to something a little more practical.