12 most frustrating things about the Subaru BRZ

I love my Subaru BRZ but it’s not without its frustrations. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise since the car is a cheap Japanese sports coupe after all. There are always compromises that manufacturers make when creating a car. Family sedans compromise fun and handling for luxury and utility. Sports cars compromise utility and practicality for fun and excitement.

After three years of ownership, these are the things that bug me as a BRZ owner. They’re in no ways deal breakers but things you should be aware of if you’re considering getting a BRZ or FR-S.

12. No built-in camber adjustment

SPL Parts BRZ suspension
Image credit: SPL Parts

OK so this is a bit niche for track junkies but the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S both lack the ability to adjust camber. What’s camber you ask? It’s the vertical angle of the wheel when looking at the car from the front and rear. Drivers who push their cars hard will want negative camber, where the tops of the wheels tilt inward towards the center of the car. This gives the benefit of giving the tires a better contact patch in corners, increasing grip and stability. If you notice the shoulders of your tires wearing out unevenly relative to the rest of your tire, you need more negative camber.

Without built-in camber adjustment, owners have to purchase and install special parts like bolts, camber plates and lower control arms to adjust it. This seems like an oversight for a car targeted at driving enthusiasts.

11. The blind spots

BRZ side view mirror

When I first drove the BRZ, I was surprised at how big the blind spots are. I was coming from a spacious 2006 Honda Civic sedan so the difference in visibility was quite shocking. I got used to it eventually, adopting new merging techniques.

You’ll want to take extra care changing lanes in the BRZ and FR-S as cars easily disappear behind the massive B and C pillars. The little side windows don’t let you see much. I’ve restored to setting my side mirrors extra wide and have adopted leaning forward to look to my left and boosting myself up to look out the back window when merging right.

10. The back seats are useless

Why Subaru and Toyota decided to include back seats instead of just making this a 2-seater is beyond me. The back seats are unusable unless your passenger is a small child or has no legs.

They work in a pinch and to their credit, I did fit four adults in the car once. None of us were comfortable, as the steering wheel was basically in my chest, but it worked for getting my friends back home.

9. The “crickets”

The FA20 boxer engine is great. It combines Toyota’s D4S port and direct injection system with Subaru’s tried and true boxer layout. Unfortunately, the high pressure fuel pump squeaks like crazy. Amusingly, owners have dubbed the problem “crickets.” Many owners have taken their cars to have their fuel pumps replaced but that hasn’t resolved the issue. I just live with it.

No one really knows why the fuel pump squeaks but there a million theories floating around the forums. Some think it’s the ethanol in our fuel. Others think specific brands of fuel are to blame for varying additives. In my experience, the quality of the fuel does matter in reducing or eliminating the squeaking.

The crickets don’t hurt the motor and you’ll only hear them when you’re idling at a stop light. However, it’s pretty embarrassing that your car sounds like a 20 year-old car with a worn belts.

8. The transmission doesn’t like the cold

BRZ manual transmission

When it’s cold, the manual transmission doesn’t like shifting into second. If you take off immediately after a cold start, the transmission feels crunchy and you’ll often be locked out of second gear.

To fix this, I’ve replaced the transmission fluid with Motul Gear 300. It helps a bit but the most effective solution is to just let the car warm up for a minute or two before setting off.

7. People cut you off

The BRZ is a small car and as a result, you’re pretty much invisible to oblivious drivers. I’ve never driven a car where I’ve been cut off as often as in my BRZ. It’s not a Mini Cooper but people still seem to have a difficult time finding me in their side view mirrors.

You’ll want to employ defensive driving and make it a habit to get out of people’s blind spots as quickly as possible.

6. Sport mode is intrusive

The BRZ and FR-S has a “sport mode,” which tells the stability control to be less of a nanny. Unfortunately, it still cuts in way too early. When driving briskly in sport mode, I see the stability control light flashing frantically at me, even though the car is gripping. Sport mode is supposed to let you get the tail out just a bit, but it actually jumps in way too early for that to happen.

Yes, you can turn all the nannies off if you want, but I don’t like doing that for street driving. There are just too many unknown variables and stability control can, and has, saved my butt. I wish the BRZ’s sport mode was tuned a bit more intelligently to let drivers have more slip angle before cutting in.

5. People asking if it’s fast

The BRZ looks fast so it must be fast, right? People ask me if the car is fast all the time and are shocked when I tell them it’s actually pretty slow. A V6 Toyota Camry will smoke me in a straight line. Reactions range from disappointment to disbelief.

