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BRZ and Me: Thank the gods our test Subaru BRZ has a stick shift

Sections: Powertrain

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2014 Subaru BRZ Photo Shoot 011

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

I’ve got a Subaru BRZ for the week, and let me just say thanks to the press car gods that this car, unlike its Scion FR-S sister I tested almost a year ago, has a manual transmission.

I didn’t shy away from saying I pretty much loved the FR-S when I had it over Easter last year, but I was totally disappointed it was an automatic. Doubly disappointed because I looked in the rear glass as I approached the car and thought it was a stick-shift because the automatic’s gear selector looked almost like a manual transmission shift knob without a pattern on it.

I mean, all that awesome chassis tuning, steering feel, and rear-wheel drive architecture, but no third pedal! I vowed that if I ever got the chance to drive a manual transmission FR-S, I’d jump on it. As luck would have it, almost a year after the FR-S test, the Subaru press pool sent me the twin of the FR-S, the BRZ — with the correct transmission this time. To say I was happy about this coincidence is an understatement.

So how’s it compare? I don’t want to tarnish the automatic transmission. It was well-matched to the engine and had whatClarkson et al would call “flappy paddles” to make it possible to more fully control it in spirited driving. It was just…not a manual. And this kind of visceral sports car more or less demands a manual transmission.

2014 Subaru BRZ Photo Shoot 012

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

The six-speed stick in the Subaru BRZ tester has a lot of good qualities beyond the fact that it seemed better matched to the car. Its throws were not long, but they weren’t too short, either. Some cars’ gear pattern spacing is so tight that it’s easy to miss gears — a problem I had with the otherwise very likable six-speed stick in the Nissan Juke NISMO last summer. The BRZ’s stick wasn’t notchy, either, which sometimes happens in sporty cars, and it wasn’t rubbery. The interior packaging around the shifter made it comfortable to use, falling naturally at hand and having no obstructions from arm rests or other interior elements to frustrate the driver.

The clutch is the other half of any good manual transmission setup, and the Subaru BRZ has a good one. I’ve read some reviews that complained the clutch take-up was too close to the top for some reviewers’ liking. I can see where that criticism comes from, because it does feel like the clutch friction zone is located about three-quarters of the way up rather than halfway. But it didn’t bother me much for one reason: Clutch feel in the Subaru BRZ is good. In the Nissan Juke NISMO, the clutch was numb-feeling, making it hard to judge where the friction zone was. There was no such issue in the Subaru BRZ.

Manual transmissions are not exactly cutting-edge technology, I get that. In the case of the Subaru BRZ, it doesn’t have the nifty rev-matching features cars like the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and the Nissan 370Z do on downshifts. And I’m sure in the minds of some, any manual transmission isn’t as worthy of discussion on a car technology site as cutting-edge automatics like DSGs and the latest 8-speed slushbox. But sometimes it’s not about having the latest technology. Sometimes, it’s about having the right technology. When you’ve got a car as fun to drive as the Subaru BRZ, a manual transmission is always the right choice.

Disclosure: Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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