Limited to a production run of just 500 for 2018, the Subaru BRZ tS (“tuned by STI”) is the new benchmark version of the company’s rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. This dialed-in BRZ offers more grip and control than ever before while retaining the brilliant car’s familiar well-balanced character. A spoiler alert, though: If you’ve always thought the BRZ needs another 100 horsepower, you’ll come away from the tS experience with that belief intact.
Subaru and STI engineers described their goal in tuning the BRZ tS as “pure handling delight,” a mission simply stated but difficult to achieve in a car already well known for its precision and balance. To reach its goal, Subaru has extensively tweaked the chassis. The Sachs dampers of the BRZ Limited’s available Performance package have been tuned to work with 18-inch STI wheels and—finally—stickier 215/40R-18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires.
The Brembo brakes from the Performance package also make their way over to the loaded BRZ tS, with 12.8-inch discs up front and 12.4-inchers at the rear. They’re paired with STI springs that are 15 percent stiffer in the front and 3 percent stiffer out back. There’s a flexible strut-tower brace and a flexible lower front crossmember brace as well, both of which use ball joints (hence the “flexible” appellation) to limit NVH.
The BRZ tS does a good job of looking like a manufacturer-tuned special edition. The fog lights in the front bumper are deleted in favor of more aggressive-looking faux intakes, and an STI front splitter visually lowers the nose further. It looks good enough that we’re willing to overlook the Cherry Blossom Red accent around the grille.
The sides are accentuated with STI skirts and mirrors done in black. The most noticeable change is the carbon-fiber wing; it’s adjustable to fine-tune rear downforce for track driving, says Subaru. There’s another red stripe across the rear bumper, lower skirts on each side of the rear diffuser, and still more red accents inside, including on the seat bolsters, door panels, and seatbelts.
Getting a Better Grip
All of the upgraded chassis elements combine to make everything good about the BRZ even better, including very well-judged steering with about as much feedback as you could hope for. In the BRZ tS, that great rack is even sharper thanks to the good rubber and the chassis stiffening; the front crossmember specifically is said to reduce the delay between input and chassis response (we noticed no delay at all).
Those Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires replace the comically weak Michelin Primacy HP rubber found even on the Performance package BRZ, and the difference in grip is astounding. Around the track, the increased traction means that you’re no longer able to go completely sideways by using the accelerator. It took some effort to achieve throttle-induced oversteer and really revel in the BRZ’s sublime chassis balance; now you’ll have to breathe off the brakes at just the right moment to get the back end to step out. Grip levels are higher across the board, but while the method may be different, the ability to adjust the BRZ’s line remains unchanged—it just happens at higher cornering speeds.
Scotty, We Need More Power!
If there’s a problem, it’s that, while the car’s perfect balance is unchanged, the engine is also unchanged. With the enhanced grip, it’s all too easy to cast a brighter light on the engine’s shortcomings. The 2.0-liter flat-four at the heart of the tS still generates the 205 horsepower the standard BRZ got for 2017. (That was up five ponies from earlier models, but only on manual-transmission cars; the automatic isn’t an option on the tS.) Its song remains the same when you wind it out, and you still have to do that—horsepower peaks at 7000 rpm, and the full 156 lb-ft of torque isn’t present until the engine is spinning at 6400 rpm. The gain is turned way up on the electronic throttle calibration, probably in an effort to make the most of the limited torque on tap. The result is a sensitive accelerator that gives you as much of a chance as possible to keep the BRZ tS in the power, but you’ll always want for more pull at anything less than full chat.
Despite this, though, it has to be said that we opted to drive the BRZ tS more often than the WRX STI Type RA during the combined press-launch event, despite the turbocharged Type RA’s massive power and available-everywhere torque. The chassis and steering on the BRZ tS are just that good. Where the STI is a Thor-sized sledgehammer, the BRZ is a razor-sharp samurai sword that only the worthy may wield to its greatest potential. It’s just hard not to dig it, wheezy engine or not.
The world is full of turbocharged hot hatches in the BRZ’s price range. You’ll need to decide for yourself if the BRZ tS’s unchanged engine makes it less desirable than one of those. But if balance, grip, and turn-in are even a little bit your kind of thing, you’re not going to find anything quite like the BRZ tS, and it’s a worthy product of the special-edition treatment.