The fact is, the BRZ and FR-S are pretty mundane in a straight line. But when the roads get twisty, the car can hang with higher horsepower machines (except uphill).

4. The stereo

BRZ EQ settings

You’ve probably heard this before but the stereo in the BRZ and FR-S is horrible. Highs are piercing, mids are recessed and the bass sounds uncontrolled when turned up past quarter volume. I think the system would sound loads better just with a better amplifier to provide more power to the woofers. I’ve tweaked the EQ settings to what you see above to help somewhat improve the sound.

As an audiophile, this should bother me, right? Sometimes, but most of the time, I drive without music so I can hear my Nameless exhaust. For podcasts, the stereo works but it struggles with poorly recorded material.

3. The clutch

BRZ three pedals

From the factory, the clutch has a very high engagement point. This means there’s about an inch of dead travel before the clutch starts grabbing. You can get used to this but I followed this DIY clutch pedal adjustment and it’s made a world of difference. Now the clutch engages close to the floor, making the engagement point predictable.

One thing that is a bit more difficult to fix is the vagueness in the clutch. The stock clutch makes it difficult to modulate because it feels the same throughout its travel. This is especially annoying when trying to drive smoothly. I’ve resorting to muscle memory for clutch timing to get things smooth. Some owners have gone as far as to remove the clutch return spring, which apparently helps with feedback.

2. It buzzes, pops and rattles

The BRZ is a cheap car and has received a lot of its praise for being such a good value proposition. Like I said before, there are compromises and you’ll notice with all the rattles and thumps the car emits over rough pavement. This is because the car basically has no sound deadening. Because of this, the car is light and nimble but the trade off is a lot of wind noise and tire roar on the highway.

Peaking under the hood and under the car, you can see the compromises in manufacturing. The entire car seems to be held together by a billion plastic pop clips. Most of the car’s budget went into the engine, chassis and drivetrain. Those looking for refinement should look elsewhere.

1. Its future is uncertain

Subaru BRZ Series.HyberBlue
Image credit: Subaru

I don’t know what’s going to happen to the BRZ. There have been more rumors about the future of the BRZ and FR-S than any other car in recent memory. That’s because the BRZ and FR-S was a result of a joint effort between Toyota and Subaru and each manufacturer has a differing vision about the future of the platform.

Toyota teased that it would make a convertible version of the FT-86 platform (ew, no please) but that never came to fruition. Toyota also stated in passing that a higher performance turbocharged version of the FR-S wasn’t out of the question. Subaru, on the other hand, has no idea where to take the BRZ it seems, repeatedly releasing new editions of the car with minor upgrades. Just this past week, Subaru North America’s COO stated in an interview that increasing the BRZ’s power would probably help boost sales. Whether they actually make a more powerful BRZ remains to be seen.

The latest rumors state that Toyota is looking to partner up with Mazda to use the new Miata platform for the next version of the FR-S. If this is true, Subaru will not follow suit. For Subaru, the BRZ is the black sheep of the family because it doesn’t fit with its marketing image. It doesn’t have 4WD, isn’t dog friendly and doesn’t ride on Subaru’s rallying and racing legacies. It wouldn’t surprise me if Subaru decided to axe the BRZ altogether.

It makes me sad that this brilliant platform may only be a small blip in automotive history.

4 thoughts on “12 most frustrating things about the Subaru BRZ”

  1. Awesome read!
    I agree with all of your positives from the other post.

    Just a quick comment on the seating. The reason they went with the 2+2 arrangement is for insurance pricing purposes. A two seater will factor into higher insurance costs whereas having four seats changes the equation.
    So while the back seats are useless in a physical sense, they make up for it in savings.
    Cheers!

    1. @Michael: Great point about the insurance benefits of having the rear seats. I still sort of wish they only went with 2 seats so I could use the carpool lane with only one other person in the car (parts of the Bay Area require 3 or more people).

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Completely agreed, especially the blind spot, came from a 1992 Camry, had to definitely change my commute of cutting people left and right with a little car, to trying not to die with a little car.

    You got a broadway mirror or wide angle side mirrors? I have the broadway mirror but it barely helps.

    1. You got a broadway mirror or wide angle side mirrors? I have the broadway mirror but it barely helps.

      No special mirrors for me but I set my side mirrors extra wide to get rid of the blind spot. It works great for me!

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