Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Old vs New: Light Weight RWD Sports Cars (2007 Honda S2000 vs. 2013 Subaru BRZ)

With the recent introduction of the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S twins, it would seem that lightweight, rear drive sports cars are making a bit of a come back. What better way to find out if the Subaru/Scion duo did it right by comparing it to another light weight, rear drive sports car? Luckily, I am the proud owner of a slightly older light weight, rear drive sports car, the Honda S2000.

The goal here is not to determine which car is faster, as that would not be a fair fight considering my car out powers the BRZ by a fairly significant amount. My goal in doing this comparison is to find out if Subaru got the lightweight, rear drive formula correct, and to see which of these two cars are more fun to drive.


Here is a quick run down on the specifications of both cars:

2013 Subaru BRZ
- 2.0 liter, naturally aspirated, flat-4
- 200 horsepower
- 151 lb./ft.
- 6-speed manual with rear limited slip differential
- 4 wheel disc brakes
- Front Suspension: Strut type with lower L-Arm / Rear: Double-wishbone
- 17x7 inch aluminum alloy wheels
- 215/45/R17 Michelin Primacy HP Tires
- Curb Weight: 2,776 lbs.

West Brother's 2007 Honda S2000
- 2.2 liter, naturally aspirated, inline-4
- 237 horsepower
- 162 lb./ft.
- 6 speed manual with rear limited slip differential
- 4 wheel disc brakes
- Front Suspension: Independent Double-wishbone / Rear Suspension: Independent Double-wishbone
- F: 17x7 Enkei RPF1 aluminum alloy wheels / R: 17x8 Enkei RPF1 aluminum alloy wheels
- F: 215/45/R17 Dunlop Direzza Z1 Star Spec /  R: 245/40/R17 Dunlop Direzza Z1 Star Spec
- Curb Weight: 2,864 lbs.


Both the BRZ and the S2000 were designed as cars made for corners. Despite this fact though, Honda and Subaru go about fun through the corners in a different manner. The refreshed, AP2 S2000, with its revised suspension geometry and wider rear tires, has a tendency to want to grip and handle neutrally rather than oversteer.

The Subaru, on the other hand, with its Prius derived, skinny rear tires, tends to oversteer quite a bit, much like the AP1 S2000. This is not to say that the S2000 cannot oversteer, and the BRZ cannot grip. The S2000 is a car that is capable of oversteering and drifting, it is just more difficult to do due to the way the suspension is set up. The BRZ can grip reasonably well as long as you do not mash the throttle out of every corner. Long story short, which car has the better handling really comes down to driver preference. Both cars are excellent at what they do and are capable of doing what the other car is best at to a certain degree.

Winner: Tie


Image courtesy of Motor Trend magazine
As mentioned above, the purpose of this comparison is not to see which car is faster. Nevertheless, both cars are equipped with spectacular engines. The BRZ comes equipped with a 2.0 liter, horizontally opposed "boxer" 4-cylinder. Considering what the BRZ was designed to do, this engine generates more than enough horsepower and torque to get it quickly through corners and to get the car into a controlled slide. The S2000 comes equipped with a 2.2 liter inline 4-cylinder engine. With its nearly 240 horsepower, the S2000's engine still delivers one of the best displacement to horsepower ratios of any naturally aspirated production engine.

The funny thing about both of these engines is that they actually share a very similar characteristic. Due to the low displacement of both engines, both engines have a very high revving nature. In order to squeeze out every last ounce of power from these engines, drivers need to rev both engines quite high in order to get into the meat of the engine's power band. As a result of this high revving nature and natural aspiration, both engines do unfortunately lack power in the low end of the rev range. Though both engines lack low end power and torque, this is actually ideal for performance driving situations such as track driving or driving on twisty mountain roads, where having a high revving engine offers greater flexibility to wring the most from the motors. Since both engines observe very similar characteristics, I will have to call this category a tie.

Winner: Tie


Both the S2000 and the BRZ are equipped with short throw, six-speed manual transmissions with limited slip differentials. Both cars exhibit incredibly short shift throws and have very good feedback. The only real significant difference between these two cars is the clutch. My S2000 has a some what heavy clutch, but it offers great feedback, allowing me to figure out where the clutch will engage in relation to the position of the clutch pedal. With the BRZ, the clutch pedal was feather light and had very little feedback. During my drive of the BRZ, I could not feel where the clutch would engage, causing me to stall the car once as the clutch had already engaged before I could apply the gas.

