The Return of Small, Impractical and Sexy – Subaru BRZ – WSJ – Ruge’s Subaru

22 Aug

Looking for a ray of sunshine in the economic fog? Two of the hottest selling cars in America right now are a pair of impractical sporty coupes designed to make the daily commute feel like a day at the races. Joe White has details on Lunch Break. Photo: Subaru.

Two of the hottest-selling cars in America right now are a pair of impractical sporty coupes designed to make the daily commute feel like a day at the races.

Surprised? The Scion FR-S and the Subaru 9632.TO +0.80% BRZ, launched at the beginning of summer, aren’t packed to the gills with sexy tech features. They don’t warm the high-mileage hearts of the eco-conscious set. And they’re pretty much worthless when it comes to hauling kids or lugging a week’s worth of groceries.

Not that these considerations matter to enthusiasts like Darren Seeman, who put down a deposit on his FR-S in February—more than three months before the official launch—and watched the shipping docks in his hometown of Portland, Ore., to see when his car landed.

“I wanted something small and light like a go-cart,” says Mr. Seeman, 36, a Web developer who once ran an independent Scion fan website, but has owned a Honda S2000 sports car among other non-Scion models.

Mr. Seeman says he likes cars that are light, driven by the rear wheels and not too expensive—a combination that just a couple of years ago was close to extinct in the U.S. market, except for the aging Mazda 7261.TO +1.03% Miata.

“Most self-respecting men don’t want to drive a Miata on the street,” Mr. Seeman says. The 200-horsepower FR-S, which he got for about $25,000, is a bit underpowered for his taste, but “handles as good as any car I’ve ever had.” He has already added a new sound system, high output headlights and new wheels.

It isn’t a car he could have easily found on the market a few years back. The economic crunch slammed sales of small sports cars: Mazda Miata sales dropped by nearly half between 2008 and 2010, and Honda killed the S2000 after a nearly decade-long run, to the dismay of loyal fans. General Motors Co.’s GM -1.04% spiral into bankruptcy killed off the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice roadsters. Even Porsche felt the chill. Boxster sales dropped by 40% from 2008 to 2010, and Cayman sales plunged 60%.

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SubaruThe Subaru BRZ

But now, sporty cars sales are growing as the market recovers and more companies field new models. Brandon Ramirez, senior group manager for product planning at Hyundai’s U.S. operations, says the segment that includes the Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ and Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe—all of which sell in the $25,000 range—could grow by 16% this year.

The FR-S, which is actually the BRZ’s mechanical twin under the skin, was developed collaboratively by Toyota and Subaru. But the companies market them to two different ends of the sports-car buying spectrum: Scion, Toyota’s youth brand, targets consumers in their 20s and 30s. Subaru, with its more sedate ride and more luxurious, leather-seated “Limited” model, aims for empty nesters and other mature drivers.

They seem to be hitting the mark. A Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ that hits a dealer lot now is selling in an average of just 11 days, according to Edmunds.com. (The industry average is 57 days.) That makes them the two fastest-selling cars among those that have been on the market for more than two months.

And with production runs for sports cars traditionally on the low side, buyers who didn’t order early may have to wait. Toyota‘s 7203.TO +0.46% U.S. sales arm expects to get just 10,000 to 12,000 FR-S’s to sell this year, while Subaru’s expects just 6,000 BRZs.

The early excitement over the FR-S—which stands out against Toyota’s lineup of staid, front-drive sedans—points to a broader revival in interest for affordable cars that emphasize at the least the image of fun.

The FR-S and BRZ pay homage to the Porsche Cayman, but at half the cost.

But defining the class of affordable, “fun” cars isn’t an exact science. The engineering and styling of the FR-S pays homage, in part, to modern Porsches. “We benchmarked the Cayman,” says Subaru’s Mr. McHale. “If you were to make a Cayman for $25,000, what would it look like?”

 

Chasing Porsche: How One Affordable New Sports Car Stacks Up

Engineers who designed the new Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ used the mid-engine Porsche Cayman sports car as inspiration. Both new cars use ‘boxer’ engines that have the pistons oriented horizontally, for a lower center of gravity. Here’s how the Scion compares to its more expensive inspiration.

Porsche Cayman Technical Specs Scion FR-S
2.9 Liter 6-cylinder Base Engine 2.0 Liter, 4-cylinder
265 Horsepower 200
5.5 seconds 0-60 mph 6.2 seconds
165 mph Top Speed 137 mph
2,932 Weight 2,758
$51,900

 

Starting Price $24,200
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