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Is Subaru’s BRZ the spiritual successor to Porsche’s iconic 944?

Despite our name, Flatsixes loves transaxle Porsches. Between Bradley and myself, we currently own four 944s and 924s. Project 944 GTS, (which will have an update soon, by the way) is among my favorite cars I’ve ever owned. Barring often extremely cheap early Boxsters, it’s hard to beat the 944’s smile per dollar ratio. That said, the newest 944s are nearly as old as I am. While that’s young for a human, nearly three decades is quite elderly for a sports car, especially one you want to use every day.

Enter the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86.

Jakob and Yuri from the Straight Pipes posited that in terms of driving fun, the BR-Z is like a junior 911. We don’t think that’s accurate. While it does have a slightly Porsche-like boxer engine, that is about where the similarities between the BRZ and Porsche’s senior sports car end. I would argue that the BRZ is the spiritual heir to the 944.

An Unlikely Pair

When the nigh-identical Toyobaru twins debuted back in 2012, they were immediately the subject of criticism. While the pair offered excellent driving dynamics, their modest output has been continually under fire since their debut. In an era of 400+ horsepower Mustangs, a 200 horsepower sports coupe seems rather underwhelming. Indeed, 200 horsepower is solidly in hot hatch territory rather than sports car territory in 2019. Just a few horsepower separate the pair from my own Fiesta ST.

For long time Porsche fans, this all sounds rather familiar. When the 924 launched in the 1970s, its double-digit output wasn’t even impressive for the depths of the malaise era; a sad time when 150 horsepower Corvettes and 140 horsepower Mustang IIs were top-sellers in the United States. These criticisms followed the 924 through its first evolution into the 944. Though power was up significantly, to about 150 horsepower, the car was not going to win the stoplight drags, despite coming with a significantly higher pricetag than Corvette and Mustang.

But, the 944 and the Toyobaru are not meant for that- they are designed to deliver driving pleasure in a different way. Through superbly balanced chassis, the 944 and BRZ are meant to be engaging when the road winds, not when it snaps straight. The BRZ is more overtly meant to slide than the 944, blame the low rolling resistance tires installed on most variants. With grippier rubber the BRZ can do a credible imitation of the 30-year old Porsche.

Indeed, getting out of my ~200 horsepower 944S and in to a BRZ feels more like reinterpretation than revolution. The dashes are simple, all the controls are driver oriented, even the reach from the steering wheel to the shifter is nearly the same. From the driver’s seat, the two are most clearly separated by their steering. Compared to the quick ratio rack in the Subaru, the Porsche’s sluggish rack feels rather bus-like.

The Porsches do have some advantages; where the BRZ has craved more power from the beginning, Porsche answered the brought out more powerful models midway through the 944’s life cycle. The 2.5-liter S offers slightly less power than a BRZ, but the Turbo, Turbo S, S2, and 968 all have a power advantage over the Subaru. Barring the early 8-valve cars, every 944 offers more torque than the BRZ, making it an easy car to drive in traffic.

The 944’s big aluminum four also sounds significantly better than the Subaru’s boxer, though that may just be my biases talking.

Takeaways

Though one car was designed as an entry-level sports-luxury car, and the other as a tuner’s dream, the Subaru/Toyota, and Porsche have a lot in common. Yuri and Jakob felt that the BRZ was like a Porsche on a budget, though that is only when compared to the 911. With the exception of rare or very low mileage cars, most 944s are still significantly cheaper than a new BRZ (or most used ones, for that matter).

For those of us who want to scratch the 944 itch, but need the security that comes with a new car and a warranty, the BRZ is about as close as you can get to the classic transaxle Porsche formula.

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