BRZ and Me: Subaru BRZ with stick returns better MPGs than its sister

Sections: Fuel Economy

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2014 Subaru BRZ Photo Shoot 031

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

Crunch time: In an era when automatic transmissions many times have the technology to outdo their manual counterparts in terms of fuel efficiency, can the stick-shift Subaru BRZ score an MPG knockout over the automatic Scion FR-S we tested last year?

In a word, yes.

I’ll be frank: I wasn’t necessarily what one might call “easy” on the BRZ, certainly no more than I was on the Scion FR-S when I tested it last Easter season. Both cars got their workouts on my preferred twisty test route, doing plenty of rev-matched downshifts with the stick in the BRZ and pre-apex downshifts on the flappy paddles of the Scion’s automatic.

As I elaborated on in an earlier piece, the BRZ’s manual transmission was plenty fun to use. That’s why I seemingly couldn’t help but try to learn how to rev-match my downshifts like a pro in the BRZ. It takes a while for even the most seasoned stick-shift fan to learn the art of downshifting in a given vehicle. But after a couple of days of either over- or under-revving the BRZ’s 2.0-liter flat-four-cylinder engine during downshifts, I was getting the hang of it.

Here’s the thing about rev-matching in daily driving, though: While it’s a bit easier on your transmission’s synchros when done right, it also tends to cause fuel economy to fall — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I’ve seen that result in my own daily driver. If that was the case with the Subaru BRZ I tested, then consider the car’s fuel economy downright impressive if you’re a normal driver who doesn’t care about heel-toe downshift technique, you can probably do even better than I did on fuel economy.

So the question becomes, just how did I do on fuel economy? In a week of relatively spirited driving in the manual transmission Subaru BRZ, I pulled down an honest-to-blog 32 MPG according to the on-board trip computer’s average MPG display. That’s a full 4 MPG better than I could wring from the automatic Scion FR-S last year. It’s also 2 MPG better than the BRZ is rated on the highway, according to the EPA.

Here I’ll repeat the same praise I gave the FR-S in automatic form: I like how the BRZ/FR-S sisters combine sportiness with relative fuel efficiency. Sure, you can find base Ford Mustangs and Chevy Camaros with V6 engines rated at 30 MPG highway, but by most accounts, those cars’ much higher curb weights and taller gear ratios make them less snappy to drive than the Toyobaru Twins, as I’ve taken to calling them. There are trade-offs to be made, sure. The Toyobaru Twins are buzzy on the highway, turning 3,000 RPM at 70 MPH in top gear and suffering from less road noise isolation than one would likely find in the comparatively larger, heavier American ponycars. Plus, the BRZ’s tighter interior is nothing to sneeze at — I had to leave the front passenger seat scooted up just to give my two-and-a-half year old son room to breathe in his child safety seat in the back row. But those mild concerns fall by the wayside when you realize that, at least right now, the BRZ’s level of fun-to-drive attributes combined with wont-anger-your-wife fuel efficiency is hard to find anywhere else.

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

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  • Mitch

    So. I gotta ask..did you start with a full tank and Finnish with a quater tank left in both tests? If not. Your data is skewed not to mention the change of tires/weather..try some full on tests, side by side at 50mph around a track. Then get back to us.

    • Lyndon Johnson


      I did, in fact, start with a full tank, and to the best of my memory (the FR-S test was almost a year ago, after all), ended with about a quarter of a tank in both week-long tests of the BRZ and the FR-S. Also, both cars had similar miles and the same exact model of tires on them when they arrived. To top it all off, I got both cars in the early spring, about 11 months apart. The weather when we got the BRZ was, if anything, a little colder than it was when we got the FR-S last Easter. That’s a scenario that should have given the FR-S some advantage over the BRZ, in theory, but the mileage results reported on both cars’ gauge cluster MPG computer said otherwise.

      Here’s the thing about most automotive writing gigs, even at the big magazines: You don’t necessarily have time to do a full, instrumented, tank-to-tank test while a car is in your hands. In our particular case, press cars are delivered one at a time, for one week at a time, into my possession. I have to try to squeeze in as much driving, photographing, and note-taking as I can between writing about the car here and working a full-time, 40-plus hour day job through the week at a newspaper. That’s a schedule that nets me about five hours of sleep a night, FYI. Even still, our budget for doing the kind of head-to-head testing you recommend — not to mention the manufacturers’ interest in doing the necessary coordination to send us both cars during the same week — is currently very close to zero.

      That means the best I can do is provide you my real-life experience. My driving style with both cars was very similar. I took both out and whipped them around a favorite curvy backroad a couple of times while each car was in my possession. I did not, however, drag race away from every stoplight or generally act like a hoon in the middle of town or anywhere else likely to earn me a speeding award from the local police. Being that I drove roughly the same in both cars — and because I had highlighted the 28 MPG result I achieved with the slushbox-equipped FR-S last year, even going so far as to call that a positive result — I felt a comparison article featuring the stick-shift BRZ’s fuel mileage outcome was warranted.

      Sorry if that doesn’t meet your rigorous standards. Should you ever start a car website, build enough of a following to make it worth automakers’ time to send you test cars, and then make the necessary contacts in the industry to arrange the kind of on-track, controlled-environment, head-to-head test of an automatic FR-S and a stick-shift BRZ you mentioned, please, get back to us.

      No seriously, we’d probably publish your test results.

  • USMC8591

    Nice reply, Lyndon. Ha ha. Don’t you love how some people think they know everything? Look, you’re just printing from your experience. We understand that. It’s just a data point. Maybe Mitch doesn’t understand that concept.

    Thanks for your review!

    • Lyndon Johnson

      Yeah, I had my Angsty Puffs for breakfast before reading that comment, apparently. I should cut readers some slack. Most folks haven’t had to do this kind of work, so I shouldn’t expect them to understand. Sorry if I was a little pissy, with you down there, Mitch!

      Anyway, thanks for reading, USMC8591 — and if I might infer from your screen name, an even bigger thanks for your service to our country!