PIERCETOWN, Ark. -- Subaru's BRZ -- a slinky 2+2 coupe with hatchback styling and sport-tuned hardware perfectly balanced and rigged for performance with a front-mounted powerplant and rear-wheel-drive orientation -- races down a narrow canyon course etched into walls of granite on Route 123, a twisty ribbon of asphalt wiggling through deep folds of the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas.
Actually, our BRZ Limited edition with a pliable stubby stick for the 6-speed manual gearbox devours the kinky Ozark course: It hugs every contour of the convoluted road as we cut clean and quick lines across apexes of so many curves.
Think of the BRZ as a genuine sports car which brings a sizzling body shell, driver-oriented cockpit with flexible seat/cargo configuration, keen weight balance for performance and handling, reasonable fuel economy figures and surprisingly modest price tags.
Subaru's MSRP for a 2014 BRZ Premium edition with 6-speed manual transmission starts at $25,595. The 2014 BRZ Limited edition with 6-speed manual shifter goes for $27,595, or choose a 6-speed electronic automatic transmission -- with paddle shifters, sport shift mode and snow shift mode plus downshift blipping control -- and the MSRP bumps to $28,695.
Body styling of the BRZ features a long hood and GT-type hatchback tail with a swept-back roofline and ultra low stance -- roof height is a mere 50.6 inches.
It has a pointed face with fat-lip fascia tinted to the body color and gaping hexagonal air intake grille with corner-mounted hawkeye high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps. The forward fenders bulge like muscles to make room for 215/45R17-87W summer performance tires and there's a raked windshield which resembles the streamlined canopy of a fighter jet.
A cozy cockpit feels airy and spacious, despite overall dimensions which tie the BRZ to the compact class. Driver and a companion sit low on contoured buckets with deep bolsters and Alcantara upholstery. Two rear jump seats, sized perhaps only for wee ones, have a seatback that folds down flat to increase storage space in the rear cargo bay.
There's a symmetrical dash in place with the instrument panel adding a center-mounted round tachometer with an analog speedometer gauge to the left. The tachometer houses a digital speedometer, white analog fuel and temperature gauges stand to the right of the tach.
A leather-bound steering wheel has tilt and telescopic adjustments plus paddle shifters attached with the optional automatic transmission.
BRZ's low-to-the-ground chassis provides a stiff platform for mounting independent suspension components including front MacPherson-type struts with lower L-arms and a double wishbone arrangement at the rear plus a stabilizer bar fore and aft.
A standard Torsen limited slip differential automatically assists the car's inside rear wheel maintain traction during hard cornering maneuvers.
The speed-sensing steering system gets electric power assistance, which eliminates a load of hydraulic equipment and contributes to the efficiency of the engine.
Brakes carry a disc at every wheel with computer-controlled ABS (anti-lock brake system) as well as EBD (electronic brake force distribution) -- which measures differences in speed for front and rear wheels, then doles out proper braking force to all wheels -- and a VSC (vehicle stability control) device and TCS (traction control system), even a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system).
For motivation every BRZ carries a 2.0-liter engine with die-cast aluminum alloy cylinder block, dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) plus Subaru's dual active valve control system (DAVCS). The plant has four cylinders opposed horizontally and set perpendicular to the drive line, then linked with equal-length drive shafts so pairs of cylinders act like boxers jabbing at one another in counterbalanced movements that negate the vibrations of a typical in-line 4-cylinder engine.
BRZ's Boxer-4 plant nets 200 hp at 7000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 6400 rpm. And the federal EPA fuel economy estimates tally to 22/30 mpg city/highway with the manual gearbox and 25/34 mpg city/highway with the automatic.
Standard cabin content on BRZ Premium includes air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks, front sport bucket seats with fabric upholstery, cruise control, aluminum sport pedals and scuff plates, a navigation system with 6.1-inch LCD screen, Bluetooth plus an audio kit with AM/FM/XM/CD and eight speakers.
The BRZ Limited applies more gear: Foglamps and body-color tail spoiler, security system, 2-zone automatic climate controls, Alcantara leather for seat inserts and bolsters, heated front seats and exterior mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, front door courtesy lights and a keyless access system with illuminated engine start/stop button.
The only factory option for BRZ is the 6-speed automatic transmission.