Into the Blue

If you’re looking for a naturally aspirated, rear wheel drive and manual car that you can use, how much will you be willing to pay? The E36 and E46 M3’s are the perfect choice, the ultimate balance between a legendary badge and state-of-the-art everyday sportiness. Too bad collectors wannabes seem to be willing to pay 30k+ Euros for cars with over 140.000 kms on them and. What else can we, the dying breed of old school car enthusiasts, enjoy without too much of a headache: a classic Alfa Romeo would be the choice but are you willing to expose a precious piece of history to the rigors of the everyday driving? Not me, that’s for sure. Forget about the dream of owning a Porsche 996, they’re shooting up in value thanks to the great effort by sellers to give pretentious “collectors” another perfect excuse to waste their money on just another car with a ridiculous price tag.

Surely if you want an accessible daily, capable of delivering your daily fix whenever you need it, there isn’t much choice: BMW’s excellent 235i is one the last small-sized coupès but at almost 50k it isn’t very democratic, let alone the excellent M2. And both come with twin scroll turbos…

Fortunately, the Rising Sun is indeed the country which has provided the right answers to those enthusiasts looking for fun on a budget: the Subaru/Toyota BRZ-GT86. An affordable, fun and relatively inexpensive sportscar which you can actually dream of owning. Cars have gotten so expensive nowadays that their “dream factor” has almost completely vanished: if in the 1980ies less than 2 years of labour could have bought a spanking new Golf GTI for the average worker, in recent years one has to work at least 4 to 5 years to be able to afford a nice performance hot hatch, not including maintenance costs. Are nowadays performance cars set to accomodate the whishes of the nouveau-riche? That is not always true, of course, but the BRZ can be the new car that can save the market.

The BRZ is the car enthusiasts want Porsche, Alfa Romeo, BMW and many others to build. It is practical, ludicrously fun to drive and has a certain amount of presence too. It is small, low to the ground, compact and surprisingly roomy. Purists beware: the BRZ is in some ways the Giulietta Sprint of the 1950ies. It may lack a prestigious badge from a Coachbuilder, but during the time we had our hands on it, I kept thinking about how the specialized press received the Giulietta Sprint upon its introduction: after WWII it was a blessing to have a small GT, relatively accessible and with absolutely perfect driving dynamics. At that time, a whole new generation of young racing drivers begun their careers with ease and style thanks to the accessibility of this small GT.

So it is now with the BRZ. It’s a blessing that young people do not have to destroy their bank accounts to have some genuine and clean fun. Sure, with 205 hp is not ludicrously fast, but if you want to experience how a real driver’s car behaves without injuring yourself or others, well, this is a pretty good choice. The seating position is fantastic and you have a great visibility out, and the communicative steering feel helps you out figuring what’s happening out front. To put it in a few words, the BRZ is the kind of car which is not made by PR departments, but by engineers. As a matter of fact, it should be appreciated that there’s not a +20% tag on the final price just because it comes with a manual transmission. Its simplistic approach to driving, seen in the absence of driving modes and suspension settings is not marketed aggressively: it comes as it is, without any unnecessary fuss.

So, there be it: another adventure between the mountains, the natural habitat for any proper car. This escape has brought us in the exploration of an area that is sometimes forgotten by driving enthusiasts, the Simplon Pass. An alternative and more scenic route to travel on when going to the Geneva Auto Show, this pass is quite a great road, with an altitude of 2000 meters and long stretches of road is like our backyard race to the clouds, a mini Pikes Peak if we’d like to see it that way. In April, there is still plenty of snow at the top, and you literally drive between two walls of snow, with tall mountains surrounding you and only the intense blue sky above your head. With the road constantly going uphill, it feels almost you’re escaping this frozen white jungle to reach the top of the pass as fast as possible.

It’s surreal enough for you to press harder on the accelerator. Hearing the 4 cylinder boxer changing sounds as you press on the accelerator is quite a joy: it goes from a deep burble to a muted lament to its signature snarl above 4.000 rpm, just when the engine comes on cam. It’s not about speed, but pure driving aesthetics, as you learn to listen to what the car is telling you. No automatic throttle blip and no modes force you not to have any more distractions while you drive. Sure the power is manageable but you feel a wonderful sensation of focus, a long lost feeling that you can retrieve only in the cars of the past. The set up is not harsh and between the curves of the Simplon, the BRZ teaches you again how to drive properly, thanks to its stunning chassis and predictable and very precise handling.

Its lack of overall extremism is emphasized by a great ride and practicality: during the time we had it, we fitted quite a few large bags and chauffeured a couple of friends to the airport, with no problems at all.

More importantly, the BRZ is easy, safe and fun to slide around! Pin the throttle at every slow corner and the car will just greet you with a controllable drift, which will fix your day immediately in no time.

The BRZ is a little gem that will make for a perfect sporty daily driver. For the kind of category it falls in, it provides a great value for money in a very practical and hard-to-beat package. I won’t lie: my ideal race to the clouds should have been in a 911 GT3 or a McLaren 720S. Yet, now that we’ve escaped the BRZ I am pretty happy to have changed my mind.

 

 

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