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.