The 2017 Subaru BRZ embodies the affordable performance ideal

This two-seater features subtle yet effective design updates for 2017.

The BRZ features subtle yet effective design updates for 2017.
The BRZ features subtle yet effective design updates for 2017. –George Kennedy

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To fully understand the joy that is the 2017 Subaru BRZ, you need to understand the serious gap in the world of sports cars.

For many years, it seemed like the only affordable and fun ones were the Mazda Miata and Mini Cooper. The downside? They’re made for empty nesters as much as performance drivers.

Then, in 2009, Honda stopped making the brilliant S2000, which left a void in the world of sports cars. The S2000 was a minimalist roadster, much like the Miata, but it was built for the hardcore driver. The departure of the S2000 marked the end of a great era of Honda performance that included the Acura Integra and NSX, the Honda Prelude, and some of the best years of the Civic Si.

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With all that in mind, that the BRZ merely exists is such a gift.

The BRZ is a compact sports car that resulted from a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota. Design updates for 2017 were minimal, and include new headlight and taillight designs as well as a revised lower front fascia. Out back, the rear spoiler is larger and has fins on the end. Together, they take rear aero work out of spoiler territory and almost into the neighborhood of a fixed rear wing. It’s aggressive and perfectly fits the personality of the car.

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The cabin of the BRZ emphasizes function over form with a no-nonsense layout. —George Kennedy

The major cabin update was the new 4.2-inch touch screen, with a form of Starlink infotainment. Other Subaru models will have Apple CarPlay, but the BRZ, with its more basic touch screen, will be left behind. Considering the typical BRZ buyer is on the younger end of the spectrum, that decision is likely a misstep.

The layout is straightforward, easy to use, and backed up with steering wheel controls. The 4.2-inch screen has integration for Pandora and Aha Radio, but not Spotify. It takes years to develop this tech, and the market changes quickly — all the more reason for Subaru to leave this development to Apple.

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The trunk is a respectably decent size. The back seats are cramped, with little to no legroom, but they do exist, which gives the BRZ a practical leg up on the Miata.

The key to the BRZ is its opposing flat-four-cylinder power plant, which sits low in the engine bay. —George Kennedy

No matter the trim, a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer-opposing engine powers the BRZ. This engine now makes 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque, an increase of five in each category. Many fans of this car have clamored for more power, and perhaps a turbocharged engine. The reality is this will likely never happen, as the engine bay feels like it’s intended for the aftermarket world to have its way with it.

Power is applied to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or available six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. We drove the manual-equipped model, and it was very nearly the ideal row-your-own gear shifter. (If you get the automatic, power is still down at the 2015 level of 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.) The gold standard would be the shifter found in the Miata, which effortlessly clicks into gear, but the manual in the BRZ is a close second. The shifter pops in and out of gear with purpose, and throws are short and sweet.

Gearing has been re-calibrated as well. The first gear is a short jump that lets you hop off the line quickly, but you’ll want to get into second just as quickly. That’s where the real fun starts.

Peak horsepower is made at 7,000 r.p.m., and peak torque is developed at 6,400 r.p.m. Shifting from second to third gear on a highway onramp is absolutely fantastic, and only surpassed by making the third-to-fourth shift as you rocket up to highway speeds. A Corvette will likely roast you, but if you really appreciate the art of shifting, the BRZ will let you explore your own skillset.

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Then there’s the cornering. The BRZ is within a stone’s throw of the Alfa Romeo 4C in terms of steering response. The 2017 BRZ adds new springs and dampers, a larger rear anti-roll bar, and additional structural enhancements to make the coupe more rigid as well.

The combination of acceleration and cornering is a blissful pairing. You could drive this car on a back road and still be well within its capabilities of cornering. But, to really learn the limits of the BRZ, you would have to take it to a track.

If you fancy yourself a skilled performance driver, the 2017 Subaru BRZ is an ideal — and affordable — workbench with which to hone your craft.

Base MSRP for the 2017 Subaru BRZ is $25,495. Our BRZ Limited carried an MSRP of $27,645, and with an option package that included Brembo performance brakes, SACHS front struts and rear shock absorbers, and dark gray alloy wheels, the sticker price came to $29,660.

THE CAR: 2017 Subaru BRZ

THE BASICS: Price: $25,595. As tested: $29,660. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 21/29. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 23.4 miles per gallon. 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive. Body: Two-door compact coupe.

THE SPECIFICS: Horsepower: 205. Overall length: 166.7 inches. Wheelbase 101.2 inches. Height: 50.6 inches. Width: 69.9 inches. Curb weight: 2,784 pounds.

THE GOOD: Perfect cornering and driving feel, affordable at every trim level.

THE BAD: Cramped back seat, no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, no expected turbocharged model.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The perfect affordable sports car, and a guaranteed future classic.

ALSO CONSIDER: Toyota 86, Mazda Miata, Mini Cooper