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A couple of years ago we passed the point at which there were no more truly bad cars. If someone asked us, "Which car should we definitely avoid," it was hard to give a categorical answer. Sure, there were cars we didn't (and still don't) like, but no matter how personally averse we might be to even some current cars, we can't name one that's objectively awful.

Naturally, then, if everything is decent then the only place to go is... better. That's how you get to a brand like Subaru deciding to make a sports car and using, as a guide, the Porsche Cayman. And we do mean literal guide. During testing, Subaru engineers took a white Cayman on their international travels. We don't blame them. When the brief is to build "a pure handling sports car," where better to start than with the company that practically wrote and constantly revises the bible of handling, Porsche?

As a brief for a company like Subaru to have – a company not known for sports cars and that hasn't sold a two-wheel-drive car in the U.S. since the last millennium, which were front-wheel-drive wagons – that's impressive enough. What's more impressive is that they actually did it.

Subaru head of Corporate Communications Michael McHale started off his presentation with these sound bites: "The type of engine and where it is, those are the two things about the car. Everything else comes from there... The engine is as low down and far back as it can possibly be," and "We didn't start by saying it had to be rear-wheel drive, we started by saying it had to have the engine in a certain place. Handling first, RWD second."
The result, as we know by now, is the BRZ – B is for Boxer, R is for Rear-wheel drive, Z is for Zenith, as in the best. The quest was to "get a new level of driving confidence," and that resulted in traditional sports car themes: low, with short overhangs, a compact engine and a low center of gravity. The CoG is lower than a Ferrari 458 Italia, and at 18.1 inches it's also lower than the Cayman, the Mazda Miata and RX-8, and the BMW M3.

Low weight was also a priority. Subaru said the target was 2,700 pounds, and according to the numbers we were given, they beat it by about half a sack of potatoes, coming in at 2,689. Although that's 100 pounds less than a Civic SI and 600 less than a Mustang, it's better to judge the BRZ against a more natural competitor: the BRZ is 10 hp and 73 lb-ft down on the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, but is about 600 pounds lighter.

The engine is an all-new design called the FA, with a perfectly square stroke of 86x86 and a variable-valve control system that Subaru calls AVCS, for active valve control system. The FA was developed for and only used in this car, "at least for the time being." On the required premium gas, Subaru's numbers are 200 horsepower and 150 pound-feet, with reps at a loss to explain why Toyota rates the same engine – that Subaru builds – at 197 horsepower. The FA is smaller than the Impreza's FB engine, achieved with items such as a shorter and lower intake manifold, a shallower bottom on the transmission, and revised, more compact lubrication system. Subaru then placed components in different places to get the engine further back in its bay, like making the intake manifold front-facing and placing the crankshaft 60 mm lower. The induction system was shorted to reduce overhangs, and the radiator was tilted 17 degrees to improve the center of gravity. Compared to the Impreza, the BRZ's engine is placed 120 mm lower and 240 mm further back.

There's no turbo, and no plans to include one.

And that's why there's no turbo, and no plans to include one – the engine occupies the space where Subaru would normally bolt one on. They moved so many things around, we don't know why they couldn't have been just as creative with some forced induction, but the company's traditional placement of the intercooler atop the engine simply wouldn't have worked. Subaru plans a longer life-cycle for the car, six to seven years instead of four to five, and it was strongly hinted that we would see a power bump during a mid-cycle refresh – but not a turbocharged bump. We were told as well, though, that this engine will be the base of Subaru's next-generation turbocharged engine.

The engine placement necessitated changes to the front suspension: the MacPherson struts needed to be revised in order to maintain the low profile of the aluminum hood and keep the desired stroke, and the A-arms are reversed, pointing forward. The mounting point has been strengthened by adding an aluminum box section. That aluminum hood saves 15 pounds over the Impreza hood, and of the 400 materials used for the body, there is more high-strength steel on this car than on an Impreza in order to keep weight where it's wanted.

The final numbers: overall height is 50.6 inches with a ground clearance of 4.9 inches, length is 167 inches and wheelbase 101.2 inches, the width is 69.9 inches with a track of 59.8 inches in front and 60.6 inches in the rear. Balance is estimated to be around 53 percent in front, 47 percent in the rear. The company doesn't have official numbers on gas mileage but predicts 30 on the highway.

The company doesn't have official numbers on gas mileage but predicts 30 on the highway.

It's a good looking car, its most poignant ornamentation being the two bulges over the front and rear wheels, its stretched (and non-functional) hood vent a nice touch. The lightweight aluminum wheels are about the only visual cue that strikes us as a little off, or rather, the 215/45R17 tires: They're so skinny. Other markets will be offered 16-inch wheels, but we'll only get the 17s. We were told that the BRZ can handle 18-inch, 45-aspect-ratio tires, and we won't be surprised to see them quickly bolted on. On the matter of bolt-ons, though, Subaru won't be offering much alteration to the car off the dealer floor, but we were informed that the STI division is already at work on a host of parts.

The rear wing is optional, part of a performance package that also expands the underfloor treatment. Yet another reversal on this car, the spoiler is only for aerodynamics, not to reduce lift. With the wing in place, the coefficient of drag is actually reduced by less than a point, to 0.27.

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