Winner: S2000

Interior, Noise/Vibration/Harshness, Day-to-day livability

While some might view the interior as irrelevant to how fun a car can be, I see it differently. In order for a car to be fun, it should not just perform well, but it should allow the driver to be comfortable while having fun.

When it comes to interior build quality, I would say this is a dead heat. Both the Honda and the Subaru have relatively spartan interiors. Despite the lack of "interior bling," both cars are built with high quality materials, relatively comfortable and supportive seats, and somewhat cramped quarters. From a noise, vibration and harshness perspective though, the BRZ wins this one, hands down. The Subaru's win simply has to do with the fact that the BRZ has an attached roof while the S2000 is a convertible. The BRZ's roof advantage keeps the cabin far quieter than the S2000's vinyl soft top ever could. This is especially apparent during freeway and highway driving, where my S2000's engine will buzz away at relatively high 3,800 rpm doing 65 mph. While it is definitely nice to be able to open the top and get fresh air at the drop of a hat, having to listen to an engine loudly hum at the same speed for a long period of time can get grating on the nerves.

Winner: BRZ


Having fun with a car is great. Having fun with a car while having some extra cash left over in your pocket is awesome. Which one of these two cars offers the best "bang for the buck?"

A brand new Subaru BRZ Limited, like the one I test drove, retails for $28,265. Thanks to the car's popularity though, you would have a hard time trying to get one for anything under the MSRP. There is also the option of the less expensive Premium model, which retails for $26,265. But like the Limited model, demand for the car makes it difficult to find one for under MSRP.

A 2007 Honda S2000 in excellent condition will sell for $23,525 as a certified pre-owned vehicle, or roughly $20,225 through a private party. To equalize things a bit, you can get a certified pre-owned 2009 Honda S2000 (the car's final production year) for about the same price as a brand new, Premium trim BRZ ($26,385). Despite the price advantage, this does not automatically mean the S2000 wins.

If we were comparing brand new car against brand new car, the MSRP of the 2007 Honda S2000 was $34,250. That is significantly higher than a brand new 2013 Subaru BRZ Limited. While a brand new BRZ Limited costs significantly less than a then new 2007 Honda S2000, the BRZ's price tag gets you a few extras that the S2000 never had, such as a navigation system and bluetooth connectivity.

In the end, a used S2000 will be easier on the wallet than a brand new Subaru BRZ. But if having a new car, and having features such as navigation, a fancy radio, and factory warranty are really important, the Subaru BRZ is most likely going to be your choice.

Winner: Tie

Overall Winner?

So did Subaru/Toyota get it right? Did their revival of the lightweight, rear drive sports car push all the right buttons? You bet it did. While the car does not have a lot of horsepower or torque, the BRZ does precisely what it was designed to do, and that is be a fun, tossable car that leaves a giant grin on the driver's face. However, picking which car between the BRZ and the S2000 does the fun, lightweight, rear drive car thing better is going to be a difficult task.

As evidenced by the dead tie in number of wins for both cars, it is going to be difficult to pick a winner from these two cars. Though both the BRZ and the S2000 were built to be serious driver's cars, Honda and Subaru go about providing the driver with the best driving experience in different ways. From my time spent inside the BRZ, it was clear that Subaru's intention was to build a car that would not be too financially difficult to get in to, but would still be fun to drive despite the horsepower deficit. In the three plus years I have owned my S2000, I can confidently say that Honda's goal with the AP2 S2000 was to create a car that would perform well on a track or twisty mountain roads, while maintaining enough civility to be driven everyday on the street. While these are two very different approaches to obtaining driving satisfaction, it does not change the core fact that what you have here are two lightweight, rear drive sports cars that are an absolute hoot to drive. In the end, I can only call this comparison a tie as either car would be a fantastic choice if a small, lightweight, rear drive sports car is what you are looking for.

*Special thanks again to Bronson Wright of Subaru Pacific in Torrance, CA for giving me the time to compare the BRZ to my own vehicle. 


  1. Handling a tie?? You describe the cornering characteristics of both cars accurately but the S2k's limits are so much higher (and that has nothing to do with it making more power). The BRZ is certainly easier for an inexperienced driver to play with at its limit but for someone who knows what an apex is, the Honda should win hands down.

