The Subaru BRZ has one of the highest manual take rates of any new car that offers both a manual and automatic transmission. Back when we asked Subaru in 2019, we were told that over the model’s history, only 22% of buyers opted for the available automatic. That makes our hearts glow with manual glee.
Even if the percentages tell us that more of you will be leaving the lot with a manual, some will find peace with two pedals instead. You’re either reading this review because you’re curious about taking the automatic BRZ plunge yourself, or you’re here to peer across the fence to see what automatic BRZ ownership is like. And spoiler alert: It’s a good deal better than you may first suspect.
Many of the vitals surrounding the six-speed automatic aid this new-generation BRZ in being as entertaining as it is. No matter the transmission choice, you get the new 2.4-liter flat-four engine that makes 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. You also get a limited-slip rear differential and all the same chassis and suspension love that the manual BRZ receives.
As for the transmission’s vitals, there is both good and bad. Subaru has gone with a traditional six-speed automatic, which is instantly sad when you compare it to the dual-clutch automatics seen in the BRZ’s competition. Both VW’s DSG in the GTI and Hyundai’s DCT in the Veloster N can bang off supremely quick shifts, making the driving experience nearly as entertaining as the manual versions of those cars. Meanwhile, the BRZ’s six-speed is nowhere near as quick to respond to paddle tapping.
The automatic BRZ is also slower than the manual in a straight line. Subaru estimates a 6.5-second 0-60 mph run for the auto, while the manual chops it down to 6.0 seconds. This is largely due to the automatic having longer gearing. It’s still a total ball to wring out the high-revving flat-four engine to its 7,500 rpm-redline — cheers to the disappearance of the previous engine’s mid-range torque dip — but the trip up the tachometer is just a hair slower than you want it to be. As a consolation, at least the engine (and pumped in engine noise) sounds sublime the whole way up.
Continuing in the realm of positives, Subaru gave the automatic some love for this generation by adding a new “Sport mode” for smarter shifting during spirited driving. Subaru says that it uses yaw sensors to predict downshifts and to know when to hold gears longer. When put to the test, the new Sport mode behaves shockingly well. The automatic BRZ will pop down a few gears when you get on the brakes hard going into a corner, hold a low gear all the way through a sweeper and never try to upshift out of a good time.
The automatic is far smarter than we ever thought it was going to be, and it turns what could’ve been a frustrating time into one where you can simply enjoy the BRZ’s brilliant dynamics.
If you do choose to use the paddle shifters instead of letting the car decide for itself, this is where the sad trombone comes out to play a little tune. Shift speeds aren’t molasses-like, but they’re considerably slower than pretty much any other sports car with an automatic transmission. Running it to redline requires a little forward thinking, requiring you to tap the nicely-sculpted paddle a good beat before you reach the limit in order to shift in time. Otherwise, you quickly hit fuel cut and bog down between shifts. If you’re someone who enjoys using paddle shifters often and to their fullest, then the automatic BRZ could prove to be a frustrating experience. Don’t even bother using the slap-shift feature with the gear lever itself either — it’s oriented in the wrong direction, so you move the lever forward for upshifts and pull back for downshifts. That orientation is less of a disappointment in a people-moving crossover, but Subaru should know better for a sports car.
The best reason to use the paddle shifters is to take advantage of the BRZ’s tail-happy driving characteristics by holding onto a gear longer than the computer thinks is necessary. Give the traction control button a long press, and those low-grip Michelin tires are yours to play with. Just as the original BRZ charmed with its Prius-spec tires, this BRZ is chock full of exuberant, predictable fun, accessible at any speed. It’s not rock-solid stiff or brimming with unlimited grip, but the car’s dynamics are just plain joyful. The low-mounted flat-four engine keeps the center of gravity extremely low, greatly contributing to this car’s agile feel and balance through corners. Its 2,864-pound curb weight (49 pounds heavier than the manual) proves once again that there’s no replacement for being light, as the BRZ is practically thrilled to be tossed left and right, responding with super-quick reflexes from every twist of the steering wheel. It’s pure fun, and there’s nothing to get in your way.
We really mean that last part, too. Sitting in the BRZ’s interior, it’s quickly apparent that this is the most 2000s interior for a new-for-2022 car we’ve seen yet. All of your vital controls are big buttons and knobs that are easily adjusted and controlled without the need to take your eyes off the road. They’re close at hand, and respond with enough clicky feedback to satisfy. It’s like the anti-GTI interior; Volkswagen loaded up the Mk 8 Golf with enough haptics and touch controls to make us go a certain degree of mad. Meanwhile, the BRZ embraces analog with massive enthusiasm. It’s a mini paradise for anyone who yearns for the simpler, less digital interiors of the past.
That’s not to say it’s not modern where it should be, though. Subaru’s infotainment still runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard in our base model tester. It works without a hitch, and the super-basic layout is easy to navigate if you prefer to keep your phone unplugged. The digital part of the instrument cluster smartly switches up its look from a traditional round tachometer to a horizontal tach view when you swap in and out of Sport mode. Subaru’s driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking come standard on the automatic. Plus, all the steering wheel controls are sensibly placed and never interfere with the act of driving. It’s the ideal marriage of analog and digital for an affordable sports car, and we couldn’t be happier to see it.
As for utility, the BRZ is still lacking. Your friends might hate you for putting them in the backseat. The trunk can swallow a week’s worth of groceries for two, but not much more. Its advantages over the Miata remain, as the existence of a rear seat gives you the option of tossing more cargo back there. Plus, in an emergency, you could theoretically move yourself and three others from one place to another, however uncomfortably. That said, the BRZ, no matter the transmission, is not going to be an easy one-car solution for most.
Subaru did right by this next-gen BRZ from nearly every aspect, but it’s leaving lots of potential on the table by not developing a high-performance automatic transmission to complement the six-speed manual. Other affordable sports cars or hot hatches offer far snappier automatics to choose from, so it’s easy to pass on the automatic BRZ. Even with the obvious improvements made for the 2022 car, anybody searching for driving joy without a third pedal will likely find a better time in a different car at this price point — $30,555 as tested, to be exact. And it may go without saying, but after trying the automatic, we’re now doubly sure that the manual BRZ would be the one to find a spot in our garage.
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