It’s easy to recommend the current Mazda MX-5 Miata. Since its debut in 2015 it’s had almost no compelling competition; it’s an affordable sports car delivering more excitement than cars triple the price. It’s free of complexity and brimming with feel. And soul. The original Subaru BRZ, and its near twin the Scion FR-S (becoming the Toyota 86), came close, but they couldn’t quite match the Miata’s on-road excellence. With this newest generation of BRZ, though, the Miata has met its match.
Not only has Subaru fixed the well-known gripes with the first-gen car, but refined what was already lovable without drawing it with needless tech and/or bloat. The company ignored the radical fringe demanding a turbocharged engine, understanding that would’ve added weight and driven up the price to an unreasonable level. Yes, it was a large fringe. But instead, the 2022 BRZ gets an eager 2.4-liter naturally aspirated flat-four that makes 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, 23 hp and 28 lb-ft more than the prior generation. Those increases aren’t huge in absolute numbers, but for a 2843-pound car, it’s the difference between barely acceptable and truly exciting.
There’s no long wait for redline to arrive. Peak torque comes down at 3700 rpm and the torque dip that plagued the previous BRZ’s 2.0-liter motor is gone. Instead there’s a linear power delivery that becomes more addictive with each shift. It’s the powertrain the BRZ should’ve always had; spritely and eager without being buzzy.
It’s more than the new engine however. The chassis, the original car’s high point, benefits from a redesigned structure with more seam welds for an even stiffer unibody. There are aluminum front fenders and an aluminum roof panel that offset weight gains elsewhere. Paired to a retuned suspension with aluminum front knuckles, the whole car feels near faultless over smooth and rougher tarmac alike. It’s not luxury car cushy, but it delivers the same world-class poise of the Miata without excess body roll. The ride is tuned towards real-world roads; it doesn’t fall apart as soon as you experience a few rough patches. But it has an excellent track setup as delivered by Subie.
That kind of balance also translates well in low-grip scenarios. Because it was winter here in New York, the car arrived on a set of Vredestein Quatrac Pro winter tires. It was an opportunity to see how the BRZ would perform at and beyond its limits in a closed, low-speed setting. So we took the car to a frozen lake upstate for a few minutes of ice track lapping. So much fun. Tossable, but containable even with little grip. It’s a nibbler at the limit, not a biter.
Because the BRZ is gushing with feel, it’s easy to maintain slow, controlled slides on ice without having to white-knuckle the steering wheel. A quick rack and a responsive throttle pedal means any adjustments happen quickly, and without fuss. After a few laps we were transitioning through corners smoothly and linking apexes with ease. This car makes for a great learning tool regardless of skillset. Beginners and veterans alike will extract tons of joy from this car.
The test car came in “Limited” trim, which includes things like Ultrasuede interior trim, blind spot monitoring, heated seats and, when the weather allows, 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires measuring 215/40 R18 all around.
While the MX-5’s cabin isn’t unbearable, it’s not a very practical place to spend long periods of time. The Miata is pretty cramped inside and because it’s a convertible, it’s wildly noisy, even with the top up. The BRZ feels like a refined grand tourer in comparison, with more headroom and a smartly designed center stack. The new 8.0-inch infotainment screen and a set of cool dials for the climate control. The gauge cluster has gone totally digital, cleverly in the shape of a boxer-four engine. It’s easy to read and provides useful info for the driver, though an oil temperature gauge would be appreciated, since many of these cars will see regular track use.
Then there are the rear seats. Most owners will reserve them for backpacks, but they can be used to move – small, non-whining – people in a pinch. Two friends stuffed into this BRZ for a short lunch grab weren’t pleased with the ack of legroom, it worked. And now each of them knows where they stand on the hierarchy of friendship. Similarly, there's a real, usable trunk out back. There’s six cubic feet of space back there — perfect for the tools, jackstands, spare parts, and other supplies for a track day.
The cabin’s appointments make hours-long road trips easy, though after a while some cheapness shines through. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but they’re not wireless. The infotainment touchscreen responds well to inputs but it’s not a brilliant graphic display. There’s also the cruise control stalk, which is the same parts-bin unit Subaru’s been using for at least two decades. But those are small complaints.
There are a handful of things the Miata undoubtedly does better than the BRZ, of course. Subaru has improved its shifter, redesigning the gates for a smoother, more linear change. But it’s still a bit too light and plasticky to be great. It’s not a bad shifter, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the MX-5’s perfectly slick, deeply satisfying action.
The BRZ’s 2.4-liter engine doesn’t sound awful, but it doesn’t sound great either. Subaru compensates by piping a fake rumble through the speakers, but it ends up being more annoying than exciting when you’re actually behind the wheel. The Miata’s 2.0-liter four-pot is a masterpiece for many reasons, and while its sound isn’t Honda K-Series good, it’s still better than the BRZ’s.
The BRZ deserves better brakes too. They’re easy to modulate and work fine for street use, but at R&T’s 2022 Performance Car of the Year test, they didn’t last long on track. Miatas don’t have this problem. Tracking the BRZ, should start with upgrading the pads and fluid at minimum, lest you prefer sailing into the barriers on lap three.
Without having a BRZ and MX5 side-by-side, it’s tough to pick a clear favorite. (We’ll be doing a proper comparison test soon enough.) Which you should go for heavily depends on your use case. Will this be your only car? Then it’s probably the BRZ, with its added practicality, that you want. But if you’re looking for more of a weekend cruiser, it’s the Miata. And if you really want a convertible, well, then you don’t really have a choice.
The BRZ makes everything else on the market today feel like an overcomplicated, over-complex bloatfest. The exterior proportions are perfect, and the seating position is just right. There aren’t any modes to shuffle through or inputs to adjust. The electronically assisted steering is attached to a pleasantly undersized wheel that translates plenty of feel from the front tires. Just get in, shift into first, and go.