    Engine a tie?? The Boxer is a great little engine but the F20 is a race-bred masterpiece and arguably the best 4-cylinder engine ever made. You mention its displacement/hp ratio but you don't mention the only two engines that beat it are from the Ferrari 458 and the Porsche GT3 RS. "Impressive" is a mild understatement. Also the S2000 has one of the best exhaust notes ever, especially for a 4 banger. The Boxer is anemic in comparison.

    BRZ has a better interior?? You say it's because it's a quieter, softer hardtop but I thought this test was to see which is more fun to drive...? Yes the Subie is more practical but unless you're a girl who just had her hair done, the more fun car should be the louder, windier one.

    Don't get me wrong, Toyobaru did an incredible job with the 86/BRZ, but in the end it's still just a cheap little sports car. The S2000 meanwhile was Honda's 50th anniversary present to itself, an over-engineered labor of love that years later still beats anything this side of a Cayman S or Lotus Elise. Please sell your S2000 to someone who understands that... it's too good a car to be wasted on non-enthusiasts.

  2. I feel like you didn't really bother to read the article in its entirety before going off on your angry rant. I made my decisions fairly clear at the end of each section. If this were a comparison of which car was the better performer, then there would be no comparison as the S2000 out classes the BRZ in virtually every category except fuel economy. However, this is a comparison of which car is more fun to drive, and to see if Subaru/Toyota was successful in bringing life back into a dying category of car.

    I called handling a tie because, in the end, the BRZ and the S2000 were designed for two different types of people. As I mentioned in the article, both the BRZ and S2000 can do what the other car was designed to do, however both cars do what they were primarily designed to do far better. In the end, it depends on what your definition of fun is. Do you like a car that you can spend all day doing power slides and drifting, or do you like a car that will test your limits on a track? To me, both types of vehicles offer a different type of fun. To me, the BRZ was fun because it is a car that you can toss around without much effort. My S2000 is fun to me because it really allows me to test the limits of what I am capable of. Like I said, it all boils down to personal preference, and frankly, I'm a fan of both approaches.

    Yes, the engines are a tie. Why? Because both cars exhibit virtually the exact same characteristics. In order to wring the full potential out of both engines, you have to push both engines very hard. In daily driving situations, both cars lack torque, requiring some downshifting to make a quick pass. Yes, the S2000 has a better exhaust note, but exhaust note was not the only thing I took into consideration when comparing the engines. Besides, I thought the BRZ had a pretty darn good exhaust note too. And as I mentioned above: if this were a comparison of performance, then yes, of course the F22C in my S2000 is a better engine. But, as I will reiterate again, this is a test of which car is more fun to drive.

    Interior comfort is actually very important to fun. What seems more fun to you? Being able to get out of a car with a giant grin on your face, or getting out of a car with your ears ringing and your back aching? If all I was considering was what the sound the car makes on a track or a winding mountain road, then yes, the S2000 would win. Let me ask you this. have you driven an S2000 on a road trip longer than two hours? Have you done it with a passenger? Did you try and have a conversation with your passenger with the top down? I have, and on multiple occasions. It's not easy. Hearing the same loud buzzing for two hours straight is not something that is pleasant. Yes, you get the same thing from the BRZ due to the similar engine characteristics and transmission gearing, but because it has a sealed roof, the sound is toned down a bit. I was actually able to hold a conversation with the salesman taking me out on the test drive and I didn't even have to yell.

    I always find it disappointing when someone claiming to be an enthusiast has such a narrow definition of what they think an enthusiast should be, and then go on to insult someone because they have a difference of opinion. Just because one guy enjoys rice rockets and another enjoys American muscle, does it make either of them less of an auto enthusiast than the other guy? A true auto enthusiast is someone who enjoys cars because of how they look, feel, sound, and smell. A person who enjoys what a car is capable of doing. A person who recognizes that not every enthusiast is going to have the same opinion, but respects that persons opinion anyway. Don't get me wrong, it's plenty OK to have a difference of opinion. It's the internet after all! Resorting to flinging insults over a difference of opinion though? Not cool. This is an automotive blog, not a session of America's dysfunctional congress.

    1. Ok, I apologize for the last sentence but stand by everything else.

      I've owned a 99% stock (steel brake lines, better tires, better stereo) MY04 S2000 for 3 years as a daily driver and taken it on 6 road trips with at least 8 hours of driving, one of which was 2200 miles. I get out and stretch every 250 miles when it needs gas and I've never been sore or tired driving it. In fact, it's the most comfortable road trip car I've owned (compared to a '95 Grand Cherokee, a '00 Outback, and a '04 Forester XT). I've never had to yell to converse with a passenger (with the top up), and never had a passenger complain about comfort (with top down haha, top up does feel cramped) or noise. If you're sore then maybe you have bad posture?

      I was lucky enough to drive a friend's GT86 for a full weekend while he was out of town, and I very much enjoyed the car. I took it to a deserted parking lot and had lots of fishtailing fun, but it's just an underwhelming experience when you're used to hooning around in an S2000. The engines do have similar characteristics but where the BRZ/86 is running out of breath, the S hits VTEC and keeps rocketing you forward.

      Here's something that might be affecting my judgement a little: when driving the 86, I oversteered turning left at an intersection and was promptly pulled over by a cop. He let me off with a warning, but the point is you can't enjoy the tail-happiness (even accidentally) on public roads without risking a citation. The S2000 only misbehaves if you really force it to, and you'll never get in trouble with it if you just stick to the speed limit.

      I can't disagree with you that fun is subjective when you're comparing an oversteer-prone car with a razor sharp one. I also can't disagree that there are many different types of car enthusiast. However, you're comparing two very similar cars with two very similar price points and I strongly disagree with your conclusion that it's a 50/50 toss up for someone trying to decide between the two. Even if you ignore the numbers, you just can't escape the fact that the extra performance makes the S a better sports car. The only reasons someone familiar with both cars should choose a BRZ/86 is because they hate convertibles, prefer the looks, want a new car, or aren't good (or brave) enough to take the S2000 to its limits. A better comparison for the BRZ would be the MX-5, or we can wait a few years for forced induction and a performance package. That would make it a really hard decision.

    2. It's unfortunate that your time in the GT86 was affected due to an encounter with the police. That is the main difference between your time in the GT86 and mine in the BRZ though. During my test drive of the BRZ, I was taken to an empty lot with the salesman (who happens to be an avid track and autocross driver), giving me a semi-controlled environment to mess around in the car with. While I'm not saying that being able to experience the car in a semi-controlled environment will necessarily change your mind, it would at least allow you to properly test the car.

      As for the comfort issue, it is, yet again, a subjective matter. I used the "sore and ears ringing thing" as merely an example. I have actually never experienced any soreness while driving my car unless I push myself and do not get out to stretch. Keep in mind though, when I'm not driving my own car, I'm driving either a 2011 Fit Sport, 2011 Acura RL, or 2011 Acura MDX, all of which are much softer than the S2000, and with the latter two being far quieter than the S2000 could ever be. I've done my fair share of road trips in economy cars (my old 1997 Accord LX and my finacee's 2011 Fit), sports sedans (drove a 2008 Acura TL Type-S for two years prior to the S2000), luxury sedans, and luxury SUVs. Does that mean I'd rather drive those instead of my S2000? Of course not. I enjoy the wind in my hair, and I enjoy the sounds when I'm pushing the car.

      I still stand by my final assessment between the two cars. The two points of the article I was trying to make with my final assessment were 1. both cars offer something different, so figure out what you want to do before you make a decision, and 2. Subaru/Toyota have brought some life back into a dying car segment.

      I love my S2000, and if I really just wanted a car to tool around in, I would have sold it the second the FR-S/BRZ hit stateside. Rather, I decided that I wanted a car that would offer me something more than just the ability to slide around corners easily. I am the type of driver that wants to get around a corner as quickly and as controlled as possible. The S2000 is obviously the car to offer those characteristics with its far superior handling capabilities and more powerful engine. Sure, sliding the BRZ around corners during my test drive was fun, but in the end, I much prefer getting around the corners quickly instead of in a cloud of tire smoke, or whatever tire smoke the BRZ could generate with its small engine and Prius tires.

      If a comparison between the BRZ and the MX-5 is something you want to see, then you're in luck. I just test drove the 2013 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT recently, and a comparison to the BRZ would seem fitting.